GRAND BEGINNINGS: BEETHOVEN'S NINTH
Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is one of the grandest orchestral compositions ever, and possibly also the composer's best. It broke rules, extending the usual orchestra size and symphony length (more than an hour) and adding a chorus, at a time when many viewed singers as superfluous.
Now closing in on 50 years since it debuted as the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony, the Florida Orchestra opens its season Friday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts with the masterpiece known best for its Ode to Joy theme.
In a recent interview, music director Michael Francis called Symphony No. 9 a "great poem to human victory," all the more remarkable because the composer had by then lost his hearing completely. Read that story at tbtim.es/16o5.
Anyone who wants to learn more about the concert program should attend the pre-concert talk, which starts at 7 p.m. The talks last 30 minutes and include snippets of the music to come, either on tape or by one of the musicians.
Some in the audience enjoy soaking up every detail. A few might even bring a score to concerts and follow along as the orchestra plays. Others might skip the pre-concert talk but take in the conductor's brief remarks before lifting his baton. Still others just let their minds wander and enjoy the music.
Wherever you fall, there is no "wrong way" to listen, Francis said.
"What I feel about listening to classical music is that there is a tremendous level of refinement," Francis said. "Your ear, the more you listen to it — in silence, really captivated and really drawn into it — will start to hear more. You start to hear not just one level, not just melody and bass but in the harmony. … I feel that the process of listening is massively underrated. It sharpens our hearing, and we start to feel much more as a result of it."
The concert opens with Francis Poulenc's triumphant Gloria. The work premiered in 1961, and also features the Master Chorale. The evening's soloists include soprano Yetzabel Arias, above, contralto Lynne McMurtry, tenor Robin Yujoong Kim and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus.
Concerts are at 8 p.m. Friday at the Straz Center in Tampa; 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg; and 2 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. $15–$45. (727) 892-3331. floridaorchestra.org.
TROUBADOURS: ST. PETERSBURG OPERA
Like most 19th century operas, Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore has its share of complications. It opens with a duel, hints at a mysterious knight, is touched by the nearness of witchcraft and is otherwise adorned with gypsies and royalty, love triangles and lots of death. The St. Petersburg Opera kicks off its season Oct. 14 with the opera, which in English means "the Troubadour."
To hear those passionate conflicts distilled and get a glimpse of the performance, maestro Mark Sforzini, above, leads previews Thursday and Friday. In "Dark Lady Played Black Magic — a preview to Il Trovatore," he'll have singers on hand to demonstrate key points of the story and give audiences ideas on what to listen for. The events start at 6 p.m. today at the Music Gallery of Clearwater, 5990 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater; and 11 a.m. Friday at the Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. $20, $17 seniors and students. (727) 823-2040. stpeteopera.org.
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BROADWAY AND BEYOND: UT OPENS FREE CONCERT SERIES
The University of Tampa's popular PNC Bank series of free public concerts gets off to big start Sunday with Broadway singer Liz Callaway, above, a favorite of Stephen Sondheim. She brings her songbook of favorites and everything from Gershwin to film scores. Callaway made her Broadway debut in Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along in 1981, the first of many collaborations with the acclaimed composer. She earned a Tony nomination for Baby and a Drama Desk Award nomination for The Spitfire Grill. Animation fans will recognize her as the voice of the lead character in Anastasia and Kiara from The Lion King II: Simba's Pride. The free concert series has become one of UT's most anticipated and well-attended events on campus. It will also bring in organists Raymond and Beth Chenault (Feb. 5); returning pops organist Carol Williams (March 19); and symphony conductor, pianist and virtuoso organist Alexander Frey (April 9), who worked with Leonard Bernstein. Callaway's concert is 2 p.m. Sunday at UT's Sykes Chapel, 401 W Kennedy Blvd.