The musical director took great joy in selecting artists for musical series.
Joseph Holt has always loved being at the center of music events.
The arts and concerts figure in Sarasota had his first brush with being a program director nearly two decades ago when he was considered for a job as program director of musical performances with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
It didn't end up happening, but it made Holt realize exactly what he wanted to do with his career — be a deciding voice in choosing a series of music performances.
He's been able to do just that at Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota for the past six seasons, where the director of artist programs has programmed extensive and varied seasons full of classical music from up-and-coming artists.
Holt recently announced his decision to step down from the position, though he will still perform with the group as a pianist. His last day will be June 30.
It's a bittersweet farewell but Holt feels better leaving at the top. The departing director says helping get his beloved organization through a pandemic and on to a new season feels like an appropriate final act.
"Being able to bring us through this pandemic with (executive director) Marcy Miller was a turning point," Holt said. "I wanted to leave the organization in a good stance with an (upcoming) season that's set up."
Holt's role as artist programs director has been to organize the group's seasons throughout the years, picking a variety of performers to fit the mission statement of promoting young artists who have participated in competitions and conservatories but are still early in their careers. He also makes sure to pick a variety of performers from pianists to violinists and keep each season fresh. There's also the important novelty factor — this upcoming season will feature a classical accordion player.
"We have (artist agents) in New York, Europe, and the west coast giving me recommendations," Holt said. "Sometimes you do your own research on Youtube … there's a phenomenal amount of material. Sometime you're trolling through and something strikes your fancy."
Preparation for a season starts around two years in advance, giving Holt and the organization plenty of room to line up the various performances and shows. It starts as a list of talent that couldn't possibly fit into one season but then gets whittled down into something useable. Part of his time with the organization has been scheduling more concise seasons. He says before he was on board, a concert season would have almost 50 performances but has since been brought down to around 25.
The pandemic, of course, threw a wrench in Holt's careful plans —the program director needed to find new outdoor venues for the various performances during the season. Events that once took place at the Historic Asolo Theater and the Sarasota Opera House were moved to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Historic Spanish Point and Nathan Benderson Park for much of last season.
"It threw us into a tailspin," Holt said. "Culture didn't just die and we needed to keep presenting our artists with performance opportunities but for our audiences as well. It's a crazy thing to design something and then have to throw it away and redesign it again."
Holt and his staff still managed to see it through, and the upcoming 2021-2022 season will return to indoor venues. Guests and performers will fill the halls of the Sarasota Opera House, Bird Key Yacht Club, Temple Sinai and more. Outdoor performances for the winter season are being considered as well.
Making it through the pandemic gave Holt a different perspective on his career as well. He and his partner always felt when they hit their 60s that it would be time to transition to sometime else but weren't entirely sure when that would be. The pandemic helped Holt, now 61, reach the conclusion it was finally time to wind down.
"Observing the business from this perspective, I was concerned there are opportunities that younger people need to have and I don't want to hold onto something unnecessarily," he said. "This feels like the right time for someone else to take over."
Artist Series Concerts will throw an open house reception for Holt on June 30 at 1226 N. Tamiami Trail. He says his replacement has been found and will be announced in the near future. In any case, he's just excited to take more time with family, go on long trips with his partner, and return for the upcoming season to play piano for audiences.
"We sometimes define our lives by what we've done and accomplished," Holt says. "But every time I've reached a point it's been an accomplishment like now, I realize I've only scaled one mountain and there's higher mountains out there."
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