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Young pianist shines at Tampa Bay Symphony's 'Dances, Dreams and the Danube'

Pianist and Young Artist Competition winner Mina Mijovic is performing some of Franz Liszt’s complicated work with the volunteer orchestra.
Published Apr. 25, 2016

CLEARWATER

In his time in the 19th century, Franz Liszt was a rock star. The handsome Hungarian impressed the world as perhaps its best pianist, and also for his dazzling compositions.

His passionate piano compositions are considered challenging to play. In its current concert, the Tampa Bay Symphony has chosen a program that highlights the composer's virtuosity, Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1. Pianist Mina Mijovic proved Sunday that she is more than equal to the job.

The volunteer orchestra, now in its 29th season, kicked off the first of three concerts at the Clearwater campus of St. Petersburg College (the remaining two are in St. Petersburg and Tampa) with a hat tip to the Romantic era: Dances, Dreams and the Danube. It's an interesting thing to see, in part because the symphony is still not as well known as it might be.

Music director and conductor Mark Sforzini is an energetic promoter of the symphony, urging audience members to buy season tickets. While the symphony is not remotely near the level of a professional orchestra, it is worth hearing, precisely because its members are not paid.

The sizeable arts auditorium at St. Petersburg College was not close to full Sunday, but there were hundreds of people there. Some of the musicians who filled the stage might make a late entrance here or there or hit a flat note on the strings, but they also had their moments.

Mijovic was another story. The most recent winner of the Tampa Bay Symphony's Young Artist Competition, she arrived in August from her native Belgrade, Serbia. At 21, she has already won multiple competitions.

Her attack on the piano concerto was full throttle, hitting all four movements with great technical skill and every last ampere of energy. The breakneck fourth movement, full of rapid octaves and gutsy leaps, brought out her best. Mijovic is working on her second master's degree at the University of South Florida. She already has a masters from the University of Arts in Belgrade. She said in a recent interview with me that she is working as hard as she can to break into the next level, and there is every reason to believe she will.

The concert began with Johann Strauss Jr.'s On the Beautiful Blue Danube and concluded with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Suite from Swan Lake. The symphony at times struggled with the timing of the waltz, but expressed its fullness with much gusto. In comments from the conductor to the audience, Sforzini struck a conversational tone, at one point reminding them not to applaud between movements.

"If you're sitting there wondering, 'Am I supposed to clap here?' it's not a good place to clap," he said.

Just as Mijovic sat at the piano to perform, the ring tone from someone's phone went off.

"That is not part of our concerto," Sforzini deadpanned to the crowd. When the concert ended, musicians mingled with the audience near the stage. Some seemed mildly euphoric and relieved over a job well done, and rightly so.

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

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