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That’s a wrap! How do TFO musicians spend summer break?

By Greg Rollins

As another Florida Orchestra season comes to an end, people might think the musicians and staff are looking forward to a long, well-earned summer lounging on the beach or backpacking through Europe. If only that were the case. While some of the orchestra’s 67 professional musicians take time off or find part-time jobs to see them through to the fall, many keep the music going with festivals and other projects, where they play, teach or work as staff.

These festivals take musicians across the country and around the world to perform everything from opera to chamber music, some running as short as a week or as long as a couple of months. My wife, violinist Sarah Shellman, plays in the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, Calif., where the music generally has been composed within the last twenty years. Other festivals are in places like Bellingham, Wash., where cellist Fred Gratta plays, or San Diego, where Principal Flute Clay Ellerbroek has played nineteen years at the Mainly Mozart Festival. (Michael Francis is also music director at Mainly Mozart.) Some TFO musicians play multiple festivals. During the summer season, TFO violinist Vivek Jayaraman will play with the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra in Switzerland, Sun Valley Music Festival in Idaho, and the inaugural Tsinandali Festival in the country of Georgia.

Many end up working with their TFO colleagues. TFO Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer is also concertmaster and artistic director of chamber music at the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina and performs at Mainly Mozart as well. Also at Eastern are Principal Harp Anna Kate Mackle and her husband, Principal Percussion John Shaw, who teach, coach student ensembles and play in the orchestra and chamber groups.

“We consider our colleagues at Eastern Music Festival to be our extended family. We’ve been working with them during the summers for decades in some cases,” Shaw says. “We also get a chance to perform chamber music in a lovely setting. Last year, Anna Kate and I together performed a piece we’d commissioned on a chamber concert, which was very gratifying. Combine all that with being able to teach and mentor some of the most talented high school and college students in the country, and you can see why I consider the festival a great way to ‘sharpen the saw’ and get rejuvenated for the coming season. It’s a great way to get a different perspective through change of pace.”

Four TFO musicians have been long-time faculty members at the rigorous Kinhaven Music School in Vermont, including Principal Timpani John Bannon, hornist Carolyn Wahl, bassoonist John Keyahas and violist Ken Kwo. Keyahas is taking a break this year to co-host the International Double Reed Society Conference at USF in Tampa, which will also be a big moment for TFO hornist Richard Sparrow and his oboist wife, Dione Chandler (Stetson University). They have commissioned Jim Stephenson to compose a piece for oboe, horn and piano, and the world premiere is scheduled for July 14 at the conference.

TFO staffers, many of whom are also musicians, attend summer festivals, too. TFO Principal Librarian Ella Fredrickson, for example, has been the librarian for the Cabrillo Festival for eighteen years, although this year she is taking a sabbatical. Assistant Orchestra Personnel Manager Aric Brian will spend his first summer as orchestra manager with the Aspen Festival Orchestras. Community Engagement Director Erin Horan has spent years at Birch Creek Music Performance Center in Egg Harbor, Wisc., where she was first a student and then assistant faculty. This year she’s doing music preparation. Because most TFO staffers are busy over the summer preparing for next season, it can be tough to carve out time off for festivals.

These summer festivals and projects are a lot of fun. But they’re still work. A handful of festivals are the equivalent of adult summer camp, but many have demanding schedules. Along with rehearsals and concerts, musicians sometimes take part in conductor workshops, composer workshops or teaching. And they still need to practice. Festivals that play traditional classical music might not demand as much preparation because the musicians are familiar with the music, but the ones with contemporary music certainly do. Especially if the pieces are new.

These summer festivals are not always profitable. After paying for transportation, food, and sometimes accommodations, most musicians and staff are happy if they break even. But money isn’t the only factor. It’s a labor of love. An excuse to play music that TFO doesn’t play much, like Baroque, contemporary, opera or chamber music. For some it’s about giving back to a festival that they attended as a high school or collage student. Or it’s a reason to travel and play good music instead of staying at home and making no money at all. Whatever the case, it’s also a great reason not to be in Tampa Bay during the hot, muggy summer.

-Kelly Smith contributed to this article.

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