Don’t be fooled by the fact that, earlier this week, the thermometer nudged into two digits. This is still winter.
And coronavirus or no coronavirus many people in Ontario are doing what they routinely do at this time of the year, packing their bags for a flight to Florida.
Snowbirds, we call them, and they are heading toward the sun. What these winter escapees often fail to realize is that they could also be heading toward some worthwhile musical experiences.
Yes, Florida offers them the chance of a tan. But over the past generation or two, the cities of the Sunshine State have almost all built impressive performing-arts facilities, and Fort Lauderdale is not least among them.
I passed through the Atlantic Coast mini-metropolis recently on the way to a Caribbean cruise and was rewarded by a pair of substantial symphony concerts at the handsome Broward Center, a waterside complex hosting a full winter season of music, dance and theatre.
My arrival coincided with a concert by the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, the only Florida orchestra to serve three counties (Miami-Dade and Monroe as well as Broward). It was a concert celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, featuring, in addition to his monumental Ninth Symphony, the A minor Concerto of Schumann, with the Russian virtuoso pianist Svetlana Smolina as soloist.
A peer of the New York Philharmonic? Obviously not, but fully equal to the demands of music (which is more than could have been said of the orchestra responsible for the symphony’s Vienna premiere).
Returning from my cruise, I then heard an international-class ensemble — the Russian State Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Valery Poliansky, in a program of Glinka, Rachmaninov and Grieg, with Polina Osetinskaya, another Russian virtuoso pianist (actually Lithuanian-born) playing the Grieg A minor Concerto.
This was a concert easily worthy of presentation in Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall and yet, like so many others heard in Florida during the winter season, it was given by a major orchestra unlikely ever to reach Toronto.
In its early years Roy Thomson Hall presented an annual orchestral series. Now, given the escalating cost of touring and the fact that the buying power of the Canadian dollar is about 25 per cent less than that of its American counterpart, a Torontonian is likelier to encounter a visiting orchestra while on a winter holiday in Florida than back home.
Florida itself boasts a number of noteworthy orchestras, from the Jacksonville Symphony in the north (operating out of one of the state’s finest concert halls) to the Naples Philharmonic in the south, with America’s foremost training orchestra, the Miami Beach-based New World Symphony, located among others in between.
I’ve heard several of them over the course of years of snowbirding and can vouch for their overall competence. It is probably no coincidence that affluent, well-educated retirees from all across North America constitute a significant portion of their audience.
Miami is a surprising exception among the Florida cities in lacking a major resident orchestra, although it offers, in the Adrienne Arsht Centre’s Knight Concert Hall, world-class accommodation to the various orchestras passing through the state’s de facto cultural capital (including an annual visit by the Cleveland Orchestra and on March 18, one by the Rotterdam Philharmonic).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Florida compares with California or New York State as a cultural Mecca, although in Sarasota’s Ringling Museum it does boast a collection of Baroque art its sister states might envy.
What I am suggesting is that it is far from the cultural desert pictured in the popular imagination. In the age of the computer, a visitor has only to Google his or her destination to be made aware of the concerts, ballets, plays and even operas awaiting between trips to the beach.
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The beach is not to be ignored. Even the late superstar tenor Luciano Pavarotti drew thousands of outdoor opera lovers to the sands of Miami Beach to hear him hit high Cs.
But when the sun dips and it is time to go indoors, it is nice to know that some of the world’s great music may be waiting. Even orchestras can read a thermometer.