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Benjamin Whiting ‘peers into Beethoven’s mind’ for premiere work

The challenge of composing a piece to honor Beethoven was enough to keep Benjamin Whiting up at night.

“I grew up playing Beethoven’s sonatas, and his entire output has influenced my development,” said the 39-year-old University of South Florida composer and classically trained pianist. “But it’s entirely different to be writing a piece that honors the (250th) anniversary of his birth.’’

Whiting borrowed ideas from 10 symphonies and sonatas and fused them into a puzzle for large orchestra, while trying to keep the music sounding, well, fresh. Michael Francis and The Florida Orchestra will premiere the results – a six-minute piece called Bonn Chance — this weekend for audiences in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

“The trick was to incorporate motivic material from his repertoire and not make it sound like a collage,’’ he said. “It’s written in a contemporary style, although there’s one moment when I use a direct quote from Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, because that work is also on the program. So it’s a sort of primordial soup of Beethoven material.’’

Bonn Chance is named for Bonn, where Beethoven was born in 1770, and is full of quicksilver fragments that go in and out of focus, “as if one could travel back in time and peer into Beethoven’s mind as he was brainstorming these musical ideas,’’ Whiting added.

Whiting completed Bonn Chance in January as part of the orchestra’s ongoing commitment to living Florida composers. For the past four years, the orchestra has performed new works by musicians from around the state, and this season the orchestra offers the premieres of four other short fanfares dedicated to the iconic German composer.

Although he has composed numerous works, this is Whiting’s first full-scale orchestral commission. Who can blame him for being a tad nervous?

“Hearing your work performed for the first time is both nerve-racking and exhilarating,’’ said Whiting, who teaches composition and electronic music at the Tampa campus. “It’s akin to witnessing the birth of your child. I have no control over what happens during a premiere, so I’m beyond nervous and anxious.’’

But like his other premieres, it will no doubt be a priceless moment in the concert hall.

“It’s like the music is finally being realized, the results of an experiment I’ve been engaged in,’’ he said. “I’d have to say that the premieres of new pieces I’ve written are the happiest nights of my life.’’

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3

Michael Francis, conductor
Joyce Yang, piano

Sibelius: Symphony No. 7
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8
Benjamin Whiting: Bonn Chance
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3

Fri, March 6, 8 pm, Straz Center
Sat, March 7, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater
Sun, March 8, 7:30 pm, Ruth Eckerd Hall 

Tickets start at $18
Free tickets for kids and teens in advance
Join the Pre-concert Conversation 1 hour prior

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