There’s a universality to music that transcends barriers like language and culture to touch and move us all. In a time of great division and tension across the country, that type of unifying love for music is invaluable.
Maestra Sebrina Alfonso understands the moving power of music. Her entire life has been shaped by it and a calling to share that love with others. Since founding the South Florida Symphony Orchestra in 1997, she has helped to enrich the lives of hundreds of thousands of attendees, students, and more.
From Humble Beginnings to World-Class Symphony Orchestra
Maestra Alfonso’s deep seeded love for music began at a young age. She sang in the church choir as a child and learned to play clarinet in elementary school. But it was a new conductor for her 7th grade band that truly inspired her to turn her love of music into a career. “She was very inspiring. She made me realize that that’s what I wanted to do. That’s where it all started. At some point I learned there was more to music than band – I thought I was going to have to become a teacher. But then I was exposed to other types of music like opera, and that helped shape the decisions for what kind of conductor I was going to be”, Sebrina says.
The South Florida Symphony Orchestra was initially founded as the Key West Symphony Orchestra with the help of family, friends, and local civic leaders interested in supporting Sebrina’s mission to bring live orchestra music to the people. In December of 1998, the 48 founding musicians performed their first Masterwork concert with renowned cellist Zuill Bailey playing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto.
In the decades since then, the name and reach has changed greatly: today the orchestra features over 80 of the best musicians from South Florida and across the country.
“The South Florida Symphony Orchestra is a very professional organization”, Maestra Sebrina Alfonso explains, “All of our members go through an audition process before being accepted into the orchestra. We only have about four rehearsals before each concert, normally within a two or three day span. We have members from all over the state and even a few from other areas of the country and one international player we work with from time to time. If they’ve been selected for the symphony, they have to commit to being available and present for our concerts.”
What started as one woman’s dream to share the beauty of symphonic music with her community has grown, too. In 2023, the South Florida Symphony Orchestra has a full calendar of 12 different orchestra concerts as well as smaller shows and community engagement events.
This includes youth community outreach and engagement programming through the Broward Center Student Enrichment through the Arts (SEAS) program, which partners with schools across the county to help instill interest in the cultural and performing arts in the next generation.
The orchestra also works with other organizations across South Florida with similar initiatives. “We’re trying to reach out to all the schools. We’re trying to get to thousands of kids a year, not just performing, but also doing masterclasses and teaching to help to get music back into the schools and make sure kids are exposed to having cultural arts in their life and part of their education.”
A Shared Passion for Performance
So what does it take to become a part of the South Florida Symphony Orchestra?
Hopeful candidates who inquire about joining this organization of elite-level musicians have to complete a standard audition process. This includes submitting a video performing a concerto from a selected list or two pieces with contrasting styles. If this submission meets the company’s performance standards, you will be invited to join the orchestra on a probationary period to ensure it’s a good fit.
“It’s a very close knit group,” Maestra Alfonso explains. “Our members are very proud and take our work very seriously because we want to give high level performances for our audience. We want people who come in to know we’re doing this for the community. We love what we do and we’re passionate about music.”
With members ranging from just 20 years old to 60s, the members of the South Florida Symphony Orchestra are a diverse group that reflects a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds, all drawn together by a shared passion for music and performance. While most of its members are local to the state, it’s talent that matters most for securing your seat.
“We try to use as much local talent as possible, but if someone auditions that’s just really outstanding, we will have them come in. We’ve had plays from all the way in California, or Boston. We even have an amazing horn player who will sometimes come in from Mexico when we need a sub to stand in for another player. Because our schedule is becoming more busy, it is a lot easier to have people here in Florida as part of our organization, but we really do have players from all over”, Sebrina adds.
Summer with the Symphony Chamber Music Series
If you’re interested in hearing the South Florida Symphony Orchestra yourself, you may get the opportunity sooner than you think: the orchestra’s Summer with the Symphony chamber music series has two shows this week!
On July 20th, they will be performing at Barry University in Miami Shores, with another concert right here in Oakland Park at the Center for Spiritual Living the following evening on July 21st. Tickets are still available and can be purchased here.
These two concerts are the close of the orchestra’s summer series, and in fitting with that theme, they feature Beethoven’s “Serioso,” a piece the composer demanded never be played publicly. It also includes Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”, which was written in the wake of a serious illness just a few years before his passing.
Contrary to what many would assume, it isn’t Maestra Alfonso who chose the pieces featured throughout the summer concert series. “Our principal players actually choose the program and I approve. Sometimes I’ll request a specific piece, especially if it’s a newer piece, but they put together the program and send it to me. They have the leeway because they’re such high level players and they know what goes well together.”
That talent and chemistry certainly translates through each performance, which have gotten rave reviews from attendees. Even those who would not normally listen to classical music are drawn in and fall in love with the art through these concerts. “We have a wonderful audience. It’s really been quite a popular thing that we do in the summers. I think part of that is because our players are just so high level and they play well together. You can put a quartet together, but if they’re not used to playing together there’s a difference in the communication and the blend. It really is just top-notch and people are enjoying their concerts.”
If you’ve never been to a live orchestra performance, come support the local arts and enjoy the transformative experience for yourself. It will be an evening you won’t soon forget.