A Conversation with the Conductor

Filling A Void in Our Community for 18 Years.

By Zandra Wolfgram
Advertiser Supported Post | November 1, 2023

Photos Courtesy of Seville Savories Food Tour

Q: 2023-2024 is Sinfonia’s 18th year. She is an “adult” now! How does it feel to reach this milestone?

DF: It is truly hard to fathom that Sinfonia is approaching two decades. I say it every year, but Sinfonia exists because of our amazing community. Our music education outreach and community engagement initiatives are a void that we continue to fill in our school districts, however the support of the community for our public concerts and events is what enables us to exist in the capacity that we do.

Q: You are kicking off the season September 27 with Cabaret at Seagar’s headlined by Laura Benanti, one of Broadway’s brightest soprano stars … she’s been on Broadway 10 times earning a Tony Award for Gypsy (Louise) and appeared in our living rooms in The Sound of Music Live! (Baroness Elsa). You could say this evening is “back by popular demand.” Why is this particular event so popular and why did you invite this Laura Benanti to headline?

DF: The Seagar’s Cabaret is a magical evening. So many of our patrons say that it is their favorite concert of the season. The venue (Seagar’s), the ambiance, the incredible cuisine and wine pairings and above all else, the artists! Watching intimate performances by Grammy- and/or Tony Award-winning artists up close and personal is like being transported to the iconic Cafe Carlyle in New York City. It is definitely my favorite way to kick off the season. It is a “wow” moment each year. I love that we can finally present Laura Benanti, whose pedigree and resume more than speaks for itself. She and I have never worked together, but we have many friends and colleagues in common. She is the real deal. A big deal. I am looking forward to welcoming her to the Sinfonia stage.

Q: November 4 promises another powerhouse performer: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. You are essentially presenting the world’s most famous horn player! What can we expect from this year’s Gala Event and why should people come out to support it?

DF: Energy. Excitement. Booty-shaking musical revelry. All that is Trombone Shorty. Listen, how do you top Patti LaBelle? You cannot. I knew we had to take a much different path with this year’s gala. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue are a mind-blowing musical experience. They are the best of the best musicians. I love that Shorty has his own foundation that benefits music education. That resonates loudly with me. The gala supports Sinfonia’s most important work in the community: bringing quality music to school children at no cost to them or their schools. Hotel Effie at Sandestin will serve as an incredible backdrop for this evening extravaganza. As always, expect a few surprises throughout the evening.

Q: You are serving up a tasty new treat with the Toast ‘n Jam series at the beautiful Henderson Beach Resort in Destin. December 3 you present Time for Three (TF3) and February 11 you showcase Chris Brubeck and the Brubeck Brothers Quartet. Anytime we can enjoy live music and brunch, we’re in. Tell us more delicious details.

DF: Don’t forget the Bloody Marys and Mimosas! When COVID thwarted our plans to present Time for Three performing Chris Brubeck’s concerto he wrote for them and orchestra, their schedules haven’t enabled us to recreate that performance, but we will one day soon. In the meantime, it was too important to just let them sit without sizzling for our audiences, so we created this series for them at different times. Time for Three is a phenomenal crossover trio … make that a newly Grammy Award-winning trio. Chris Brubeck. Well, the name speaks for itself. Continuing the legacy of his father, bassist/trombonist/composer Chris and his brother Dan, a drummer, have been playing together for a half century. Guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist Chuck Lamb, complete this dynamic jazz quartet. We are looking forward to partnering with the Henderson on this fun and family friendly event.

Q: Holiday Pops features “the last leading man” … tell us how two-time Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell will make our season bright on December 8 with his famous baritone voice.

DF: How fun is it that we get to present Trevor from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air? Brian Stokes Mitchell is a behemoth of Broadway and concert stage and has quite the festive holiday program with orchestra. Holiday Pops is always a patron favorite, and this year will be no different. It is always such a fun way to celebrate the season with the sounds of the orchestra enveloping you. This year we will have table seating to create an even more festive occasion.

Q: Music of the Knights will save us from the winter blues on January 20. Even the title of this concert is full of mystery and intrigue. Sounds like audiences are in for some “royal treatment.” Tell us more.

DF: A musical tribute to Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber … featuring vocalists and Sinfonia’s amazing full orchestra. More than 40 years of the most incredible music that has shaped generations. What is not to like?

