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Florida Orchestra to serenade the sick with free Moffitt concert

“This is very much what I believe to be an important aspect of an orchestra. . . . To make music not just a form of entertainment, but something that is so utterly intrinsic and necessary.” Michael Francis, 
incoming conductor
Published Dec. 19, 2014

When the musicians of the Florida Orchestra take their seats to play today, it won't be in a concert hall full of subscribers.

Rather, in a simple yet meaningful concert, the orchestra will visit Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa to play a free show for patients, employees and anyone who stops by. It's the first sign of a shifting culture at the orchestra, one moving toward more community involvement.

"I think you'll see more and more of this approach," said the orchestra's incoming conductor, Michael Francis. "This is very much what I believe to be an important aspect of an orchestra, doing more things out and about, and not just in the concert hall. To make music not just a form of entertainment, but something that is so utterly intrinsic and necessary."

Francis will lead a chamber ensemble of string players in "A Season Serenade" at 12:30 p.m. in the atrium of Moffitt's Stabile Research Building. The program includes portions of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Elgar's Serenade for Strings.

The choices are deliberate, Francis said, meant to feel healing. The Vivaldi represents a transition from winter to spring, flowers coming back to the trees. Mozart wrote his serenade during a dark period, proving something beautiful can come out of difficulty. And the Elgar has nostalgia and an "innocent energy," Francis said. "It just really permeates right into the core of anyone who listens to it."

It's a melding of worlds for the program's soloist, the orchestra's assistant principal second violin, Lucas Guideri. He graduated from medical school but couldn't ignore the call to be a professional musician.

For him, music was a therapy to get through medical school.

"I would come home after a long day and practice a little, and it kind of calmed me down," said Guideri, who joined the orchestra in 2010. "If I hear a particular piece of music, it can totally change my outlook on the day, or on life. For people that are sick, and patients that are just dealing with awful illnesses, having a little bit of brightness and being swept away can really be helpful."

Before the concert, some of the musicians will play in common areas around the hospital. They're getting help from Lloyd Goldstein, who played double bass with the Florida Orchestra for more than 20 years. Now, he plays for patients at Moffitt as a resident musician in the Arts in Medicine program, which integrates art into treatment.

Playing intimate music for the sick can be transformative for a concert musician, Goldstein said. It often means pulling back, playing something simpler but with more nuance and emotion.

"It entirely changed the way I felt about making music, when I realized that every note I play and every moment I'm playing is having a personal impact on an individual," said Goldstein. "It takes the ego out of the equation."

Playing at Moffitt is a mindful choice for an orchestra looking to branch out, Goldstein said. The concert is focused first on serving people, but it doesn't overlook acoustics and logistics.

"I always felt that the orchestra should be more involved with the community," Goldstein said. "From a musician's standpoint, oftentimes these things were not all that well organized, or they were situations where the musicians weren't shown to their best advantage. … Here you have people playing in a beautiful space, bringing their best instruments."

And it's telling that Francis, who has not officially started his three-year contract with the orchestra, is conducting. The orchestra hired the British conductor over the summer to replace former conductor Stefan Sanderling. From the start, Francis has talked of wanting to be a part of life in Tampa Bay.

It's clearly new for the orchestra, Goldstein said.

"Instead of the assistant conductor you have Michael Francis coming," he said. "I've never seen that happen, the principal conductor showing up for one of these types of things. They're bringing their A-game."

Contact Stephanie Hayes at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

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