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Wanted: a few good conductors

Many of the Florida Orchestra's concerts next season have ''TBA'' listed on the podium. That underscores the need for a new resident conductor and pops conductor.

By JOHN FLEMING, Times Performing Arts Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2003

Now that the Florida Orchestra has a new music director in Stefan Sanderling, who officially begins next season, it needs to fill the posts of resident conductor and pops conductor.

That's the message to be drawn from today's release of the schedules for the orchestra's 2003-04 pops, coffee and River Ridge series.

In the eight-concert pops series, familiar guest conductors will be on the podium: Skitch Henderson, who formerly headed the series and now is pops music director laureate; trumpeter Doc Severinsen; Broadway and Hollywood composer Marvin Hamlisch; and Dallas Symphony Pops Conductor Richard Kaufman. For several programs, the conductor is still to be announced.

The pops series has a good following and is important to the bottom line. Among all the orchestra's concerts at Mahaffey Theater last season, for example, many of the best-attended concerts were not in the masterworks series but those in the pops series, including several virtual sellouts in the 1,800-seat hall.

Highlights next season include jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain, the traditional Irish music group Cherish the Ladies and a Rodgers and Hammerstein program.

The orchestra has announced no plans to fill the pops music directorship, which has been vacant since Henderson stepped down in 2000.

As for resident conductor, a search has been under way this season to succeed Thomas Wilkins, but that announcement is yet to come. As a result, all the coffee concerts have "TBA" on the podium, except for one program that Sanderling will conduct.

The coffee concerts are popular. Wilkins, who left after last season for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, built the morning series at Mahaffey into something of a juggernaut. The orchestra began a companion series this season at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

The three Sunday matinees at River Ridge in Pasco County also await the naming of a resident conductor for two of the concerts, with Sanderling set to conduct the other one.

Five resident conductor candidates appeared with the orchestra this season, leading a variety of coffee, blue jeans classics, pops and educational concerts.

They were Susan Haig, former music director of the South Dakota Symphony; Crafton Beck, music director of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Lima, Ohio, Symphony; Scott Speck, music director of the Mobile, Ala., Symphony and co-author of Classical Music for Dummies and Opera for Dummies; Chelsea Tipton II, associate conductor of the Savannah, Ga., Symphony; and Richard Zielinski, artistic director of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay.

One is expected to be appointed to the job before this season concludes in May.

The coffee and Sunday matinee series mainly consist of light classics. Themed programs next season include music inspired by birds, water and exotic destinations. Principal cellist James Connors will be featured in several concerts.

Some ticket prices are going up slightly. For example, an early-bird subscription for the eight pops concerts in 2003-04 is $320, compared with $296 a year ago. But the six-concert coffee series early-bird subscription at Mahaffey remains the same at $144.

Performances are at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Tampa, Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater and Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. Ruth Eckerd Hall will be closed for renovation through October, with Clearwater subscribers able to attend concerts in Tampa or St. Petersburg.

Subscriptions are on sale now. Single tickets go on sale Aug. 25. For a brochure, call (813) 286-2403 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286 or see

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