The Florida Orchestra names winner of USF Student Composer Competition

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG, FL – The Florida Orchestra has chosen undergrad Francesco Sclafani as the winner of its USF Student Composer Competition for his work Deconstruction of Anger. In a rare moment for a 23-year-old composer, the orchestra will premiere the piece, alongside works by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, on the final concerts of the Masterworks series at three major halls in Tampa Bay in May. This is the first time The Florida Orchestra and the USF School of Music Composition Department have collaborated at this level.

"Francesco's piece created an immediate connection with both the audience and the musicians. He took on a brave subject and composed from the heart," said TFO Music Director Michael Francis, who chaired the panel that picked the winner. "His musical language is vibrant, exciting and compelling. The music demands a high level of technical skill, and the TFO musicians and I enjoyed rising to the challenge."

Sclafani, who came to St. Petersburg from Long Island, N.Y., as a teenager, is pursuing a bachelor's of music in composition at the USF Tampa campus under Assistant Professor of Composition Baljinder Sekhon and Associate Professor of Composition Paul Reller.

"I still remember the first concert I saw The Florida Orchestra play in high school, with Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. It absolutely floored me," said Sclafani, who also receives a $750 prize. "I never thought I would have the opportunity to work with the orchestra to have a piece of mine performed on the same stage as Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. I am very humbled and grateful , and this experience will stay with me for a very long time."

The competition offered an unusual opportunity for young composers to write for an orchestra, which also fits with Maestro Francis' penchant for nurturing young talent. It was open to all USF composition majors; 14 submitted sample works, along with an artist statement, resume and examples of a previously written works, early in the fall semester. A panel of Francis, General Manager Edward Parsons, Principal Librarian Ella Fredrickson and select TFO musicians narrowed the finalists to five. The orchestra played through the completed works, each 6 to 8 minutes long, in the USF Music Concert Hall on Feb. 10, with Francis giving feedback to each composer. It was the first time the student composers heard their works played live by an orchestra.

"The competition was close, but in the end, the panel felt Francesco just edged it," Francis said. "He has real promise.

Deconstruction of Anger is based on research on anger. "It's a very powerful emotion," said Sclafani. "So I researched anger's various forms and tried to conceptualize the different forms in this piece."

Sclafani already is building his resume as a composer. His works range from solo to orchestral pieces, including electronic compositions, and have been featured by the Society of Composers Inc. and Composers' Circle. His work Pinging was selected for performance by the trio QThree during their residency at USF, and his solo guitar work, Fractal Fingers, was named a winner in the Vox Novus Fifteen-Minutes-of-Fame competition and performed by Rodrigo Baggio in New York City. In 2015, The Florida Orchestra chose his arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen for performance on its annual Children's Holiday Concerts. Sclafani's electronic work, Assimilations, was selected for the Electronic Music Midwest Festival's call for works, and his electronic work, Component Extract, was chosen for performance at the National Student Electronic Music Event at Louisiana State University. Sclafani's plans include graduate studies and fulfilling commissions for a variety of genres and ensembles.

The other four finalists were undergrad Logan Barrett for his work Proportions, master's student Zachary Konick for In Principio, undergrad Bradley Mikesell II for Analog, and master's student Hoàng Phó for white night.

The composer competition also underscores TFO's increased commitment to education and working with the University of South Florida. Francis, who took over as music director in 2015, is excited about supporting young composers from Florida and seeing the creative partnership grow with USF through TFO on Campus, which includes master classes, side-by-sides and other educational collaborations.

Professor Sekhon, who was instrumental in shepherding the composer project, agreed.

"This collaboration between the USF composition program and The Florida Orchestra has been a major boost for our students, composition program, and School of Music here at USF. During the nearly one-year collaboration, all of our students had an unparalleled experience," Sekhon said. "This opportunity has provided the semi-finalists with a training not often offered at even the most prestigious conservatories: the experience of working with a high caliber orchestra and director.
"We are so excited for Francesco that his composition was selected, and know that the orchestra and audience will enjoy his work."

The Florida Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Francis, will premiere the winning work on the final concert of its Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series, which also features Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor," and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, on May 19-21 at the Straz Center in Tampa, Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

"We congratulate Francesco and thank all the young composers involved," Francis said. "I look forward to working more closely with Francesco to guide him as he finalizes his piece for these performances."

For more on the USF Student Composer Competition, see this USF story and video

About The Florida Orchestra

The Florida Orchestra is recognized as Tampa Bay's leading performing arts institution, the largest professional symphony orchestra in Florida, and one of the most vibrant and innovative orchestras in America. Under the leadership of Music Director Michael Francis, it performs series of classical, popular, rock and morning coffee concerts in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, as well as free Pops in the Park concerts. Dedicated to bringing music to all people, connecting to the community is a priority, with pre-concert talks, family and youth concerts and other educational activities. Kids and teens get in free to classical Masterworks concerts with Classical Kids tickets. To subscribe or buy tickets: 727.892.3337 or 1.800.662.7286; floridaorchestra.org.