Q: Classical Connections will feature saxophonist Steven Banks. Among many prestigious honors, he is the 2019 Sinfonia Gulf Coast Young Concert Artist prize winner. Tell us why we need to fill the hall on March 23 to hear this captivating young composer/musician.

DF: The Sinfonia Young Concert Artists (YCA) Prize is very special to me and Sinfonia. Young Concert Artists is a nearly 70-year-old institution that has introduced incredible classical musicians to the world. Sinfonia is honored to be able to offer an award to one of the winners each season to perform with the orchestra, but also go out into our community to work with schools, local bands, the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra as well as other community engagement opportunities. Steven Banks is an extraordinary saxophonist whose career has catapulted since winning YCA. Steven is an artist that everyone should know. He represents the future of classical music and the opportunities and importance that it carries for our culture.

Q: On May 18 Destin-FWB Convention Center will be the scene of an epic, action-packed adventure with Jurassic Park in Concert. Why should families brave a Film in Concert 65 million years in the making?

DF: That’s 65 million plus three years to be exact. We are finally traveling to Jurassic Park after two rescheduled dates due to COVID. These film in concert productions represent exactly what Sinfonia is about…redefining the traditional symphony experience, melding genres, bringing new audiences into the concert hall. With the amazing custom screen that hovers above the orchestra, this will definitely be an experience for the entire family to see the more than 100 musicians on stage performing John Williams’s iconic film score. Larger than life in all regards!

Q: As we interview, you are hopping from Festival Napa Valley — where you have forged long-lasting relationships — to a Visit South Walton media event in NYC, to a Young Concert Artists Board event at the Aspen Music School. You travel frequently from coast to coast. How does the local community benefit from your national connections?

DF: Literally anything and everything that you see with Sinfonia is a result of who I know in the industry, who we already have a great working relationship with, recommendations from colleagues and artist managers that I have worked with over the last 20 years. The networking and travel are essential. To remain relevant, you must continually explore new artists, new venues, new opportunities and I believe that we have done a great job of doing that over the last 17 seasons. As we have been fortunate to continue to add new and talented staff members, then we can multiply or reach our potential to introduce the stellar artists through Sinfonia to our community. Being appointed to the Young Concert Artists Board in 2022 has been a wonderful experience for me both personally and professionally and the opportunity to create a partnership for the future is promising. Collaboration is key!

Immerse Yourself in Historic Pensacola’s Food Scene

The Seville Savories food tour in Pensacola is a leisurely and informative experience that involves a moderate amount of walking. Lasting about 3 hours, the tours offer a delightful exploration of the city’s culinary history. Knowledgeable tour guides share captivating stories as participants stroll at a relaxed pace, stopping at tasting locations for 15-20 minutes each time to savor delectable local specialties.

While alcohol isn’t served during the tour, the dining venues boast excellent selections of wine and craft beers. Open containers are prohibited on Pensacola streets, allowing guests to enjoy their libations within the establishments. The family-friendly tours encourage children to join, with kids under 10 sampling their parent’s food and those aged 11 to 14 requiring a ticket at children’s prices.

These immersive experiences transcend mere culinary delights, delving into Pensacola’s rich history as the oldest settlement in the United States. Influenced by three European empires, the Confederacy, and the United States, the tours incorporate extensive research, providing a unique blend of culture, history, and gastronomy found nowhere else.

The Palafox Trot Tour Experience

Come hungry. This is where the fun begins. You will visit 5 restaurants and eat food that is diverse and eclectic, just like Pensacola.  Pensacola is the oldest European settlement in the United States but our story goes back thousands of years before that. We’ll journey down Palafox St. and you will learn our history from the neolithic tribes who first settled the area, several different occupations by Spain, the importance of Britain, France’s treachery, as well as get all the good info about Pensacola’s up-and-coming food scene and why we are important.

Tasting Destinations: Polonza Bistro, Jumping Lomo Peruvian Food Truck,  Bodacious Books & Coffee, 86 Forks Bar & Table, Bubba’s Sweet Spot. This tour has Vegan and Gluten Free Options available in the booking section.  

Seville Stroll Tour Experience

An evening in Old Seville. You will stroll through historic Downtown Pensacola and dine in five diverse establishments while learning about the history and current food scene in the oldest settlement in the United States. You’ll experience high end cuisine to street food and all points in between.

Tasting destinations are: Bavaria German Restaurant, 86 Forks Bar + Table Asian Fusion, The District Steakhouse, Calavera Tacos, and Bubba’s Sweet Spot for house made chocolates and Fudge.