History of The Symphony

The South Florida Symphony Orchestra is the manifest dream of Music Director and Conductor Sebrina Mari­a Alfonso. She was joined in her vision by townspeople and city leaders interested in making live symphonic music accessible to the community and its young people both as a performing art and as an educational experience. This is not an easy undertaking by an island community located at the end of a sparsely populated, one hundred and fifty-mile long, rural chain of islands.

Maestra Alfonso was born and raised in Key West, a sixth-generation Conch. Even with clear success and accolades during the years she studied and performed across the country and in Europe, Key West continued to hold a special place in Sebrina Maria Alfonso's heart. With the support of her family and friends, Ms. Alfonso returned to Key West and founded the Key West Symphony Orchestra in August 1997. A fundraising concert was performed in March 1998. The event attracted enough interest that core supporters suggested a debut of a full orchestra in December of that year. The KWSO reserved the Tennessee Williams Theatre and recruited forty-eight musicians from symphonies around the country. Symphony organizers adopted by-laws, named a diverse Board of twenty-two directors and elected officers. Fundraising moved into high gear with support from the community and corporate sponsors.


Sebrina María Alfonso made her New York debut conducting the American Symphony Orchestra at the finals of the Stokowski International Competition in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. The audience greeted this prizewinner with a standing ovation following her performance and pronounced her the clear winner in the audience poll announced at the end of the proceedings.

In 2002, Maestra Alfonso became the first Cuban American conductor invited to conduct Cuba’s premier orchestra where she received standing ovations with standing room only concerts.  She continues a relationship with that orchestra and has traveled to Cuba on four other occasions.

Other orchestras with which Maestra Alfonso has appeared as guest conductor are the: Los Angeles Philharmonic; National Orchestra of Cuba;  San Jose Symphony; San Jose Chamber Orchestra; Pacific Symphony;  San Antonio Symphony; North Carolina Symphony; Charleston Symphony; Prague Radio Symphony; Orchestra de Rús in Sienna, Italy;  Ann Arbor Symphony;  Missouri Symphony Society; Women’s Philharmonic, and Aspen Music Festival Orchestra.

The Beginning

On Friday, December 11, 1998, lights dimmed at the Tennessee Williams Theatre and the KWSO dream became a reality. Both the inaugural concert and the children's free educational concerts on the previous Wednesday were received with bravos and rave reviews. Aspiring to bring the awe and inspiration of classical music to a greater part of the region, critically acclaimed Maestra Sebrina Maria Alfonso, collectively with dedicated arts patrons, launched the Key West Symphony Orchestra 14 seasons ago. 

Alfonso made her New York debut conducting the American Symphony Orchestra at the finals of the Stokowski International Competition. She studied with Frederic Prausnitz at the Peabody conservatory and with Harold Farberman and Daniel Lewis at the Conducting Institute. During her doctoral studies at Peabody, she served as artistic director and conductor of the John Carroll Opera Company in Annapolis, Frederick Symphony and Goucher Symphony Orchestra. In 1998, the Key West native's dedication to music and her dream to establish a first-class orchestra came true with the creation of the Key West Symphony Orchestra. For more than a decade, this small, but cultural Florida community has enjoyed world-class music and renowned soloists under the musical direction of Alfonso.

Community Focused

Committed to continuing arts and music education, the Key West Symphony has been instrumental in mentoring area children through various training programs, master classes and free community concerts. In 2002, Sebrina Mari­a Alfonso became the first Cuban American conductor invited to conduct Cuba's premier orchestra, the National Orchestra of Cuba, where she received standing ovations. Several sold out shows and years later, Alfonso received accolades for her appearances as a guest conductor with such esteemed orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Jose Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony, the Pacific Symphony, the Prague Radio Symphony, the Orchestra de Rus in Sienna, Italy, and the Women's Philharmonic, among many others. She even conducted an underwater concert for over 400 divers which received world-wide recognition.

Attracting The Best

Prominent performers with whom she has worked include Chee-Yun, Zuill Bailey, Cho Liang Lin, Robert McDuffie, Sharon Isbin, Elmar Oliveira, Christopher Taylor, Nicolette Benedetti, Awadagin Pratt, Natasha Paremski and Jeffrey Chappell among others. With her national reputation continuing to expand, Sebrina has been the recipient of feature stories on CBS radio news, CNN, the AP Press, MS Magazine (New York), Deco Drive and Miami News (ABC) and has been reported in Reuters. 

Continuing to Grow

Ms. Alfonso is an advocate for American composers and it is this commitment that has seen her organize group commissions for various orchestras and has recorded works of James Grant under the MMC label of Boston with the Prague Radio Symphony. She is also a featured conductor with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra of American Composers. During the summers at the Conductors Institute, Sebrina held fellowships and was invited to perform several world premieres, including her own composition ˜Freedom Crossing," a work which commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Mariel Cuban boat-crossing in which thousands risked their lives to gain their freedom.

A devoted, creative and charismatic Maestra, Alfonso has been profiled on CNN, CBS Radio News, WSVN Channel 7's Deco Drive and WPLG Local 10 (ABC) and has been featured in the Associated Press, Reuters, Ms. magazine and Southern Living, among others.