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!
Sinfonia Gulf Coast is delighted to announce the recipient of the 2023 Grace Fulcher Memorial Scholarship. The $1,000 scholarship is awarded annually to a high school senior in the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra, in honor of the memory of Grace Bernice Fulcher, a Niceville High School student and violinist who was an exemplary member of the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra.
This year’s scholarship has been awarded to Maxine Sculthorpe of Shalimar, Florida, a senior at Fort Walton Beach High School.
Sculthorpe has been playing the violin in the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra for one year, and she expressed her gratitude for “the opportunities it provides for musicians to learn from each other and for the visits from professional musicians.”
Her scholarship application showcased her impressive achievements, including participation in Girls’ Varsity Lacrosse Team, Academic Team, Art Club, Beta Club, National Honor Society, Music National Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, “Murals with a Meaning” painting project and ballet.
In her scholarship application, Sculthorpe shared her ambition to attend the University of Florida for her bachelor's degree in architecture and then attend Cornell University to earn a master's degree. She also plans to audition for student orchestras at the University of Florida to continue pursuing her passion for music.
“As an architect, I hope to combine aspects of philosophy, sustainability, music, and art in everything that I create. I want to help build a more beautiful and accessible future for all people, one that reflects the things that are already innately beautiful in our world: the arts,” she said.
To qualify for the scholarship, student applicants must plan to attend, or currently attend an accredited college or university on a full-time basis, have a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, have acquired acceptance to or be enrolled at the college of their choice, and be an enrolled full-time student for the fall semester of 2023.
Demetrius Fuller, Founder and Music Director of Sinfonia Gulf Coast, expressed his pride in supporting Sculthorpe as she pursues her education and career goals. "Maxine Sculthorpe is a deserving winner of the 2023 Grace Fulcher Memorial Scholarship,” he said.
The Grace Fulcher Memorial Scholarship is just one of the ways in which Sinfonia Gulf Coast supports and nurtures young musicians. Through its various music education programs and performances, the organization is dedicated to inspiring and educating audiences of all ages about the transformative power of music.
On March 8 the Emerald Coast Convention Center in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. was transformed into an electrifying concert hall when Sinfonia Gulf Coast presented its 9th live Link Up concert performance “The Orchestra Moves,” a national program it presented in partnership with New York’s Carnegie Hall Weill Institute of Music.
This year’s Link Up program — conducted by Sinfonia Gulf Coast Music & Artistic Director Demetrius Fuller — showcased the talents of more than 2,000 local 3rd-5th grade students from Okaloosa and Walton Counties performing on recorder and singing.
With recorders in hand, the students performed from their seats when given their cue by Maestro Fuller to join the Sinfonia Gulf Coast orchestra for a range of pieces from Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez, The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss and Toreador from Georges Bizet’s Carmen and others. But these inspired kids didn’t stay in their seats, at this spirited performance they were up out of their chairs singing, dancing choreographed moves they have been practicing for months.
This curriculum is geared towards 3rd-5th grade students, and in many cases locally, is the only music education that they receive during the school year. The theme of this year’s Link Up program was centered around movement. Students learn how we can perceive music as moving through space from high to low, filling the spaces in between with harmonies, timbres and textures. They learn that when music moves us, it evokes a full range of emotional responses, and compels us to move our bodies and create dance.
The program definitely “moved” kids. While waiting to enter the theater third grader Damen Wilson said, “I really liked learning the recorder and am excited I get to keep it so I can practice at home for my mom.” Fourth grader Anniston Carver said she was “excited to dance to the music” and hoped to hear a piano.
Sinfonia’s Link Up program is funded in part by the St. Joe Community Foundation, the Dugas Family Foundation and the Emeril Lagasse Family Foundation. Additional funding from Sinfonia Gulf Coast’s Crescendo! annual fundraiser, Treble Makers, an honorary membership committee of Crescendo!, and community donors, has helped Link Up steadily grow to the Sinfonia’s largest education initiative.
