Sunny Isles, FIU team up to elevate classical music

Sunny Isles Beach resident Olga Zahradnicek left Czechoslovakia after the Warsaw Pact Invasion of 1968. Now, more than 40 years later, she has fond memories of playing the piano as a young woman in her native country, memories that she relived recently in Miami.

Listening to the “Czechoslovakian Spring” piano recital by Florida International University music students brought her to tears with nostalgia for her homeland.

The performance this past February was part of FIU’s Prestige Cultural Series, a partnership between the city of Sunny Isles Beach and FIU’s Office of the Vice Provost.

“I was very thankful that this cultural program from my country was done,” said Zahradnicek, who would not give her age but said she was “nearly 70.” “The soul of the music really came out through the students’ playing.”

The next musical collaboration will take place on April 14, when the FIU Studio Jazz Big Band performs at Sunny Isles’ Heritage Park. The concert will close the 2012-13 season of the city’s Four Seasons Cultural Series.

“The idea is to work as closely as we can together and bring cultural arts to the community,” Sunny Isles Beach Mayor Norman Edelcup said. “We are very pleased the relationship has blossomed the way it has.”

The partnership with the city started in 2010, when Mayor Edelcup approached FIU about their common goals — both entities had established their own cultural series in 2009.

“The city of Sunny Isles came to us,” said Jan Solomon, 60, director of development in FIU’s Office of the Vice Provost. “They said, ‘There is a drought of cultural activity in the northern part of Miami-Dade County, and we are willing to give you money to sponsor a cultural program.’ ”

Sunny Isles Beach gave a $25,000 grant to cover the costs of FIU’s Prestige Cultural Series. In return, the FIU School of Music has its musical acts perform in the city.

“We are happy to help sponsor some of their (FIU’s) events on their campus, and we are also happy to bring some of their artists over here,” said Edelcup, 77.

Both the city’s program and the school’s seek to appeal to classical music lovers while educating the younger generations about the classical arts.

For FIU, the events are a way of engaging the community and tapping potential donors.

All profits from the Prestige Cultural Series’ ticket sales are allocated to scholarships that benefit FIU students at the Biscayne Bay Campus and the School of Music. About $60,000 has been raised over the past four years.

“Scholarships right now are hard to find, so the fact that the city is helping to make scholarship money available is a great help,” FIU Studio Jazz Big Band director Jim Hacker said.

Hacker, 45, worked closely with Mayor Edelcup to select some of the songs that will be performed at the upcoming concert, which will feature music from the “Big Band Era.”

“I think it (the partnership) really helps everyone,” Hacker said. “It gives the students an opportunity to perform outside in real-life situations, and it helps members of the community because they get to enjoy some great music.”

Other FIU School of Music programs that have performed in Sunny Isles Beach include the orchestra, a string quartet, a musical theater group, a Latin jazz group and opera singers.

Bal Harbour resident Sandy Lansing, 76, said the two concerts she attended this season were sold out.

“The students always get a standing ovation because the people have enjoyed it so much,” she said.

FIU jazz-performance major William Blake Still, 23, said the concerts are a great way of introducing classical music to younger crowds.

“This music isn’t necessarily dying, but the audience that enjoys it is older,” he said. “So I think it’s great to do things like this and to try to expose as many people as possible.”