Lesbian Conductor Breaks Down Barriers in Classical Music World

As one of the few women leading a professional symphony orchestra in the United States, South Florida Symphony Music Director Sebrina Maria Alfonso knows a thing or two about the so-called “glass ceiling.”

“It doesn’t help that this is a scary time for the arts,” Alfonso explained, noting the financial stress the Great Recession has placed on non-profit arts organizations. “There are more and more women conductors, but it doesn’t help that many orchestras are in trouble and tend to make safer bets….that makes the field smaller and doesn’t leave a lot of room for women.”

And, for a female conductor who also happens to be a lesbian, the opportunities can be even fewer and far between. At one point earlier in her career, after founding the symphony in her home, Key West, Alfonso was invited to audition for a major orchestra.

“They wanted me, but they had to go through the (audition) process….I’m not going to do it, I told myself….live somewhere where I have to be closeted again,” she recalled. “Just as the current generation of children have only known a black president, in 10 or 15 years, if orchestras survive—like gay rights—our patrons will be more open minded and accepting.”

Even if the South Florida Symphony is “the orchestra with a lesbian conductor,” Alfonso knows that ultimately it’s the music she makes with her colleagues that must speak to audiences and break down barriers.

“Once people experience the music, the rest of the baggage just goes away,” she said.

The South Florida Symphony opens its 16th season with A Soul Unfettered, featuring music by Edward Elgar, Samuel Barber and Franz Schubert, with concerts at the Delray Center for the Arts in Delray Beach (Nov. 16), Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale (Nov. 18) and Aventura Arts and Cultural Center (Nov. 19). For tickets and more information, go to SouthFloridaSymphony.org.

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