Visceral is an apt one-word description of The Florida Orchestra’s Masterworks performance last weekend, which included a world premiere by a Tampa Bay composer and a blazing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
The program’s highlight was the freshly minted Violin Concerto by Michael Ippolito, who was raised in Brandon and enjoys a growing portfolio of works written specifically for this orchestra. Now a teacher of music composition at Texas State University in San Marcos, Ippolito penned his concerto for TFO Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer, with plenty of urging from Music Director Michael Francis.
“I really like his playing, which I got to know when I worked with the orchestra for Triptych, where he had a short solo,’’ Ippolito said of Multer. “He made an off-hand remark about me writing a concerto for him and I kept discussing it with him and Francis until we made the project happen.’’
All three musicians left an indelible mark Sunday afternoon at Mahaffey Theater: Multer stretching the tonal limits of his instrument, Francis working up a sweat at the podium, and Ippolito sitting in the audience enjoying his newest creation.
The Concerto is in two parts. The first is titled Rhapsodos, an epic told from the personal, hero-centered point of view. In ancient Greece, a rhapsode was a reciter of poetry who stitched together songs. “In this movement, the solo violin is the storyteller who embodies the hero, enchanting us with their triumphs and tragedies,’’ Ippolito said.
The second movement, titled Moirai, refers to the fates – the three sister goddesses who determine the destinies of all mortals. The sister’s names are Clotho (who spins the thread of life), Lachesis (who measures each person’s allotment), and Atropos (who cuts the thread at the end of life).
Many in the hall had to be impressed with Multer’s exuberance and precision, neither of which waned over 24 minutes. In fact, the concerto unfolded like a non-stop cadenza – orchestral tuttis were rare – and he ripped every note off his violin as if a demon possessed.
As a linear work, the concerto mirrors the violin concertos of Prokofiev, while the supporting harmonies echo Shostakovich. But this compact new work belongs to Ippolito, who holds listeners through a balance of instrumental brilliance and bittersweet intensity.
TFO opened with its first performance of Elegy by the Welsh composer Grace Williams, a poignant adagio that floats a simple theme without ornament or development. Nancy Chang’s evocative violin solo took the music on an upward arc before leading her colleagues to a soft close.
In contrast, the second half exploded off the stage. From our seats in the fourth row, the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony was palpable in sound and vibration, the brass section delivering a stentorian pulse that no doubt could be felt in the lobby. The strings players smiled during the delightful pizzicato third movement, and in the finale Francis drove the orchestra to its physical limits as it embraced the triumphal return to the home key of F major.