Review of The Florida Orchestra’s 50th anniversary season opening concert featuring Tippett’s Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage and Orff’s Carmina Burana

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“An Evening of Music that You Didn’t Know You Knew”

By Morgan Gerhart

The Florida Orchestra opened its 50th Anniversary season triumphantly with stunning performances of Sir Michael Tippett’s Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

There is a common misconception that classical music is boring, difficult to understand and unapproachable with more modern pieces even more obscure. Efforts by orchestras, chamber groups and others to change this perception and gain a wider audience have taken root with great success. For The Florida Orchestra, holding Pre-Concert Conversations one hour prior to the concert allow the composers to be understood in the “most personal and human terms,” while the inside story of their music is explained.

As the audience is walked through each part of the operas by Musical Director, Michael Francis, his passion and comprehension for the music makes for an easy understanding of the composers’ intentions and later as one sits there enveloped by the score, the story and imagery come quickly to mind. This intimate sharing before the concert endears oneself to the musical composition as a whole and to the artists, especially when they share their personal thoughts on the topic. At one point, when trying to explain the Fourth Dance of Ritual Dances, Francis gave a text book description of the piece but then shrugged, and honestly offered that he really didn’t have a clear understanding of what Michael Tippett meant in the piece. Interestingly enough, when it came to that part of the opera, there was no clear meaning behind the music.

Introduced as the “most famous piece you didn’t know you knew,” Carmina Burana is a sweeping, majestic opera with a raw power that drives your heart to beat in the rhythm of the kettle drum. You may think that you don’t know the piece but as the singers strike the first note of “O Fortuna” you’ll recognize it background music for many commercials, the battle scene in the movie “Excaliber,” and even on The Simpsons. Based on twenty-four medieval poems, sung in Latin and German, what sounds mundane without translation, gets an entirely new viewpoint when deciphered high on a screen onstage. Mundane becomes bawdy, lusty, joyful and at the conclusion – morose. Having seen and listened to various performances of Carmina Burana, having the context and meaning set for me prior to the concert made all the difference for the experience and enjoyment. It’s not often that one laughs during a performance of Carmina Burana but that occurred during this interpretation by The Florida Orchestra, The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and the three celebrated soloists.

The Florida Orchestra is truly on the right track to sharing the joy of music by creating opportunities for audiences to gain insight and understanding in an intimate setting from those that know it best.



ST. PETERSBURG, FL – The Florida Orchestra opens its historic 50th anniversary season this weekend with Carmina Burana, an epic work that sets the tone for a spectacular season under the leadership of Music Director Michael Francis. Concerts, featuring the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, are Friday through Sunday in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater in the Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series.

The orchestra’s 2017-18 season – Maestro Francis’ third with TFO – embraces old favorites as well as new pieces, ranging from Dvorak’s New World Symphony to Verdi’s massive Requiem. The Raymond James Pops series, led by Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, opens Oct. 13-15 with Swing is the Thing and includes the Music of Star Trek & Star Wars, Holiday Pops and Rodgers & Hammerstein. The expanded morning Coffee concert series, led by Principal Guest Conductor Stuart Malina, opens Oct. 12.

The orchestra heads into this milestone season with a lot to celebrate.

