The Maestro Muses: Symphony of the Americas’ Artistic Director, James Brooks-Bruzzese, Reminisces About his Illustrious Career
Under the guidance of Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese, South Florida´s acclaimed Symphony of the Americas has emerged as one of Broward County’s major cultural Institutions. This year, the Symphony celebrates its 29th season of concerts in its performance home, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, and the tri-county area.
When asked about his most important contributions to Broward’s cultural climate, the Maestro immediately mentions his work with children, not only in South Florida, but around the world. “We have to care about our children. They are the next world leaders, and without music in their life, there is no balance. They need an outlet to express themselves, and even if they only use their musical exposure and education to become good listeners, they will have a much better ability to meet life’s challenges and become good leaders.”
Brooks-Bruzzese was born in a bilingual home in Panama to a Colombian mother and American father in the US Armed Forces. He arrived in South Florida in the early 1970’s, teaching in area schools and universities, where he created student orchestras and won national awards. For the past 40 years, he has been an icon in South Florida’s arts scene, shaping the cultural identity of the community. His contribution to South Florida’s professional music landscape includes the creation of the Florida Music Festival, as well as the founding of the Florida Chamber Orchestra, which evolved into the South Florida Symphony Orchestra. Maestro’s first love is opera. He founded the Augusta Opera with singers of the Met and London’s Covent Garden, and holds a PhD. in opera conducting.
The Symphony’s well-known Summerfest just completed its 25th year with “Best of the Best,” bringing the fine artistic reputation of the Symphony to diverse audiences in cultural capitals of the world. The six week festival joins musicians from acclaimed foreign orchestras, with those of the Symphony, and features performances in the US, Europe, and Central & South America.
Internationally, Maestro Brooks-Bruzzese’s credits are a force to be reckoned with, highlighting appearances in over thirty-five countries, His international itinerary includes concerts in Berlin, Budapest, Amsterdam, South Africa, Buenos Aires, Asia, Africa, and Russia, just to name a few. One of his most memorable performances was at Amsterdam’s legendary Concertgebouw. The Amsterdam press called it “A remarkable performance! … three standing ovations!” Maestro remembers the steps. “It seemed like 100! The long staircase adjacent to the stage was the way every conductor entered, and when I received all the standing ovations, it meant three times up and down the entire staircase … that was as memorable as the conducting!”
While conducting an American pops concert in Berlin, when the hall was filled to capacity, people lined up around the outside of the theater with their hands on the wall, hoping to feel some of the vibration of the music of Gershwin and all the American rhythms. “To be responsible for opening the experience of American music to those so hungry for it, is an amazing memory,” recalls Maestro. “It proves how important music is to all of us.”
In addition, his work with international soloists includes Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Joaquin Achucarro, Eugene Istomin, Yefim Bronfman, the Ashkenazys, Roberta Peters, Eugenia Zukerman, Leonard Rose, Janos Starker, and Cuban pianist, Jorge Luis Prats – one of today’s most acclaimed powerhouse soloists. Maestro has an intimate knowledge of many genres of music. His work in the pop arena has showcased Phyllis Diller, Doc Severinsen and Mariah Carey, among others. Conducting dance, he says, is always a challenge. “Tempo is important to the dancers—they always say it’s ‘too fast, or too slow,’ but I am fortunate to always have their mark of approval!” He has collaborated with Rudolph Nureyev, Amanda McKerrow, Gelsey Kirkland, and the Atlanta, Pittsburgh & Joffrey Ballet companies.
As a Rotarian, he instituted a joint project with Rotary and Sister Cities, taking Symphony musicians to Haiti. A humanitarian tour through music, the project raised over $50,000 through performances in cities and hillside churches, for potable water efforts and re-forestation. Maestro works with Rotary throughout the world in his performance travels. It is no wonder that Maestro is recognized worldwide. In 2005, he was honored at Washington´s Kennedy Center with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation´s Award for the Arts for his lifelong work as a world-renowned conductor and dedication to promoting classical music to youth around the world. “To meet Jose Feliciano and Solidad Obrien is an honor in itself, but to be honored alongside both of them, AND conduct the National Symphony at the Awards, was truly a highlight in my life,” he remembers.
Interestingly enough, despite his global accomplishments, the most enjoyable concert Maestro has conducted to date was in South Florida. “It was another first, right here in Ft. Lauderdale – conducting the US Synchronized Swimming Team with full orchestra at the pools edge, in one of our many specially choreographed presentations.”