By Kelly Smith

The Florida Orchestra opens the New Year with a true highlight of its 50th anniversary season: the return of former music director Jahja Ling for a special weekend of concerts Friday to Sunday, January 5-7 in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

He will conduct Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 — performed by his wife and noted Beethoven interpreter Jessie Chang — and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2. That’s the same symphony Ling conducted in 1987 for TFO’s 20th anniversary, a pivotal performance that led to his appointment as music director in 1988. Popular with both musicians and patrons, his tenure lasted until 2002.

The January 5 concert at the Straz Center is also a fundraiser presented by Classical WSMR radio, with proceeds going toward improving the signal of the only classical radio station in Tampa Bay. Tickets for this concert only range from $27.75 to $57.75. A limited number of VIP tickets are available for a reception where you can meet Ling.

The concert is repeated January 6 & 7 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, including a Sunday matinee. See for details on all performances.

Other upcoming highlights include:

Rodgers & Hammerstein (Friday & Saturday, January 12-13):
Broadway star Lisa Vroman wraps up a few of our favorite things from Rodgers & Hammerstein including songs from The Sound of Music, The King and I, Oklahoma! and more. Stuart Malina conducts, with a new Saturday matinee at the Mahaffey. Part of the Raymond James Pops series.

Dvorak’s Cello Concerto (Friday to Sunday, January 19-21):
Feel the joy and heartbreak of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, one of the greatest love songs ever written, featuring Maximilian Hornung. Plus a rarely heard work: Janacek’s bold and brassy Sinfonietta — with 12 trumpets! Michael Francis conducts. There will be a new Sunday matinee at the Mahaffey; free tickets for kids and teens in advance as part of the Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series.

Distant Worlds: music of FINAL FANTASY (Friday & Sunday, January 26 & 28):
With composer Nobuo Uematsu in attendance, the phenomenally popular video game franchise comes to life on the big screen as the orchestra performs live at the Mahaffey, under the baton of Grammy-winner Arnie Roth. Cosplay welcome! Concert tickets: $25, $35, $50, $60, $75, $95. Separate VIP Experience with the composer: $50

The Florida Orchestra regularly performs at the Straz Center in Tampa, Mahaffey in St. Petersburg and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Purchase tickets at or call 727-892-3337 and 800-662-7286.

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