September 15, 2023

A Conversation with the Conductor

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

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