South Florida Symphony Orchestra Kicks Off 25th Anniversary Season at New World Center
The Key West born orchestra has evolved into a major company with a performance footprint spanning throughout South Florida.
South Florida Symphony Orchestra kicks off its 25th Anniversary season with a collection of landmark works on Thursday, November 10 at the New World Center’s Michael Tilson Thomas Performance Hall. This will be the orchestra’s first time performing at the Frank Gehry-designed concert hall and a milestone moment for the celebrated organization which got its start in Key West in the late 90’s. For SFSO Music Director Sebrina María Alfonso it will be what she describes as a magical moment.
“It’s a hall built for orchestras, it’s going to be a beautiful experience for all of us, the whole feeling there is otherworldly,” explains Maesta Alfonso. “I like that people can sit behind the orchestra – the hall circles all the way around which is more of a European style. When I go to European concert halls, they have the same layout and I always choose to sit behind the violins.” The hall will also enhance what Alfonso sees as the audience-performer dynamic, which is a reciprocal relationship. “The energy you receive from an audience is just as important as the energy they receive from us,” she elaborates. “The ultimate goal is that everyone in that hall is on one energy plane and we are all on that magic carpet ride together.”
“It’s wonderful for us to be at the New World Center for many reasons – we’re very honored to be there,” echoes Jacqueline Lorber, President and CEO of South Florida Symphony Orchestra and has been with the organization since 2009. “It’s our 25th season so it’s a wonderful point in time for us to take all the work we’ve done in the three counties and culminate it with having a presence there. And we have musicians who have completed the program there.”
The history and success of South Florida Symphony Orchestra is an unlikely story that amazes even its most ardent fans. It begins with the dream of Maestra Alfonso who was born and raised in Key West, a sixth-generation Conch. Through grass-roots fundraising and organizing, Alfonso founded the Key West Symphony Orchestra in August 1997. A fundraising concert was then performed in March 1998. The event attracted enough interest that core supporters suggested a debut of a full orchestra in December of that year. On Friday, December 11, 1998, 48 musicians gathered at the Tennessee Williams Theatre in Key West to perform their first Masterwork concert with renowned cellist Zuill Bailey playing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto. Fast forward twenty-five years and the KWSO has evolved into the South Florida Symphony Orchestra with a performance footprint that now spans from Monroe through Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Recent milestones include recognition in Broward County as ‘Major Cultural Institution,’ one of only a handful of organizations to be so honored. In another landmark, the Symphony has been recognized as “Special Presentations Partner” with the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. South Florida Symphony Orchestra is a pioneer in its commitment to symphonic music for underserved communities and in its 25 years has touched the lives of over 100,000 students.
For the New World Center, having the SFSO perform in the space was a natural fit. “We are especially proud to have local arts, culture, and nonprofit organizations host events at the New World Center. The SFSO, along with others such as Miami Music Project, Maven Leadership Collective, TEDxMiami, and YoungArts, provide positive impact in our local community, something we are happy to see amplified using our space,” says Vice President of Business Development Michelle Kucharczyk. “The SFSO has performed previously at the Lincoln Theater, our prior home. More recently they reached out to discuss a return and together we were able to identify available dates during the 2022-2023 season.”
Another exciting development is the Flag Luxury Group coming on as a corporate sponsor for the Miami season at New World Center. SFSO has had a multi-year relationship with partners who own the Sagamore and The Ritz-Carlton and Peter Kanavos, Vice President at Flag Luxury Group is one of the partners who spearheaded the sponsorship. “We’ve been part of the Sagamore brunch during Art Basel for five years now and the relationship with the Ritz-Carlton group grew out of that and it’s a perfect alignment for us,” explains Lorber.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has been a supporter of SFSO since before she was voted into her current position, having been introduced back in 2018 during a Symphony collaboration with Taste of Redland and then again in 2019, when the company performed in the home of Dr. Ruth Greenfield, a Floridian known for founding one of the south’s first racially integrated theaters and art schools. Since then, Mayor Levine Cava has attended events as both an audience member and a public official.
“I have loved watching the organization grow and thrive,” says Mayor Cava Levine. “SFSO is so community-centric and relevant, and it brings joy to so many residents, enlivens local venues, and highlights important occasions.” Known to be an ardent supporter of the arts, the Mayor feels it’s vital for Miami to support cultural initiatives. “Arts uplift,” she says. “They put our minds into different frames and elevate our spirit, sometimes with joy, sometimes with sadness. In other words, arts are a doorway into our souls.” As for her attending the quarter century anniversary performances, “I will go whenever I can,” she says. “It will be a delightful and refreshing adventure and I’m very much looking forward to the new season.
That begins in November and features Tchaikovsky’s beloved Violin Concerto, performed by soloist Askar Salimdjanov; Elgar’s series of short musical portraits, Enigma Variations; and Barber’s orchestral work in one movement, Essay for Orchestra. But if pressed to name one concert this season that should not be missed Maestra Alfonso stresses the Masterworks II concert on January 24th featuring Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, the world premiere of Gottsch’s Ocklawaha and Great Opera Arias from Verdi and Puccini featuring Catalina Cuervo, soprano and Gerardo Ortega, tenor.
“I’m a big Shostakovich fan and there are more famous pieces by him than this symphony No. 9 and it doesn’t get performed often but this one deserves to be heard,” explains Alfonso. “Art touches the part of us that needs feeding,” remarks Alfonso. “I think that’s the quality we have as an orchestra. And it’s getting better and better.”