  • TFO’s 50th anniversary fundraising gala concert featuring Sting sold out in a week. “An Intimate Evening with The Florida Orchestra and Sting,” conducted by Michael Francis, is December 9 at the 2,000-seat Mahaffey Theater.
  • Paid attendance continues to soar, up more than 45 percent since 2009. Last season TFO sold more than 100,000 seats — the most since at least 1989, when TFO started keeping records. Eighteen concerts sold out.
  • The orchestra introduces two family-friendly weekend matinee series at the Mahaffey Theater: a five-concert Raymond James Pops series at 2 pm Saturdays, and a five-concert Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series at 2 pm Sundays.
  • The season is packed with special concerts, including Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 21-23 at two large churches and the Mahaffey Theater – a total of about 10,000 seats. The wildly popular Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY video game concert returns, with two performances, Jan. 26 & 28. The orchestra performed sold-out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone movie concerts at the Straz Center this past weekend and will play the entire score for the second movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dec. 28 & 29.
  • TFO will perform at least six world premieres, including Triptych, a major work inspired by Florida specifically to honor the orchestra’s 50th season. It is written by Tampa native and rising star composer Michael Ippolito and premieres Feb. 23-25.
  • The Ruth Eckerd Hall Coffee Concert series expands to five concerts on Wednesdays, to go along with the nine-concert series at the Mahaffey Theater on Thursdays.
  • A new $1.8 million acoustic stage shell at the Mahaffey Theater will help the orchestra sound better than ever. The state-of-the-art shell debuts Saturday with the Carmina Burana concert. Click for details.
  • The Florida Orchestra continues its long tradition of community and education programs throughout Tampa bay, serving at least 80,000 people, including more than 20,000 students at youth concerts. Concerts include free Pops in the Park, which returns to Coachman Park in Clearwater for the first time in about decade; Woodson Chamber Concerts on Sunday afternoons at the Woodson African American Museum; “Sing Out! Tampa Bay,” TFO’s sing-along concert with community chorus; Family Concerts; Inside the Music; and more. Click for details. 

TFO’s season also celebrates 50 years of bridging the bay with music, which fittingly started more than five decades ago on a boat in the middle of Tampa Bay, when the St. Petersburg Symphony and the Tampa Philharmonic came together in a “marriage” ceremony. Incorporated in 1967, the orchestra first performed in 1968. Now The Florida Orchestra has grown into the premier – and largest – professional orchestra in the state. It is still the only performing arts organization that unites the entire bay area, with performances in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Florida Orchestra musician news

For the first time in more than four decades, The Florida Orchestra has a new principal clarinet on stage. Natalie Hoe won her first principal position fresh out of graduate school at Rice University in Houston. She was born in Crawley, a town south of London, but moved to Hong Kong when she was 1. At age 17, she left for her undergraduate studies at The Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles. Hoe takes over for longtime principal Brian Moorhead after his retirement.

Sandra del Cid-Davies joins the orchestra on flute and piccolo. She performed as a member of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra since 2008 and also performed regularly with the Brevard Symphony Orchestra, Bach Festival Orchestra, and served on the faculties of both Southeastern University and Rollins College in Winter Park. A native of Northern Virginia, del Cid-Davies completed her bachelor’s in music at Peabody Conservatory and master’s at Northwestern University.

Originally from Toronto, new violinist Zubaida Azezi is a recent New World Symphony alumna. Her passion for music has led her to perform on international stages in Asia, Europe, North and South America. Azezi also is committed to promoting music education. In the summer of 2014, she traveled to Urumqi, China, where she partnered with YOA Orchestra of the Americas and founded the province’s first youth orchestra. She has coached students in Colombia, Jamaica, Canada, China, and Dominican Republic. She holds degrees from CSU Schwob School of Music and Southern Methodist University.

Violinist Vivek Jayaraman joins the orchestra after filling a one-year appointment last season. Jayaraman was a member of the New World Symphony from 2011 to 2015. He recently completed an artist diploma at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He also served as concertmaster of the Canton Symphony.

Anthony Georgeson, principal bassoon since 2007, has departed the orchestra for a position at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Filling his role in a one-year appointment will be JW Kriewall. He recently completed his master’s degree in bassoon performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music and his undergraduate degree at Michigan State University. Kriewall has performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony, ProMusica Chamber Symphony, and the New World Symphony. He has held positions with the Youngstown Symphony and Ann Arbor Symphony.

