In 1996, recent Wisconsin transplants Jerold and Lee Dougherty Ross began hosting soiree musicals in the lobby of their Lido Key condo. The unofficial yet intimate concerts were an offshoot of Dougherty Ross’ lifetime of music performance and study.
Ross has been playing the piano professionally since the age of 12. A graduate of the prestigious Eastman School of Music, specializing in piano and voice, Ross packed her love of music when she moved to Sarasota.
“People expressed a real interest even from the beginning,” says Ross, “and I wanted to share music through my own performing and other people’s music.”
From those humble beginnings among friends and classical music enthusiasts, the Rosses’ concerts morphed in 1996 into the nonprofit Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota. The organization brings in classical and pop artists from around the country and the world. And even though the musical performances have expanded from condos to the Historic Asolo Theater and the Sarasota Opera House, one thing is paramount to Ross and John Fischer, executive director of the ASC: intimacy.
“Even our larger venues — for the most part where most of the programs take place is still a cozy house,” says John Fischer, executive director of the Artist Series Concerts. “They get a chance to talk to the artist at every show. It’s really a complete close experience.”
The roots of the organization can be seen in its annual Soiree Series. Held on Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings, approximately 80 patrons enjoy the music of talented performers in Fischer’s home, which has three grand pianos and two theater organs. Though the majority of the Artists Series Concerts’ events take place in larger theaters, the relationship between fan and musician is always that of a dialogue, never a one-sided conversation.
This conversation is presented in diverse forms of music. For the remainder of its current season, the organization will host Samus Haddad, an opera baritone; a jazz tribute to Benny Goodman from the Dave Bennett Quartet; a rising classical string ensemble, the Dover Quartet; cellist Bion Tsang and pianist Adam Neiman; classical guitar wunderkind Jennifer Kim; a trumpet, soprano and piano trio of Brandon Ridenour, Mara Bonde and Rich Ridenour; a Gilbert & Sullivan revue; and soprano Adrienne Danrich with pianist Djordje Nesic.
“I wish we could have a concert every night,” says Ross. “Now that Artist Series has hired so many international people over the years, my email is full from managers and agencies recommending musicians.”
In addition to its role as exhibitionist of established names in classical and pop music, the organization has become an advocate and patron of student musicians. In 2006, patron Virginia Toulmin gave Artist Series Concerts $100,000 to establish a scholarship and awards fund for high school and college-aged students who were on the cusp of entering the professional music world. Others began to follow Toulmin’s lead and have established their own higher-education initatives, including the Lee & Jerry Ross scholarship, the Mary Thienes Schunemann Award and the Gary Rideout Memorial Fund. In total, the Artist Series Concerts has awarded $200,000 worth of scholarships and awards to students who have the talent and promise to break into the classical music performance world.
“Music is the expression of the soul,” says Ross, “and it connects people in a way that words can’t. There’s a shared spiritual uplifting through music that’s beyond words.”
20 YEARS IN THE MAKING
Highlights from Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota’s upcoming 20th season:
Intercultural Journey: Led by Israeli cellist Udi Bar-David, Intercultural Journey is a five-person ensemble that performs music around the world in hopes of encouraging a dialogue of peace and co-existence between people in different nations. They will be joined by Sarasota Young Voices choir Sept. 20, at the Historic Asolo Theater.
Jerry Herman’s Broadway: The official 20th season opening event, vocalists and performers Klea Blackhurst and Jason Graae will be accompanied by pianist James Followell and the Gloria Musicae Singers as they perform the greatest hits by Broadway musical composer Jerry Herman. The Oct. 11 show at the Sarasota Opera House will pay tribute to the legendary musical composer and lyricist.
‘Body and Soul’: Acclaimed cabaret artist Carole J. Bufford stops by the Historic Asolo Theater Nov. 14 and 15 to perform her cabaret show. She has received Nightlife, Bistro and BroadwayWorld awards for outstanding vocalist.