Arts and Entertainment Guide
South Florida Symphony Orchestra's Maestra Breaks Gender Barriers In Conducting
Instead of spending her musical career rising through the ranks and maybe—just maybe—becoming one of few female conductors in the country, Sebrina María Alfonso took a shortcut.
She started the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, where she is the musical director, 20 years ago in Key West, where she was born and raised. “You have to make your own way, and that’s kind of what I’ve done,” she says.
This year, Alfonso, 58, presents celebratory performances including “Mozart Meets Hemingway & Flamenco” and “Martha Graham’s Dance of Life.”
What was your first memory of liking music?
I was in a chorus from first grade on, we took instrument classes—in first grade you started—but [music] was something that was always in my life. I have a picture of me at Christmas and my mom got me this tiny little piano, and I’m looking up at my mom, so it’s just something that’s been a part of me from the beginning.
Tell me about some of the challenges you faced when starting your own symphony.
When I first started the Key West Symphony (now South Florida Symphony), I was asked by a resident of Key West after the symphony started, “What would you have done if the symphony hadn’t been successful in getting started?” I was a bit dumbfounded and all I could say to her was, “I never considered that it would fail. I only thought about doing the work needed to make it come to fruition”. I guess there were no unusual challenges or issues, only solutions.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The reward of our audience experiencing the music as we intended and in some cases talking about it months later—that we reached their souls with our music. The other would be the impact our education programs have had on the children of the community.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
Probably starting an orchestra on a tiny island, and having expanded it to a mainland, and now having it be a main force in four counties. I’m very proud of that, and I’m very proud of the staff, and I’m proud of the community and how they’ve taken us in.
What is your favorite piece of music?
That’s impossible because when you’re preparing, everything is your favorite. But I do have an affinity for Shostakovich, Beethoven. I also have favorite living composers like Ellen Zwilich, who’s actually a very good friend now, and is from Miami, Florida. She is the most famous living American composer.
When you aren’t conducting, how do you like to spend your time?
I spend a lot of time these days planning and growing the symphony with our CEO Jacqueline Lorber. She has brought so much to our success and is tireless. We have many goals to accomplish and people to reach.
What are you most excited about for this season?
The collaborations we are doing with world-renowned groups to celebrate our 20th anniversary season. Spectacular concerts and spectacular music for our South Florida community. It is going to be our best season yet.