Casey Jones, acting principal trombone last season, has departed for a position at the Oregon Symphony. Until an audition later this fall, his role will be filled by Joel Vaisse, who has played as principal trombone of all the major French orchestras including Orchestre National de France and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

See a full calendar at

About Michael Francis

About The Florida Orchestra

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in the 2017/18 season, The Florida Orchestra is recognized as Tampa Bay’s leading performing arts institution, the largest professional symphony orchestra in Florida, and one of the most vibrant and innovative orchestras in America.Under the leadership of Music Director Michael Francis, it performs more than 130 concerts a season, with series of classical, popular, and morning coffee concerts in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, as well as free Pops in the Park concerts. Dedicated to bringing music to all people, connecting to the community is a priority, with pre-concert talks, family and youth concerts and other educational activities. Kids and teens get in free to classical Masterworks concerts with Classical Kids tickets. To subscribe or buy tickets: 727.892.3337 or 1.800.662.7286;



Tampa Bay Times Masterworks:
Carmina Burana

Michael Francis, conductor
Madison Leonard, soprano
John Kaneklides, tenor
Michael Nyby, baritone
The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay
Doreen Rao, visiting artistic director
Lumina Youth Choirs
Deah McReynolds, director

Tippett: Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage
Orff: Carmina Burana

Don’t know it? Oh, yes, you do. The iconic Carmina Burana, under the baton of Michael Francis, sets the tone for an epic 50th anniversary season. Carl Orff’s masterpiece has taken on a life of its own, from the Super Bowl to political spoofs to The Simpsons, but nothing takes away from the raw power of hearing the entire work live with The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. Carmina Burana  is based on a medieval collection of 13th-century poems, with themes ranging from religious ecstasy to lust to drunken debauchery, in a combination of Latin, German and French. Also on the program is Ritual Dances from the opera The Midsummer Marriage by Michael Tippett. This piece is not performed as often, but its ritual nature and exploration of escapism make it a good fit with Carmina Burana.


Michael Francis, Music Director

The Jay B and Marsha Starkey Chair


Michael Francis has quickly established himself internationally, conducting in Asia, North America, and Europe. Known for maintaining a diverse repertoire while paying particular homage to the composers of his native Britain, Francis enjoys a great reception throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

Last season, Francis debuted with the Atlanta and Montreal symphony orchestras and Cincinnati’s May Music Festival, and he returned to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with Emanuel Ax. Abroad, he appeared with Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken, Komische Oper Berlin, Dresden Philharmonic, Tampere Filharmonia, and Trondheim Symphony Orchestra.

Other guest appearances have included the Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Royal Philharmonic, with return engagements to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Philharmonic, RTÉ National Symphony of Dublin, Ulster Orchestra, Dresden Philharmonic, and the symphonies of Cincinnati, Ottawa, Oregon, Houston, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh.  His European engagements have included the London Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony, Orquesta Sinfónica de RTVE Madrid, Helsinki Philharmonic, Mariinsky Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, and Stuttgart Radio Symphony.  In Asia, Maestro Francis has conducted the NHK Symphony and has returned to the Malaysia and Seoul philharmonics.

Working with young musicians has always been a priority for Maestro Francis. Aside from a six-city Canadian tour with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, he has made frequent visits to Miami’s New World Symphony and recently performed with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.

After several years as a tenured double-bass player in the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), he came to prominence as a conductor in January 2007, replacing an indisposed Valery Gergiev for concerts with the LSO during the BBC’s Gubaidulina festival at the Barbican Centre. Just one month later, Francis was asked, this time with only two hours’ notice, to replace the composer/conductor John Adams in a performance of his own works with the LSO at the Philharmonie Luxembourg, and soon after in January 2009, he replaced André Previn leading a German tour of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony.

Soloists that he works with include Lang Lang, Arcadi Volodos, Christian Tetzlaff, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Vadim Gluzman, Nicola Benedetti, Baiba Skride, Jamie Barton, Alisa Weilerstein, Truls Mørk, Håkan Hardenberger, Daniel Müller-Schott, Miloš and Rufus Wainwright.

Francis’ discography includes the Rachmaninoff piano concertos with Valentina Lisitsa and the London Symphony Orchestra, Wolfgang Rihm’s Lichtes Spiel with Anne-Sophie Mutter and the New York Philharmonic, and the Ravel and Gershwin piano concertos with Ian Parker.

Now entering his third season as music director of The Florida Orchestra, Francis’ contract has already been extended to 2021. He is also music director of the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego, where he has launched an ambitious multi-year exploration of Mozart’s life. He was recently chief conductor and artistic advisor of the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra from 2012 to 2016.

