The Florida Orchestra
|The Florida Orchestra|
|Former name||The Florida Gulf Coast Symphony|
|Location||Tampa Bay Area|
|Music director||Michael Francis|
The Florida Orchestra is an American orchestra based in Florida, USA. It was founded as the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony, when the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra and the Tampa Philharmonic agreed to merge in 1968. The orchestra changed its name to The Florida Orchestra in 1984. 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 Concerts, Rock Concerts, free Pops in the Park Concerts, and educational Youth Concerts.
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 (1968–1987)
- Jahja Ling (1988–2002)
- Stefan Sanderling (2003–2012)
- Michael Francis (2015-)
The first music director of the orchestra was Irwin Hoffman, from 1968 to 1987. 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 2002, Stefan Sanderling was appointed music director. In the summer of 2012, Sanderling’s departure from The Florida Orchestra was announced. His contract had been intended to run through the 2013–2014 season, at which point he was scheduled to conclude his tenure. There were reports of conflict between Sanderling and the orchestra management as factors in his departure. However, in June 2012, the orchestra announced the early conclusion of Sanderling's Florida Orchestra tenure after the 2011–2012 season, at which time he took the titles of conductor emeritus and artistic adviser to the orchestra.
In past years, the orchestra has had as its principal pops conductor Skitch Henderson (1987–2000) and Richard Kaufman (2004–2009). In June 2012, the orchestra named Jeff Tyzik its new principal pops conductor, effective with the 2012–2013 season, with an initial contract of three years. Also in June 2012, the orchestra named Stuart Malina as its principal guest conductor, effective with the 2012–2013 season.
In June 2014, the orchestra announced the appointment of Michael Francis as its new music director starting with the 2015-2016 season, serving as music director designate for the 2014-2015 season. Appointed as part of an initial three-year contract, his duties include being the primary conductor and providing the artistic leadership for concert programming and related artistic decisions. Although his primary role is with the Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series, he will also be conducting one concert each season for the Raymond James Pops and the morning Coffee Concert series.
In the fall of 2011, The Florida Orchestra announced its Accessibility Initiative, which effectively reduced ticket prices to all of its Masterworks and Pops concerts. Due to this initiative, as well as the programming on the 2011-2012 season, the orchestra saw a marked growth in subscriptions and single tickets, with a combined increase in paid attendance of 15%.
Partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning
The orchestra collaborated with local NHL hockey team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, to produce the team’s new theme song, Be the Thunder. The anthem, composed by Gregory Smith, was accompanied by video footage of the Lightning and The Florida Orchestra as the hockey team took the ice at every home game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum during the 2011-2012 season. In addition to the Lightning’s new song, the orchestra worked with the hockey team to create a variety of youth concerts for children in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties during the 2011-2012 school year. Featuring TFO musicians, Lightning players, and even Lightning mascot Thunderbug as conductor, the youth concerts focused on how teamwork is involved with both hockey and music.
Cultural Exchange with Cuba
Also in 2011, the orchestra launched a multi-year cultural exchange with Cuba. After several months of communications with Cuba’s Music Institute of Havana (Instituto de Música de La Habana), The Florida Orchestra Wind Quintet performed in Havana at the end of September 2011, which was the first time since 1999 that a professional American orchestra had sent musicians to Cuba and only the second time since the 1959 revolution. The cultural exchange continued in November 2012, when The Florida Orchestra presented the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba as part of a Tampa Bay area residency that included chamber music, an orchestra concert and master classes. In May 2013, Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer performed as soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba while in Havana.
The orchestra released its 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 2003, the orchestra musicians ratified a contract that cut their pay by 16%, after the prior season had reported a fiscal deficit. There was also a plan to increase the endowment of the orchestra from $8 million to $25 million. However, the planned announcement of the campaign did not occur, by early 2004. Seven musicians from the orchestra left as a result. In November 2006, the orchestra reported a deficit of $676,615 for the 2006 fiscal year. The orchestra signed its most recent contract in June 2012, with a base salary of $29,034 (for 25 weeks of work) that is scheduled to increase to $32,000 for 271⁄2 weeks in the 2014–2015 season.
- John Fleming (2011-05-27). "Stefan Sanderling won't be renewing his contract with the Florida Orchestra". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- John Fleming (2011-11-06). "A farewell tour". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- John Fleming (2012-07-02). "Florida Orchestra's Stefan Sanderling stepping down early as music director". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- John Fleming (2012-06-08). "Florida Orchestra names Jeff Tyzik pops conductor". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- John Fleming (2012-06-22). "Florida Orchestra taps Stuart Malina as principal guest conductor". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- John Fleming (2003-09-25). "A whole New World". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2007-01-11.
- John Fleming (2004-03-16). "Finances take toll on orchestra". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2007-01-11.
- John Fleming (2004-08-21). "Florida Orchestra loses a septet following pay cuts". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2007-01-11.
- John Fleming (2006-11-01). "Storms a stressor on orchestra finances". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2007-01-11.
- John Fleming (2012-07-01). "Musicians trumpet positive, if modest, Florida Orchestra agreement". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2012-07-15.