1. Stage

Florida Orchestra's opens season in smashing form with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9

Published Oct. 3, 2016

TAMPA — Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 has become so ingrained in music, it is easy to imagine it was always there somehow. That is a testament to the power of a composition that percolated in the composer's mind for 35 years, and underwent more than 200 revisions before completion in 1824.

Hearing it live, as the Florida Orchestra gives us a chance to do with the opening of its season this weekend, renews appreciation as only a performance can. A full Morsani Hall at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts on Friday heard a magnificent blend of orchestration and voices, two dimensions Beethoven tinkered unceasingly to unite. The result is one of the grandest compositions ever written, pulled off splendidly by the orchestra and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. It was also a good use of the Morsani's superior acoustics.

Four soloists also distinguished themselves, singing as a quartet in the final movement, the musical setting of Friedrich Schiller's poem, Ode to Joy. Music director Michael Francis, who conducted the concert, said in a recent interview that playing Beethoven sharpens musicians and brings out their best. This performance was as good as any over the past year. The 65 minutes it consumed drained out, as through a large funnel. Percussionists violently introduced movements. Strings and horns and woodwinds replied in counterpoint.

The music was composed during a later, spiritual phase of Beethoven's life, during which he sought to unify humanity. He expressed an internal conflict between writing instrumentally and for a chorus in all its raw power,, hinting through the first three movements at a reconciliation to come in the fourth. The Adagio of the third movement represents a kind of climax in itself, a melody that can't be forgotten, the crest of a sine wave before the furious conflicts begin anew.

The orchestra follows the music's building momentum at every turn, such as the melody of the Ode to Joy segment played in unison by the lower strings. Bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus opened the poem with warmth and color. Soon soprano Yetzabel Arias, contralto Lynne McMurtry, tenor Robin Yujoong Kim had joined in along with the chorale, which had been silent in the previous movements. The symphony challenges all who play and sing it to reflect the unity the it describes, as reflected in its final stanza: "We join you, ye millions; Take this kiss to the entire world."

The concert began with Francis Poulenc's Gloria, an interesting pairing with Beethoven in a year the orchestra is emphasizing French and Russian composers. Introduced in 1961, the French composer's piece reflects both his Catholicism and a cheerful defiance of convention. The orchestra reflected the change in tone as the composition shifts between a religious focus and Poulenc's neo-classical influences, notably that of Igor Stravinsky. The highlight of the piece is an extended three-way conversation between Arias, the orchestra and the chorale.

Arias, the Cuban-born soprano, is a remarkable talent. The soothing articulations between these triangle points underscored Poulenc's vaunted facility to write for voices, particularly the upper soprano register. Pulled in opposite directions by his religious upbringing and free-spirited instincts, the composer ended up restating an ever familiar text as a set of new, fresh utterances. The effect, replicated by the orchestra and chorale, is one of deeper reverence because it has been so uniquely expressed. During one balmy interlude, the strings and woodwinds might have been describing trees swaying in the wind on a Pacific island. The chorale surrounded that island in waves, and the soprano soared above it all like a weather satellite.

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


  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.