“We are so honored to sponsor this incredible Sinfonia Link Up initiative for the students in our community,” said April Wilkes, executive director of the St. Joe Community Foundation. “For 10 years, the Foundation has made an investment in this program and it has been great to see the growth and impact that it has on all of these students.”
Crescendo! —Sinfonia Gulf Coast’s largest annual “fun-raiser”— has become the “must-attend” social event of the season, attracting over 750 patrons.
The festivities included a January kick-off lunch by Chef Jack McGuckin at Bijoux Restaurant + Spirits in Miramar Beach and five intimate, vintner dinners hosted on Friday, Feb. 24 in lovely private homes and venues along the coast. Pairings included Darioush with Chef Dan Vargo of Fine Coastal Cuisine at the home of Amy & Joe Scherzinger; The Lerner Project with Chef Frank Szymanski of Blue Fin at Churchill Oaks Clubhouse; The Vines with Chef Jude Tauzin of Tony Chachere at the Kelly Plantation Owner’s Club; Arietta with Chef Fleetwood Covington at Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood and Perus Wines with Jack McGuckin at Bijoux Restaurant + Spirits.
On Saturday, Feb. 25 Churchill Oaks Club House welcomed invited guests to the Panerai Watch Bar party. Guest sipped “timeless” cocktails by Better Together, nibbled bites by Chef Frank Szymanski and shopped Panerai’s latest time pieces.
Then, on Sunday, Feb. 26, this year’s elegant Ebony & Ivory-themed fête transformed the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa into a sophisticated black and white ball. Bodacious black and whimsical white clad ladies (and gents) flowed in to mix and mingle. But first, they were greeted by the sounds of Sinfonia Youth Orchestra string and horn players remind everyone why they were gathered — to raise funds for Sinfonia Gulf Coast’s music education programs.
Next, a beautiful woman in a shimmering ball gown cascading with chilled sparkling wine flutes — a one-woman party all her own welcomed one and all. But the “champagne dress lady” was just the beginning of what was around the corner… and just like that, the party of the season was underway.
Everywhere you looked were festive balloon filled archways, wondrous floral walls, and chic high contrast décor. The alluring ambiance was made even more fun with luxurious lounging spots, keep sake photo booths, a live portrait session and delicious wine tasting stations.
Sipping colorful cocktails guests enjoyed pay-to-play party games and bid on beautifully displayed silent auction items before enjoying a delicious catered lunch. The strawberry cheesecake was delicious and so was the get your heart pounding performance by the sensational Big Band sensation Sergio Vellatti!
And with the help of fantastic silent and live auction lots, the giving began.
Three bottles of 2019 cult wine Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $3,500 in the Silent Auction, while an unforgettable weekend in Napa Valley at the McClelland House fetched $35,000 in the exciting Live Auction.
With the help of staff and a dedicated team of volunteers, Beth Clavier, director of events and patron services for Sinfonia Gulf Coast, staged the soiree of the season to be sure.
What does it take to pull off the must-do benefit bash of the year? Here are just a few figures to give you an idea.
Crescendo 2023 By the Numbers
4,000 balloons used for decor at the Crescendo Main Event
750+ bottles of donated wine at the vintner dinners and main event
740 bracelets made by Renee Krul at Bijoux de Mer
400 swag bags
350 flowers (including roses, snap dragons and orchids) intertwined with 400 stems tinted silver and black to form a 25-foot floral cascade designed by 1920 & Co
108 silent auction items
100 Box Pull gifts valued at $21,486
15 dedicated volunteers
9 Sinfonia Youth Orchestra students, along with Sinfonia Youth Orchestra Music Director, Margaret Gordon performed during the reception
5 live auction lots, including an in-home concert by Sergio Vellatti
7 “atmospheric” entertainers, dapper emcee hosts, chill “champagne dress ladies,” DJs and live fashion illustrators
1 sensational Big Band featuring Sergio Vellatti!