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The mission of The Florida Orchestra is to enrich the life of the Tampa Bay area as it inspires, entertains and educates a wide and diverse audience with the unique experience of live symphonic music, ensuring that future generations will continue to enjoy this legacy that so magnificently celebrates the human spirit.

The Florida Orchestra’s history is steeped in orchestral tradition from both sides of Tampa Bay. In the 1930s, Tampa already had a strong orchestra scene with a WPA orchestra, and by the mid 1940s, the Tampa Symphony Orchestra was born, although it would be renamed the Tampa Philharmonic in 1959. Similarly, across the bay in St. Petersburg, community and city orchestras had already formed by the mid-to-late 1940s, and in 1950, members of the Carreno Music Club formed the St. Petersburg Symphony.

Talks of the two orchestras merging began to surface in 1964. Instrumental in these talks were the conductors of the two orchestras, Alfredo Antonini of the Tampa Philharmonic and Thomas Briccetti of the St. Petersburg Symphony. An official intent of the merger was made on November 23, 1966, and on that day, representatives from both the Tampa Philharmonic and the St. Petersburg Symphony traveled by boat to the center of Tampa Bay, where they married the two institutions in a symbolic union and became the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony. The St. Petersburg Times, now known as the Tampa Bay Times, noted in an article on November 24, 1966, “The mood was one of pride for the entire Tampa Bay area, not one city over another.” The merger became official two years later, and the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony opened its first season on November 14, 1968, under the baton of 43-year-old Music Director Irwin Hoffman, who had previously guest conducted the Tampa Philharmonic. The program included Berlioz’ Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 47. That first season, the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony presented five concerts from November through April, performing each concert three times. The orchestra continued to perform as the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony until its name was changed to The Florida Orchestra in 1984.

Irwin Hoffman remained conductor until 1987, and during the 1988/89 season, Jahja Ling made his debut as music director to tremendous critical acclaim. Ling brought the orchestra into the international spotlight as he led them in the performance of the Star-Spangled Banner with Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV before a world-wide audience of 750 million. The Florida Orchestra made musical history as the first symphony orchestra to ever be invited to perform at a Super Bowl. The 2001/02 season marked Jahja Ling’s final season as music director of The Florida Orchestra, and in May of 2002, Stefan Sanderling was appointed music director. In the summer of 2012, Sanderling’s departure from The Florida Orchestra was announced, and in June 2014, The Florida Orchestra announced Michael Francis as its newest music director.

Recently, the orchestra has had a series of successes. In the fall of 2011, The Florida Orchestra launched a multi-year cultural exchange with the Cuban Institute of Music as well as its Accessibility Initiative, which effectively reduced ticket prices to all of its Masterworks and Pops concerts. In addition, the orchestra has announced a variety of partnerships and projects that further engage the orchestra with the Tampa Bay community, including a collaboration with the Tampa Bay Lightning to produce the team’s theme song, Be the Thunder. Another exciting accomplishment for the orchestra was the release of a CD on the Naxos label in the fall of 2012. Featuring music by Florida influenced classical composer Frederick Delius, the recording includes The Florida Orchestra, The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, and baritone Leon Williams in a performance of Delius’ Sea Drift and Appalachia. In December of 2014, the orchestra released another CD, Holiday Pops Live!, on their label TFO Live.

The Florida Orchestra is recognized as Tampa Bay’s leading performing arts institution, the largest professional symphony orchestra in Florida, and one of the most vibrant and innovative orchestras in America. Through extraordinary musical performances, the orchestra inspires the people of Tampa Bay and serves as a leader and beacon for the musical arts throughout the state. Regardless of where performances occur, The Florida Orchestra is committed to serving the entire Tampa Bay area.

The Florida Orchestra performs nearly 100 concerts annually in the tri-city area of Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg. Concert series include Tampa Bay Times Masterworks, Raymond James Pops, coffee concert matinees, rock concerts, free Pops in the Park concerts, and educational youth concerts.



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