Advertisement
  1. Stage

Florida Orchestra connects sea-themed works, old and new

Published Nov. 12, 2016

TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra has paid tribute to the big guns of music, with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and Mozart's Jupiter Symphony so far this year, with Mahler and Tchaikovsky yet to come.

Between such no-brainers in the Masterworks series, the orchestra sometimes works in a "concept concert," performances built around a theme. This weekend's Songs of the Sea: Britten, Elgar and Debussy is a prime example. Friday's opening at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts rolled out four works inspired by oceans, both literal and personal. Musicians and music director Michael Francis, who conceived and conducted the concert, seemed especially on point in delivering a message that was uniquely theirs, and uniquely ours.

It began with Four Sea Interludes, by Benjamin Britten, from his opera, Peter Grimes. The story follows a fisherman in a coastal village, falsely accused in the death of his apprentice. The performance captured both elements, starting with the establishing shot, a lonely bird flying over the village at dawn. The horns enter like a gathering wave, setting up an authoritative percussion and the tone is set. The fourth movement, Storm, is particularly impressive. Listeners who attended the pre-concert talk should recognize that one without a program.

The newest piece, The Work at Hand, brings mezzo soprano Jamie Barton to the Tampa Bay area with a thrilling performance. American composer Jake Heggie wrote the score with her in mind, as well as Anne Martindale Williams, a longtime principal cellist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who soloed with the orchestra's backing.

The pair have worked on this piece for more than 18 months and seemed fused together, whether vocalizing phrases or pausing between them. Before Heggie got it, The Work at Hand was an unpublished poem by Laura Morefield, about the push and pull of embracing life as it is slipping away. Morefield died of cancer in 2011. From her first entrance, Barton seized the audience with marvelous warmth and power, like the sudden introduction of a spine-stiffening rod. With able backing from the orchestra, the singer and cellist mastered the sudden shifts in the score, alternating rapture and a sense of deep cuts. The performance might be what American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was getting at when he defined beauty as "contrasts held in tension without breaking."

Barton stayed on through Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures. The performance massaged additional meanings out five poems, including Sabbath Morning, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Where Corals Lie, by Richard Gardnett, and The Swimmer, by Adam Lindsay Gordon. The sea themes connected not only land masses but human experience over time.

The concert concludes with the grand opus, Claude Debussy's La Mer. There isn't much to say that Debussy didn't say much better himself, except that this was an inspired rendering of a work that should have special meaning for Floridians. Inspired by Monet's seascapes and the turbulence of Debussy's personal life, the score begins with musical imagery of light on the water. Oboe and flute quicken the pace, building through the lower strings like tides drawing waves from far away. All the strings are fully invested by the third movement, Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea. So, by turns, are the bassoons, all of the horns and percussion in a smashing finale.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Randy Rainbow will perform at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Saturday. Courtesy of Varela Media
    Plus, St. Petersburg Opera’s ‘Merry Widow’ and more.
  2. The cast of American Stage's production of "Vietgone" includes Sami Ma as Tong and Jeff Kim as Quang. Courtesy of Joey Clay Studio
    An immigrant story with voice offers a fresh perspective.
  3. On Saturday, J.B. Smoove will perform at Ferguson Hall, part of Tampa's Straz Center. RICHARD SHOTWELL  |  Invision/AP
    The comedian known for portraying Leon Black on ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ likes to wing it. He hits the Straz Center’s Ferguson Hall on Saturday.
  4. The cast performs 'On The Deck Of A Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492' in the Stage West production of 'Songs for a New World', which will be presented Oct. 17-27. Pictured at top, from left: Paris Seaver, Anthony Agnelli and Nicki Poulis. Standing in front: Jay Garcia. Timothy Rooney
    See ‘Songs for a New World’ and other shows in the north Suncoast
  5. Wayne Brady will perform at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Sunday. Courtesy of Mahaffey Theater
    There’s Jeanne Robertson and an inventive Florida Orchestra collaboration, too.
  6. Emilee Dupre and Eric Davis star in Freefall Theatre's production of "The Turn of the Screw." Courtesy of Thee Photo Ninja
    A spooky, risk-filled performance will leave you with questions. | Review
  7. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" will roll through Tampa as part of the Straz Center's 2019-20 Broadway series. JOAN MARCUS  |  Straz Center
    ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ Roy Wood Jr., ‘Vietgone’ at American Stage, Piff the Magic Dragon and more.
  8. Music director Michael Francis leads the Florida Orchestra in the Star-Spangled Banner on Friday during the season-opening program at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. JAY CRIDLIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Friday’s opening night portrayed Tampa as a melting pot, delivering diverse pieces pulled from around the world. | Concert review
  9. Bernadette Peters is pictured at Radio City Music Hall in New York in 2015. CHARLES SYKES  |  AP
    Peters follows the likes of Sting and Seal playing with the orchestra.
  10. Aldo Lopez-Gavilan, shown performing "Rhapsody in Blue" with the Florida Orchestra at St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater in January, will join the orchestra for its 2019-20 season-opening program this weekend. J.M. LENNON  |  Lennon Media
    Plus, SuicideGirls at Tampa Theatre and comedian Bryan Callen at Tampa Improv.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement