A little more than a week before rare performances of Janacek’s Sinfonietta, TFO Personnel Manager Perry Landmeyer was in a bit of a panic. The piece calls for 12 trumpet players, instead of the typical three or four. Suddenly, he was one short.
Altogether it will be an impressive mass of brass on stage this weekend, most of it launching into a full-throttle fanfare at the beginning of the piece while standing on risers along the back of the orchestra. The roster count: 26 brass players – including two bass trumpets and two euphonium – compared to only 24 violins. That pretty much never happens.
Which is a big reason the 24-minute work is rarely performed. When Music Director Michael Francis did a quick survey of how many musicians had played it before, not many hands went up at rehearsal on a packed stage.
“I fully envisioned my career without ever playing it,” said TFO Principal Trumpet Robert Smith, who joined the orchestra in 1984. He crosses it off his list this weekend.
It’s on the bucket list of a lot of musicians. Even Carolyn Wahl, a TFO French horn for 44 years, has never performed it, though she listened to it over and over growing up.
With so many supplemental musicians to hire, staging Sinfonietta is a splurge. Yet it feels big and bold and celebratory, so Maestro Francis and General Manager Edward Parsons felt it was worth it for the 50th anniversary season. Plus, it shows off the virtuosity of every section, from double basses to flutes and piccolos.
The big question is how do you find that many top-notch trumpet players? The piece is notoriously difficult.
“You basically call everybody you know,” said Kenneth Brown, Assistant Principal Trumpet since 1996, and surely the only TFO musician who has performed Sinfonietta three times, with other orchestras.
That’s exactly what Smith and Brown did, starting in the greater Tampa Bay area and expanding beyond. Trumpet players are coming from the University of South Florida, Sarasota and Orlando, but also North Carolina and New York, including orchestra musicians, music professors and graduate students. The full dozen was all set – until one from San Antonio had to drop out last week.
Enter Perry Landmeyer. In addition to his job as TFO personnel manager, he is a trumpet player who regularly subs in the orchestra. He’s already on the roster for Sinfonietta, but certainly he has connections, right? Doesn’t matter this close to the performance; it’s tough to find a high-caliber player who isn’t booked.
Finally, a day or so later, Landmeyer got a lead from a USF music professor. A few phone calls and the final trumpet player was on board.
This weekend fans will come for the headline work, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, but they’ll be blown away by Sinfonietta, Landmeyer said.
“Even if you don’t have a ticket, just drive by the concert hall and you’ll hear it,” he joked. (Note that musicians on stage wear protective earplugs.)
Michael Francis said these truly are can’t-miss performances for musicians and audiences.
“It could be the only time you’ll hear this piece live in your lifetime.”
Note: To learn more about Czech composer Leos Janacek (1854-1928) and Sinfonietta, attend Michael Francis’ Pre-concert Conversation that starts one hour before each performance. It is included with your concert ticket.
Dvorak’s Cello Concerto
Michael Francis conducts Janacek’s Sinfonietta on a program with Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, one of the greatest love songs ever written, featuring the return of international cellist Maximilian Hornung. Also: Short fanfare Splendor Fountain, composed by Daniel Crozier, and Smetana’s The Moldau.
Fri, Jan 19, 8 pm, Straz Center
Sat Jan 20, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater
Sun, Jan 21, 2 pm, Mahaffey Theater – Matinee
Tickets: $15, $30, $45
Free tickets for kids and teens 5-18 in advance