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Florida Orchestra's music director extends contract and shares his vision for the future

A man in a tuxedo stands in the midst of green trees.
Andi Tafelski
The Florida Orchestra Music Director Michael Francis stands in front of a tree at St. Petersburg's Sunken Gardens.

Michael Francis says there is unfinished business to take care of.

Music Director Michael Francis just signed on to stay at the helm of The Florida Orchestra until at least the 2029-2030 season.

It's a move TFO's Board of Directors unanimously approved and will make Francis the second-longest serving music director in the organization's history. He has served in that capacity since 2015. Irwin Hoffman served as TFO music director from 1968-1988.

Kurt Loft is a local arts writer and former music critic for the Tampa Tribune who has written about TFO for more than 43 years.

He said it's a reflection of the quality of the orchestra, the board and community that Francis is choosing to stay on.

"Michael has had other opportunities but wants to stay with TFO and continue to build a cultural brand. I hope people realize what a musical gift he is, and how lucky this area is to have an ensemble that continues to evolve and refine itself rather than simply rubber-stamp the classical repertoire," Loft said.

Part of that is commissioning new music. Francis and his wife Cindy have sponsored multiple commissions of new music to showcase Florida talent.

Florida Orchestra; Master Chorale of Tampa Bay; Michael Francis conductor October 8, 2022, Mahaffey Theatre, St. Petersburg Florida. Soloists: Jeni Houser soprano, John Kaneklides tenor, Jean Carlos Rodriquez baritone
J.M. Lennon
Lennon Media
Music Director Michael Francis leads the Florida Orchestra and Master Chorale of Tampa Bay on Oct. 8, 2022, at The Mahaffey Theatre in St. Petersburg with soloists: Jeni Houser soprano, John Kaneklides tenor, and Jean Carlos Rodriquez, baritone.

"And that gives us a chance to really sort of think, 'Yeah, well, what is the time that we're in?' We understand the time that Mozart was in, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. But what is our time? What are composers saying about that? And what are composers saying about Florida, about Tampa Bay, and about just the various issues of life. And so for me, it's extremely important that an orchestra is both a museum — in a sense of collecting and collating great works of art from the past, but not a mausoleum where we only exist there," he said.

Last season, The Florida Orchestra gave the world premiere of Tampa-born Composer Michael Ippolito’s "Violin Concerto." It was written for TFO Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer and commissioned by Francis and TFO.

“Michael Francis has brought this orchestra to a whole new level. As a strong artistic leader, he has established a culture of excellence in everything we do. He demands it in us, and he demands it in himself. He taps into that inherent desire we all have to be great,” Multer said.

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A release from the organization noted Francis' popularity with The Florida Orchestra's audiences for his wit and analysis, and his ability to help audiences connect personally with the music through his Pre-Concert Conversations. He also played a key role in forging a new partnership with Opera Tampa for TFO to play live music for its productions for the first time in 20 years.

And while it's easy to think that the work of the orchestra is completed in the concert halls alone, that's just not so.

"Our real mission is to make sure that we reach deep into Tampa Bay to people around us, that we give everybody an opportunity to experience this art form, and that there'd be no no boundary, no parameters that restricts them. Whether those be financial, whether it be geographical, or demographic, or anything, we want everybody to feel welcome," Francis said.

Education is part of that mission. One of the outreaches TFO engages in is a partnership with Pinellas County Schools to help music teachers teach string players and build orchestras. Francis says most school music teachers are percussionists or wind players.

Still, at 56, TFO is a relatively young organization as orchestras go.

"We have this connection to the past through these wonderful composers, but we have this opportunity to really reengage how we think about performances, how we think about communication, how we reach far beyond the concert hall. So I think what we have here right now is a golden opportunity to really reimagine what an orchestra can be, in the 21st century," Francis said.

I love telling stories about my home state. And I hope they will help you in some way and maybe even lift your spirits.