Eighteen years ago, I spent an afternoon at the Brandon home of Michael Ippolito, where he sat at the piano talking about his newly composed Rhapsodie Pathetique. He played a passage and looked at me, confidently. “I’m the piano,’’ he said, “and the orchestra is the world.’’
It was a heavy dose coming from a 15 year old. But Ippolito wasn’t like most of his peers about to enter Brandon High School. The kid seemed to have his life already worked out on paper – a musical score, no less – taking charge like a young Mozart.
The comparison might seem rich, but Ippolito at the time was doing what great composers do: writing nascent piano concertos, symphonies, and chamber pieces. He performed his Rhapsodie Pathetique with the Tampa Bay Youth Orchestra, and three years later The Florida Orchestra offered the premiere of another original work, Waltz.
Fast forward to 2018, and Ippolito is letting the ink dry on yet another creation, but this time it’s different. His 24-minute piece, Triptych, is considered a centerpiece of The Florida Orchestra’s 50th anniversary season and a shining example of Music Director Michael Francis’ commitment to music as a living art. Its commission is sponsored by Francis and his wife, Cindy.
The world premiere by the orchestra is Feb. 23-25, framed by Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Dvorak’s New World Symphony, under the baton of Maestro Francis.
What inspired Ippolito to write Triptych? Florida.
“I’ve never considered writing a piece about where I grew up, but there are some things that make me a Floridian, so I wanted to consider them,’’ he said by phone from his office at Texas State University in San Marcos, where he’s assistant professor of composition. “Until now, I never thought much about what makes being a Floridian unique, or how to reflect that in my work.’’
Ippolito drew inspiration for Triptych from literary works that spoke to Florida’s sense of place. The first movement, Cypress Cathedral, was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s 1851 lecture, Walking: “When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most impenetrable and to the citizen, most dismal, swamp. I enter a swamp as a sacred place, a sanctum sanctorum.’’
This image impressed Ippolito because he grew up surrounded by cypress trees, which he describes as being in a Gothic cathedral. The second movement, On the Curl’d Clouds, is based on a passage from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and reflects a violent summer storm so common to the Tampa Bay area.
The last movement, Barque of Phosphor, takes its title from Wallace Stevens’ poem Fabliau of Florida, and suggests a bright moon reflecting over the Gulf of Mexico. “My music loosely follows the contemplative mood and imagery of the poem, beginning with a strange, high melody representing the moon,’’ he said.
Ippolito scored his new work for the full monty: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, piano and strings.
The 33-year-old composer has come a long way since Brandon High School. His music has been performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and more, in venues around the world. He was a composer fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and Cultivate program at the Copland House in 2012, and holds prestigious awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Juilliard School of Music, and ASCAP.
Like all of his compositions, Triptych will take on a life of its own during rehearsal, and Ippolito will be there to work out any kinks.
“Writing a new work represents two different experiences for me: composing and hearing,’’ he said. “You really don’t know how it will sound until it’s put together in rehearsal. And if something goes wrong, I have a variety of solutions to make sure things are steered in the right direction. That’s part of my job.’’
Dvorak’s The New World Symphony
The world premiere of a special TFO commission. Rising star composer and Tampa native Michael Ippolito writes a work inspired by Florida especially to honor the 50th anniversary of the orchestra. The other works on the program are old favorites: Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with the TFO debut of Cuban pianist Aldo López-Gavilán.
Fri, Feb 23, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater
Sat, Feb 24, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater
Sun, Feb 25, 7:30 pm, Ruth Eckerd Hall
Tickets: $15, $30, $45
Free tickets for kids and teens 5-18 in advance