Colin Currie Photo: Marco Borggreve

When The Florida Orchestra revs up in the fall, its Masterworks series will be powered by Ludwig van Beethoven, the greatest composer in classical music. Seem like an exaggeration? Not really.

“Beethoven is the greatest composer because he took all that life threw at him and turned it into inspirational art that still unites humanity today,” said Music Director Michael Francis, who is programming all of Beethoven’s symphonies and major concertos over two seasons in honor of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. “We’ll use Beethoven as a framework to explore deeper issues of his life and music, such as perseverance, hope and heroism. Then we’ll ask: Who are the Beethovens of today? Who are the people reflecting our society through music?”

Among the 10 or so Beethoven works on the schedule are rare performances of the supersized Mahler arrangements of both Beethoven’s Fifth and Eroica Symphony—often called Beethoven on steroids. Both are the original works, with a few tweaks, performed by an orchestra much larger than Beethoven could have ever imagined. TFO has never played the Mahler versions before. Other Beethoven works include his third and fourth piano concertos, his violin concerto and his fourth and eighth symphonies.

But the Masterworks series is not all about Beethoven. In another first, TFO welcomes superstar American composer and conductor Eric Whitacre in November for Deep Field: A Cosmic Experience, which also will mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, with a stunning Hubble Telescope video and The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay singing in the aisles.

Other highlights include Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons directed by TFO Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer on violin; Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with TFO Principal Clarinet Natalie Hoe; Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with Joyce Yang; and the Rascher Saxophone Quartet performing a piece by modern American master Philip Glass.

The Florida Orchestra performs regularly at the Straz Center in Tampa, Mahaffey in St. Petersburg and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Concert series are on sale now at floridaorchestra.org or 727-892-3337 and 800-662-7286. Single tickets go on sale on Monday, August 12.