The Sarasota Orchestra has had a slow, steady rise over the last 60 years. It is now a profoundly good orchestra. It really is a nice story.
Two-time Board President (1988-1990)
Clarinet player (1948-1951)
It all began in the fall of 1948...
... when Ruth Cotton Butler, a Sarasota music teacher, imagined how satisfying it would be to have an orchestra in her own community. She enlisted the support of businessmen Dr. W.D. Sugg and J. Lorton Francis of Bradenton; and George Gibbs, an amateur musician from Venice. Their combined tenacity produced the debut concert of the Florida West Coast Symphony on March 12, 1949.
Under the direction of its first conductor, Alexander Bloch, the Orchestra grew at an astonishing rate and demonstrated its commitment to community service by quickly establishing a youth scholarship fund in 1951 and initiating public school Children’s Concerts in 1953. Even more remarkably, by 1955 the then Florida West Coast Symphony could claim to be the first community orchestra in the country to own a building.
In 1961, Paul Wolfe began what was to be a successful 35-year tenure as artistic director and conductor. Wolfe's vision was the guiding force in shaping the current commitment to quality symphonic and chamber music, youth education and community service. His leadership allowed the Orchestra to establish a core chamber and four resident chamber ensembles, expand the Youth Orchestra Program and consolidate the then Florida West Coast Symphony and the Music Festival of Florida, to create the Sarasota Music Festival.
Upon Wolfe’s retirement in 1996, a national search process resulted in the appointment of Leif Bjaland as the fourth artistic director and conductor in the Orchestra’s history.
Now, 60 years in the making, the Sarasota Orchestra is the new Florida West Coast Symphony. With new series and new concerts, the Orchestra offers a whole new way to experience classical music.