Like many American kids growing up, Kevin Wilt dreamed of being a superhero. One day he was Batman, jumping across skyscrapers as crowds on the streets looked up in awe. The next day he was Spider-Man, spinning a web of intrigue over the city skyline.
Now very much an adult at age 33, Wilt is supposed to keep such childhood reveries to himself, not celebrate them in public. But that’s exactly what he’ll do during this weekend’s Florida Orchestra concerts (Nov. 3-5), as part of TFO’s Florida Fanfare Project. Throughout its 50th anniversary season, the orchestra presents a series of world premieres by composers from universities around the state on select Tampa Bay Times Masterworks concerts.
Wilt’s freshly minted Running on Rooftops is pure innocence and imagination, and captures the thrill of a comic book figure bounding over tall buildings.
“The title is about the fantasy of being a superhero: climbing up a fire escape, running on rooftops, swinging from buildings, and saving the day, much like Batman or Spider-Man,’’ Wilt said from his home in Boca Raton, where he’s composer-in-residence at Florida Atlantic University. “It starts out in a slow atmospheric way, a sort of Hollywood theme. Then it gains a pulse, and becomes a racing adventure. It’s all over in five minutes.’’
Wilt found rhythmic inspiration for Running on Rooftops when he saw what else will be on the program: Bartok’s Dance Suite and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (a work Richard Wagner called “the apotheosis of the dance’’).
“So when I was told this was a dance-themed concert, I wanted to write something dance related,’’ he said. “When I think of dancing, it’s about cutting loose, losing inhibitions, of being free to do what you want. So, I was thinking about escaping the chains of reality and experiencing this fantasy of the superhero. That’s what it’s about.’’
Wilt is a prolific composer, having written dozens of works for orchestras, bands, chamber groups, singers and soloists. He recently won the Fresh Squeezed Opera Call for Scores with his chamber opera, Prix Fixe, and received a grant to create Urban Impressions, a multi-movement work for large wind ensemble. Members of the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra have recorded his music as part of the NYU/ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop.
All this experience aside, he still gets a bit nervous when he hears one of his pieces for the first time: “Sitting through the first performance of a new work is always exciting and always nerve-racking. If I’m relaxed, it feels like time is moving slow. If I’m tense, it feels like time is going by very fast.’’
Wilt is among five composers in the orchestra’s Fanfare series, which features newly written world premieres for the 2017-18 season. The series marks a first for the orchestra: a partnership with Florida universities to commission faculty composers to write short “celebratory fanfares’’ in any genre. The only restriction: Each piece must be between three and five minutes long.
Other fanfare composers and performance dates include Paul Reller, associate professor of music at the University of South Florida (Oct. 27-29; click to read about his piece); Daniel Crozier, professor of theory and composition at Rollins College in Winter Park (Jan. 19-21); Dorothy Hindman, associate professor of composition at the University of Miami (Feb. 16-18); and Manuel de Murga, associate professor of music at Stetson University in Deland (May 4-6).
The series fills a different role for the orchestra, traditionally known for upholding the standard classics of Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Copland. It not only taps into the minds of living composers, it embraces musical trends in Florida.
“Florida is such a big place, geographically, with lots of exciting pockets of creativity,’’ Wilt said. “And around the country, there are more people composing new music than ever before. If you go back 40 or 50 years, it was almost unheard of for an American composer to get a world premiere performed. That’s not the case today. And the orchestras that are pursuing this find that it’s really paying off.’’
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7
Listen to Kevin Wilt’s fanfare during our 50th Birthday Bash Weekend with Beethoven’s jubilant Symphony No. 7 and the rare original version of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4, with Alain Lefevre. Also: Bartok’s Dance Suite. Michael Francis conducts.
Fri, Nov 3, 8 pm, Straz Center, Carol Morsani Hall
Sat, Nov 4, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater
Sun, Nov 5, 7:30 pm, Ruth Eckerd Hall
Tickets start at $15.
Free Classical Kids tickets for kids and teens in advance through the Ticket Center.