Southwest Florida Symphony plans party of season for its 50th year

Music Director Michael Hall is excited about the new season, with high points such as two works commissioned by the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and its performance of the massive Mahler Symphony No. 2.

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Music Director Michael Hall is excited about the new season, with high points such as two works commissioned by the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and its performance of the massive Mahler Symphony No. 2.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected president. Cigarettes were such a fact of American life that characters of “The Flintstones” smoked them on the animated TV show. Fidel Castro, the charismatic revolutionary leader in Cuba, stunned the world by announcing the nationalization of all industry.

And in Fort Myers, Florida, the idea that this community was big enough for a symphony orchestra was germinating — the inspiration that will be celebrated in the orchestra’s 50th anniversary season at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall this fall. The Fort Myers-based orchestra has planned a gala year:

-- The commissioning of two new works, one of them a fanfare with orchestra and chorus, on the season’s first and last programs.

-- An event that will bring together the symphony’s previous music directors, all of whom are still living.

-- A duplication of the symphony’s debut concert, which includes Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony (“Fate Knocks at the Door”).

Music Director Michael Hall has the tone of a kid in a candy store about the coming season. “It’s wonderful being the fairly new kid on the block, although this is my third season here, and still being part of the fiftieth-anniversary celebration,” he said in a recent interview.

Hall says he’s most excited about the two works that have been commissioned

“Paul Richards, who is a composition professor at the University of Florida, is writing for us a piece celebrating our 50th anniversary, and what’s special about this is that it is for orchestra and chorus. We’ve been talking about what I’m envisioning is a fanfare, a celebratory piece,” he said.

The orchestra held a lyrics competition for the text, with a theme that embraces “a little broader perspective — the joy of music,” rather than being too specific about the orchestra, he said. That fanfare will open the season. A flute concerto composed by Jim Stephenson, a Chicago-based composer and former trumpet player with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, will close it. Both composers have ties to Florida, he pointed out. And having new music to mark its milestone, he said, “gives us impetus. We need to make sure music is written for the future as well as well as performing what’s been given to us already.”

“The other sort of fun idea we had was to re-create the very first concert the Southwest Florida Symphony ever did, back in 1961. We have a lot of history that ‘s been kept over the years. One of our violinists has kept a lot of news clippings and articles and programs, and through her we discovered the program for the very first concert,” Hall explained.

Its content preserved remarkably well: two audience favorites, Beethoven’s Fifth and Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony (No. 8 in B minor), along with the Intermezzo from Zoltán Kodaly’s “Harry Janos” Suite.

“That’s an interesting one and I’m glad we’re doing it,” he said of the last piece. “That’s not one most symphonies do removed from the suite.“

The pinnacle, however, may be Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the “Resurrection” symphony, on March 26. It calls for orchestra and chorus, with 90 people onstage performing the massive, 80-minute-long work.

Subscription tickets are now available to the public for both Southwest Florida Symphony orchestra series:

Masterworks Series

Music Director Michael Hall conducts. All concerts are at 8 p.m.

Richards’ 50th Year Celebration work — Oct. 30. Also: Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and the Stravinsky Firebird Suitel. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “O, Clap Your Hands” is also on the program, which includes the symphony chorus. Steven Mayer is guest pianist.

Bach’s Cello Concert in C minor — Jan. 29, 2011. Also on the program: Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony No. 1, Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations and Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 (“Drumroll”). Mihai Marica is guest cellist.

Southwest Florida Symphony original program — Feb. 26, 2011. Kodaly’s Intermezzo from the “Harry Janos” Suite, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Mahler Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) — March 26, 2011.

Stephenson Flute Concerto — April 16, 2011. Also on the program: Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture and Sibelius Symphony No. 2 (“Symphony of Independence”).

Pops concert series

Associate Conductor Joseph Caulkins conducts, except as noted. All concerts are at 8 p.m.

Carl Topilow Returns: “When Swing Was King” — Jan. 7 and 8, 2011. This includes a wide variety of Dixieland and swing under the orchestra’s former pops conductor.

Five by Design: “Stay Tuned” — Feb. 18 and 19, 2011. The wide-ranging act takes on tunes from TV shows, with humor and harmony, along with the orchestra.

Spectrum: Motown Tribute — March 4 and 5, 2011. The orchestra and the pop quartet offer tunes from the harmonizing sound of the Sixties made popular by the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Platters and more.

“Ellis Island: The Dream of America” — April 8 and 9, 2011. This combination of theater and music includes a side-by-side performance of the orchestra and the Southwest Florida Youth Orchestra.

Subscription series for the masterworks series ranges from $72 tp $320; for pops, from $64 to $256. Flex vouchers are available for from $97 to $324 for six dates, and from $155 to $520 for 10 dates.

A special holiday concert Dec. 18 and 19 is a separate buy. Dates for the Symphony Around Town and the Stained Glass Series will be announced later.

For information, call (239) 418-1500 or visit the website: www.swflso.org/tickets.html

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