South Florida Symphony Orchestra
The Symphony Today
The South Florida Symphony Orchestra (SFSO), founded by Maestra Sebrina María Alfonso in 1997, has developed into a superlative cultural institution serving all of South Florida, ranging from Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, to Monroe County.
Guided by the belief that music is pivotal to community engagement, the SFSO brings vibrancy, innovation, and strengthens public commitment to the arts.
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. Achieving this status is an honor that is rarely bestowed upon an organization. The benefit is that the Broward Center now co-produces concerts with the Symphony and leverages their marketing partners for Symphony co-productions.
The South Florida Symphony Orchestra is a pioneer in its commitment to symphonic music for underserved communities. The Symphony in the Schools program, begun in 1997, facilitates engagement with the arts for culturally underserved students and their families. The Symphony has touched the lives of over 50,000 students since its inception.
SFSO partnerships are evolving the classical music artform and attracting new audiences. Achievements including Martha Graham’s Dance of Life, Hemingway Meets Mozart and Suidy Flamenco, and Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’ in January 2019 are examples of the energy and artistry of the partnerships.
The groundbreaking 2018 / 2019 Season reaffirms the SFSO dedication to providing an enriching cultural experience to the residents and visitors throughout South Florida through the Performing Arts and Music Education.
History of the
South Florida Symphony Orchestra
The dream began in August 1997 when Maestra Sebrina María Alfonso founded the Key West Symphony Orchestra with support of family, friends, and civic leaders interested in making live symphonic music accessible to the community. A fundraising concert was 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.
This is not an easy undertaking by an island community located at the end of a sparsely populated, one-hundred and fifty-mile-long, rural chain of islands. Yet, Maestra Sebrina María Alfonso was determined to present the best from the classical music repertoire as well as the most talented musicians she could gather. As an example, the November 19-20, 1999 second Concert Season program consisted of music by Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto” with the Jerusalem Trio, Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter,”, Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes, and Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Christopher Taylor as soloist. The stage has been graced by the presence of such luminaries as Nicolette Benedetti, Chee-Yun, Elmar Oliveira, Robert McDuffie, Natasha Paremski and Jeffrey Chappell among others.
The Maestra was also just as passionate in bringing free educational symphonic concerts to local schoolchildren giving them the opportunity to experience the symphony orchestra for the first time. Third grade student, Alyssa Rodríguez, was so overcome with emotion that she wrote in November 15, 2012: “Let me tell you you maid (made) me fill (feel) like I just got shot with a shooting star it was so Beautiful that it made me crie (cry).” The program was about Freedom and the Revolutionary War, empowering students to write their best life story. In 2005 and 2006, the Symphony collaborated with Keys Kids to present a series of three musicals: Peter Pan, Grease, and The King and I.
SFSO now offers five educational programs: Freedom, Tales of Legendary Florida, Piping Hot Classics, Peter and the Wolf, and Preserve the Coral Reef. As an example, the SFSO created Preserve the Coral Reef focusing on ecology and the environment. A newly commissioned musical score by Robert Kerr, the project was a collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Mote Marine Laboratory, and the Teaching Artists of Artz Out Loud. Through music, costumes, participation, and dramatization, the students became informed caretakers of our coral reefs. Through the years the Symphony has touched the lives of, at least, 35,000 children.
From the very beginning, the Maestra has championed contemporary composers. On November 19, 1999, the Symphony presented the distinguished Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Zwilich’s Prologue and Variations, and later, Shadows for Piano and Orchestra. She has also been actively involved in the commission of new works. Last season, the orchestra presented P.D.Q. Bach’s (aka Peter Schikele) Concerto for Simply Grand Piano and Orchestra with pianist and collaborator Jeffrey Biegel. The Symphony was also honored in performing the world premiere of Floridian composer Tom Hormel’s Legend of Bird Mountain.
The visual arts have been celebrated since the beginning with surprisingly original works. Key West’s Michel Delgado’s art, “Inside the Symphony,” graced the cover of 2004-2005 program book. Adam White’s, “Here Comes the Sun,” “harnesses the power of intense yellow and burnt orange hues to illustrate Maestra Sebrina María Alfonso’s powerful conducting style while the passionate crimson reds depict the orchestra responding to the fire within. The jewel-toned blues and muted greens represent the audience’s enthusiastic embrace of the sizzling symphonic composition” (program cover 2010-2011).
The Maestra decided to expand her dream to new horizons. By 2009, the Key West Symphony Orchestra became the South Florida Symphony Orchestra and moved its offices from Key West to downtown Fort Lauderdale. The Symphony’s goal, to reach the communities of Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe County, is being realized. Instrumental in this expansion is current CEO Jacqueline Lorber who said in 2016, “Now, seven years after joining Sebrina at the Symphony’s helm, we celebrate our 19th season, and the major milestones and record growth that characterize the path taken. . . With the deepest appreciation to you all, we can now write the first chapters of the Symphony’s book of success, perhaps entitled “The Little Symphony that Could to The Little Symphony that Did!”