Last Tuesday was a busy day for Lee Dougherty Ross. It was the first day of the Community Foundation of Sarasota’s annual Giving Challenge, and Ross spent most of her day answering phones, tallying donations and volunteering on-site.
Amidst the commotion, a couple approached her and struck up a conversation. They were visiting Sarasota and deciding whether they wanted to move here or to St. Petersburg. They asked Ross if there was any good music to be had in town. They couldn’t have asked a better person.
Ross, a trained pianist and singer, co-founded the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota with her husband, Jerold, in the lobby of their Lido Key condo building in 1996 in an effort to bring the joys of classical music to a more intimate setting.
Twenty years later, as the organization’s artistic director, Ross has made ASC a major player in the Sarasota music scene by consistently bringing acclaimed local, national and international musicians to perform in Sarasota. Even as the organization has grown over these years, it still sticks to its intimate roots by performing in either the Historic Asolo Theater or in local private residences for its soirée series.
“When we did the first season of programming in the lobby of my condo, there was no way I thought we would last this long, or have any chance to bring in these kinds of musicians,” says Ross. “I just thought it was a lovely idea. My original raison d’etre is sharing music with people. There are so many incredible artists out there, that I’d love to have a concert every night.”
“Each of these musicians is bringing something they really care about, and it’s bringing all these different nations together and sharing joy," says Lee Dougherty Ross, artistic director of Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota.
To kick off its 20th season, ASC is broadening its scope with “Intercultural Harmonies,” an international ensemble of musicians performing works from around the world in celebration of the International Day of Peace. The performance, which takes place Sept. 20, at the Historic Asolo Theater, will also include local gospel singer Ozanda Gray and the Sarasota Young Voices choir.
Geneviève Beauchamp, founder and artistic director of the 80-member nonprofit vocal ensemble, says she’s looking forward to spreading peace through the performance.
“Music can be a highly competitive world and tough on people,” says Beauchamp. “In my group, I want to produce a nurturing environment for kids interested in music and the people who come to listen.”
Ross says she also hopes to nurture young musicians by expanding ASC’s educational and scholarship facets. This year, the organization will open its scholarship competition for the first time. Once limited to just Florida students, the competition will now accept entrants from anywhere in the country in its piano, strings and voice categories.
“In order to last another 20 years, we need to bring in the best musicians,” says Ross. “The whole idea for this concert and this organization for me is love and peace. Each of these musicians is bringing something they really care about, and it’s bringing all these different nations together and sharing joy.”