By Henry Adams

The Florida Orchestra’s upcoming season is full of excitement with concerts featuring Ben Folds, Yo-Yo Ma, The Music of the Rolling Stones and Carmina Burana, among many other offerings.  However, a big part of the excitement is that the orchestra has recently selected British conductor Michael Francis as its new music director. This decision was the culmination of a three-year search process with 17 guest conductors in multiple performances leading the orchestra in a variety of music.

Francis has a fascinating background as a versatile musician with a can-do attitude. He was a double bass player in the London Symphony Orchestra for several years when he offered to jump onto the podium to conduct a rehearsal for a conductor who was delayed. Travel delays and illnesses presented this situation a few more times, and Michael Francis was there to save the day, not only in rehearsals but also in performances. Before he knew it, he was guest conducting around Europe and the U.S. Part of his journey included stepping in for indisposed conductors such as André Previn and even John Adams on a few days or even on a few hours notice, and making a reputation for himself with the likes of the San Francisco, Houston, Seattle and Vancouver symphonies, among numerous others.

Michael Francis was a big hit with Florida Orchestra audiences and, of course, with the orchestra itself. In addition to being a musician’s musician who played for many years in a world-class orchestra and who has a deep knowledge of the orchestral repertoire, Francis excelled as an engaging communicator and a charismatic individual. All this and a few other intangibles made it immediately apparent that there was a chemistry happening between the conductor and the orchestra, and Michael Francis was the unanimous choice to be the new music director.

Audiences can enjoy this chemistry at Francis’ first concerts on Friday-Sunday, October 24-26, featuring Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer as the soloist in Barber’s gorgeous Violin Concerto on a program with Elgar’s majestic Symphony No. 1. But before that, Francis and his wife, who grew up here in Tampa Bay, will be looking for a home in the area for themselves and their first child expected this December.

The community is invited to give Michael Francis a warm welcome this season. Find out about the orchestra’s many Masterworks, Pops, Rock, Coffee and Special concerts from October through May in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Most concerts offer affordable single-ticket prices of $15, $30 and $45, which go on sale Monday, August 11. For a free season brochure or to order a series package or single tickets, visit www.floridaorchestra.org or call 727-892-3337 or 800-662-7286, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.