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!”
Who could have foreseen such success?
Our upcoming 20th season is going to be an eye-opening display of melodies from across the world featuring Grammy Award winning music inspired by Hemingway, a World Premiere performance of Tom Hormel’s Legend of Bird Mountain with Martha Graham choreographer Virginia Mécène, Mozart’s Symphony No. 35, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral.” We are also going to be delivering a Flamenco performance as part of one of our shows and the Martha Graham Dance Company Ballet as part of another. And to top it off, our season finale will be a celebration of Israel’s 70th Anniversary featuring compositions from Ravel, Borenstein, and Berlioz. For those who love popular music, two Pops Series will celebrate the American Song Book with tunes from Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein, and Leonard Bernstein as well as others.
Board of Directors
Charles Lane, Chair
Paula Valad, Media Relations
Sebrina Maria Alfonso, Music Director
Jacqueline Lorber, President
Bobby Henry Sr.
Consultants & Staff
Greg Frank, Business Development Manager
Bonnie Greenberg, Grants | Foundations
Marsha Michaels, Art Director
Dr. Kenneth Stevenson
Amy Smith, Accounts Payable
Mary & Richard Grusin
Tommy & Debbie Mack
Hot Spots Media
South Florida Luxury Guide