By Kelly Smith

What started as the merger of two regional orchestras five decades ago has grown into the premier – and largest – orchestra in the state. The Florida Orchestra opens its historic 50th anniversary season in October as the only performing arts organization that serves the entire Tampa Bay area, with concerts in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Just look at what’s packed into October:

Carmina Burana (Friday to Sunday, October 6-8): An epic work you must experience LIVE. The orchestra fills the stage with the 150-voice Master Chorale of Tampa Bay for a huge wall of sound, under the baton of Music Director Michael Francis, to open the Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series. Ask about free tickets for kids and teens.

Swing is the Thing (Friday to Sunday, October 13-15): Jump ‘n’ jive from the 1940s right into the jukebox tunes of the ‘50s and ‘60s, with hits like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Rock Around the Clock. Features dancers and clarinet sensation Dave Bennett. Jeff Tyzik conducts, to kick off the Raymond James Pops series.

Free Pops in the Park (Friday to Sunday, October 21-23): This fall TFO returns to Coachman Park in Clearwater. That means three nights in a row of free music throughout Tampa Bay, including film scores, Broadway hits and symphonic favorites. First up is Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg on Oct. 21, with a fireworks finale. Encore performances are Oct. 22 in River Tower Park in Tampa and Oct. 23 in Coachman Park.

Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (Friday to Sunday, October 27-29): Nothing like a few blasts of the “cannons” to celebrate TFO’s 50th season. Also: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 and Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra. With a new Sunday matinee at the Mahaffey Theater. Michael Francis conducts.

The Florida Orchestra regularly performs at the Straz Center in Tampa, Mahaffey in St. Petersburg and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Masterworks and Pops tickets are $15, $30 and $45. Kids and teens get in free to all Masterworks concerts with Classical Kids tickets, available in advance at the Ticket Center.

For more information, go to or 727-892-3337 and 1-800-662-7286.

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