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Remembering Maestro Paul Wolfe

Sep 16, 2016

The remembrances of Maestro Paul Wolfe have been pouring in since news of his death became public this week.

Wolfe was the co-founder of the Sarasota Music Festival, the longtime Artistic Director of the Sarasota Orchestra, and established and nurtured four chamber ensembles while serving in the latter capacity. 

Wolfe attended the High School of Music and Art in New York, Queens College, the Juilliard School and Columbia University. He went on to work with the likes of Paul Whiteman and Frank Sinatra in New York.

In 1961, what was then known as the Florida West Coast Symphony, now the Sarasota Orchestra, engaged Wolfe to be its artistic director and conductor. He held that position until 1996. Wolfe co-founded the Sarasota Music Festival and served as artistic director for four decades.

Classical WSMR's host of Musical Conversations, June LeBell, said Wolfe essentially put Sarasota on the cultural map of the world.

"We are one of the few cities in the world that I know of that has from January through March, the beginning of April, two major symphony orchestras: it has the Sarasota Orchestra and the Sarasota Opera Orchestra," she said. "It has chamber music going almost full time the entire year, and without Paul Wolfe, none of that would exist. And even taking it to the Sarasota Ballet, the Sarasota Ballet is known all over the world because of Ashton and Balanchine, and people in New York know who Sarasota is and what we are---it's because of Paul Wolfe."

LeBell knew Wolfe for a long time, because he was friends with her parents.

Pianist and composer Roger Zare grew up in Sarasota and now works in Chicago. He recalls working with Wolfe at the Sarasota Music Festival and said Wolfe's violin mastery played a part in a composition competition put on by The Sarasota Music Archive.

"I submitted a piece for violin and piano and he's the one who performed it, on more than one occasion. It was just incredible to work with him as well as see what he was doing as conductor and music director over the years, just fantastic musicianship," Zare said.

Wolfe's greatest legacy may be in the young talent he helped to foster through the Sarasota Music Festival. LeBell said he brought in the highest caliber of musicians to perform at the festival and bring in the crowds and to teach music conservatory students from across the country. Some of those same students are now returning as teachers.

According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, memorial donations may be made to Tidewell Hospice or the Sarasota Orchestra Endowment fund for youth orchestra.