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Florida Native's 'Triptych' An Ode To The State

Feb 21, 2018

Composer Michael Ippolito's early life in Florida was filled with music, in schools like Brandon's McLane Middle School. He says he was a little bit ahead of his classmates in music class and grew bored. That's when a teacher suggested he jot down the music in his head.

"Now, as an adult, I'm pretty sure my orchestra director was just trying to get me to be quiet, but she said, 'Why don't you write those down?' And it had never occurred to me  that one would write those things down," Ippolito said. "And it started from there."

Now 33, and an assistant professor of composition at Texas State University, Ippolito credits his start in creating music to teachers like Mrs. Lorelei Weimer of McLane Middle, Ms. Linda Groh at Brandon High and the University of South Florida's William Weidrich, who led the youth orchestra when Ippolito played cello, at times playing side by side with Florida Orchestra musicians.

In his childhood, Ippolito loved attending concerts of The Florida Orchestra, but never imagined he'd one day be writing music for the orchestra, now celebrating its 50th anniversary season. But this weekend, when the orchestra assembles for its Masterworks concerts, it will be Ippolito's notes on the music stands as a special anniversary season commission. The composition is called Triptych.

"Well, like the visual art, where there are three panels that are related to a central theme, it's not a symphony or an abstract work as much as it is three pictures that are kind of my way of reconnecting with where I grew up," said Ippolito, he studied at The Juilliard School with composer John Corigliano, and with Joel Hoffman and Michael Fiday at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. 

The world premiere of Triptych won't be heard publicly until the concerts start this weekend, but previous works hint at how nature photography serves as an inspiration. For example, an Ansel Adams photograph led to a piece called Big Sky, Low Horizon, and evokes the broad vistas and sweeping skies of the American West.

The first panel of Triptych, Cypress Cathedral, is deeply rooted in the swamp and is inspired by famed Florida nature photographer Clyde Butcher and literature. Ippolito portrays the soaring cypress trees in a place where like Henry David Thoreau; one can find a sanctuary from modern life.

"Swamps have a kind of negative connotation," Ippolito said. "Swamps in Florida are teeming with life. It was kind of a nice way to reframe Florida from the very beginning, I would embrace the swamps."

Florida's thunderstorms inspired the second image in the piece, On The Curl'd Clouds.

"Having lived in the Midwest, and the Northeast and now in Texas, every place that I've lived, I realized how much I missed the thunderstorms and the kind of daily occurrence that you would get, in the summer, especially in Florida, every time there's a lightning storm I would just perk up and realize that I missed that aspect, " he said.

The third panel of Ippolito's Triptych was inspired by a poem by famous Florida snowbird Wallace Stevens: Fabliau of Florida.

Ippolito said he is reluctant to characterize his style of composition. He says, like his musical mentor, John Corgiliano, the style depends on the subject matter. But he says he "liberally borrowed" from Debussy's impressionistic La Mer for the third movement, Barque of Phosphor, which took inspiration from that Stevens poem.

Ultimately, this Tampa native said he never expected to be composing for The Florida Orchestra - in his hometown.

"And the more I dug into it, it became a kind of an inevitable way of reconnecting to my childhood, my roots," he said.  "And I think you could say it became a kind of love letter."

A love letter in three parts.