By Lawrence Budmen 

A quarter century ago a South Florida cultural tradition was born. On October 18, 1981 violinist Yefim Pastukh and three of his colleagues from what was then the Miami Philharmonic gave the first concert of what would become Sunday Afternoons of Music (SAM) – one of South Florida’s finest concert series. It all started when an exhibition of 13th and 14th century Judaica was on display at Temple Beth Am. Doreen Marx, then a member of the Temple board, suggested a musical component to the exhibit. After being given a heads up on the project, Marx contacted Pastukh and arranged the performance. 

Twenty-five years later SAM offers an eight concert series at the state of the art University of Miami Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables. Over the years the series’ offerings have been impressive. From violinist Aaron Rosand (one of the last proponents of the 19th century romantic violinistic tradition) to piano firebrand Nelson Freire, the legendary Beaux Arts Trio, and string legends Joseph Silverstein and Arnold Steinhardt, the series has hosted many of the music world’s true greats. Indeed SAM is one of the few remaining solo recital series in the United States. Some very special concerts stand out even in this abundance of riches. The great American soprano Benita Valente made her only Miami appearance on the series. Russian piano virtuoso Grigory Sokolov made one of his rare American appearances at SAM in an incandescent program of Bach and Chopin. Clarinetist Charles Neidich and violist Paul Neubauer dazzled audiences at SAM.

Reflecting on twenty-five years of great artists and memorable performances, Doreen Marx (the series’ founder and guiding light) is surprised at the project’s longevity. “When I did the first concert I didn’t have a clue that 25 years later I’d still be doing the same thing and having a ball,” Marx observed. Marx brings incredible dedication and fervor to her artistic mission. “A community that does not have music is not a community. It is just a place to live,” she says. A few concerts stand out in her memory. “Violinist Peter Zazofsky was our first import. Tenor Marcello Giordani (today one of the leadings stars of the international opera world) was special. Dawn Upshaw – she was so fantastic! Richard Goode – whenever he comes to play, you’re blown away. You’re totally mesmerized by his music making.” Marx also fondly recalls the South Florida debuts of pianist Olga Kern and Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. 

On April 2, SAM will celebrate a quarter century in high style. At 3:30 P.M. soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian (now one of the leading lights of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and London’s Covent Garden) returns for an afternoon of glorious song. At 6:00 P.M. a Gala Celebration at Baleen Restaurant at Grove Isle Hotel and Spa commences with a cocktail reception; followed by dinner and dancing to the beat of the Simon Salz Orchestra. Many of the artists who have performed on the series will return to entertain at this Gala evening. Trumpeter Rolf Smedvig, founder of the Empire Brass (which has appeared several times at SAM) will be the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. The event promises to be a night to remember and a sparkling prelude to the concert series’ next quarter century!

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