Maestra Sebrina María Alfonso and the South Florida Symphony Orchestra (SFSO) are ringing in the new year with the concert premiere of a new work by composer John Gottsch at performances in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Key West.

“Princess Yurievskaya” is the musical story of the decades-long love affair between Russian Czar Alexander II and his mistress Catherine Dolgorukova — from their first meeting and eventual marriage to his assassination in 1881.

Gottsch, the symphony’s composer-in-residence and a part-time resident of Key West, originally composed the work for a critically-acclaimed June 2020 album that also included another work premiered by the SFSO, “Sunset.”

While Russians have lived under the rule of tyrants and dictators for centuries, Alexander was a reformer who freed the Serfs, Gottsch pointed out, and was often referred to as “Alexander the liberator.”

“Alexander suffered many tragedies — his son died and his wife, the czarina, contracted tuberculosis. He then meets Catherine and is immediately smitten. They fell madly in love and became passionate and wrote torrid letters to each other that were preserved and recently published in a book … This story begged for a musical interpretation,” explained Gottsch. 

Eventually Catherine became a member of the royal court and, when the empress died, Alexander fulfilled a promise to marry. After their nuptials, she assumed the title Princess Yurievskaya.

In a cruel twist of fate, she learned of the plot to kill Alexander and begged him not to leave the Winter Palace, but was unsuccessful. After a terrorist lobbed a bomb at his carriage, the mortally wounded czar was returned to the palace where he died in his wife’s arms.

As Gottsch began to compose, “the first thing I decided was that I need to have soloists, one to represent the princess and the other the czar. I gave a violin solo to the princess and a cello to the czar and there’s a harp solo that is the muse to hold the whole piece together. There’s also an orchestral component that provides the rhythms for the emotions they shared, the suffering of the serfs and the freeing of the serfs with a dance. And when they come together, the violin and cello represent the intimacy of those two characters as the orchestra goes silent.”

Gottsch was born in New Orleans but moved to Florida with his family while he was still young. He spent his early years in the lake country of central Florida, traveling extensively and observing the natural habitats. These explorations of the state gave him an enduring love for its beauty and wildlife. He has been a lifelong composer and a number of his compositions reflect this deep appreciation of the outdoors.

SFSO also performed Gottsch’s “Bagatelles for Violin & Piano” as part of its Summer with the Symphony Series in June 2021. His piano suite, “Homosassa,” premiered in Palm Beach in 2020, and a piano quintet, “Maryland Hunt,” debuted in Washington, D.C., in 2018 and has been subsequently performed in the U.S., Austria and the Netherlands. Concern for the effect of climate change on the Keys, led him to compose “Sunset” for the SFSO.

An ophthalmologist and medical school professor who currently splits his time between Baltimore and Key West, Gottsch has had a long relationship with Alfonso, a Key West native. 

“I have tremendous respect for Sebrina. She is a jewel in the crown of classical music in South Florida … I’m just so grateful that the Maestra enjoys my music and wants to have it performed,” he concluded.

The South Florida Symphony Orchestra will perform “Princess Yurievskaya” and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique” on Jan. 19 at the Parker in Fort Lauderdale, Jan. 20 at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, and Jan. 22 at the Tennessee Williams Theatre in Key West. Tickets are available at


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