Conductor of the Venice Symphony since 2011 and a key player on the region’s classical music scene for 45 years, Ken Bowermeister has led the city’s professional, nonprofit orchestra through a remarkable period of growth. As he prepares for his final season (he will return to teaching violin and viola to private students—“that’s really my first love,” he says), we asked him about the orchestra’s new young musicians, how programs are selected, and the new Venice Performing Arts Center.
“My father was a drummer and vocalist and his family all played and sang. My mother’s sister was a trumpeter with the Dayton Philharmonic. I started as a violinist, then picked up the viola. I spent 30 years teaching at Pine View, 10 of those years also teaching at Sarasota Junior High and High School. I taught thousands of students before I retired in 2000.”
“I got a call from the Venice Symphony telling me that their conductor was sick, and asking if I could fill in. I said, ‘Absolutely, when do you need me?’ They said, ‘Tomorrow.’ I conducted both the Sarasota Pops and the Venice Symphony for two years, and went full time here in 2011.”
“Many of our musicians have retired from larger orchestras, and a lot are active in other orchestras in this area. The orchestra is becoming younger; we’re picking up very fine players in their 20s and 30s. Our new principal cellist, Louisa Bustamente, was with the New World Symphony in Miami and with the Miami City Ballet orchestra. She’s a graduate of Juilliard who had been the assistant principal cellist of the NYC City Center touring orchestra.”
“When I first went there it was a professional orchestra because everyone was paid, but it sounded like a good community orchestra, to be honest. We’ve attracted so many good new players; it’s grown even more than I’ve envisioned—and the audience has responded enormously to the growth in quality.”
“The new Venice Performing Arts Center is a beautiful facility and we have a larger stage with more capabilities of doing things, but it’s an interesting acoustic challenge. After one year we haven’t arrived at the perfect setting for the orchestra; we’re still experimenting with our placement on the stage.”
“Every conductor and player has some concerns about the future of classical music. It’s an aging audience, as we all know. I don’t see doom and gloom, but I see a need for expanding the repertoire and being more accessible to more people. Classical music has built a wall around it, like it’s in an ivory tower. I try to make it warmer and more inviting by always talking to the audience about the composer, the music; I let them know we’re all human up there onstage.”