A new concert series is filling the halls of historic Howey Mansion with music once again.
After citrus land baron William Howey built a mansion in the mid-1920s, he often hosted musicians from around the country to entertain guests during parties.
Now, nearly 100 years later, music lovers are rediscovering his Howey-in-the-Hills home as a performance venue through the Howey Mansion Music Series.
“When we had a concert in there for the first time in December, it was like a dream come true,” says Arisa Kusumi Sullivan, executive and artistic director of the series. “The acoustics are amazing, and I can arguably say it’s probably the best or one of the best chamber music venues in Florida.”
The series, which recently ended its first official season, was so successful that Arisa already is planning for next season.
“It takes a little time to build a reputation, but as we keep going, I feel like we increasingly gain more and more patrons and I’m really very happy with how the first season has gone,” she says. “We’ve had some feedback, we did surveys, and we got overwhelmingly positive responses from everybody.”
Arisa probably knew she had a hit on her hands as soon as she secured the venue, a 20-room Mediterranean Revival-style house that she describes as “absolutely gorgeous.” Her friend Brad Cowherd is one of the owners who restored the Howey Mansion to its former glory.
“I was inspired by that because it’s a 1925 structure and I thought, oh, wow, it’s like the perfect venue for classical music because it’s got the big Great Hall and all the hardwood and the acoustics,” Arisa says. “I thought it would be amazing in there, and they just don’t make those kinds of rooms anymore.”
Arisa, an international classical singer, sang “O, Holy Night” with the Quartet Rimmamici strings during the first chamber music concert in the Great Hall in December. The quartet was so popular that she plans to bring them back next season along with other high-caliber singers and groups.
The series also included two Jazz on the Lawn shows featuring the Suzy Park Quartet in October and Renderglow in March. The lawn concerts are designed to be casual, family-friendly parties.
The 2019-2020 series finale, the Brilliant Brass Chamber Music Concert by Sovereign Brass on April 16, was postponed over health concerns. But the concert is expected to be included in next season’s lineup during the fall, Arisa says.
Sovereign Brass is a quintet of horn players that started performing together in the 1990s in Central Florida. Members include Kathy Thomas on French horn, her husband, Jeff Thomas, on trombone, Michael Fee and Tom Macklin on trumpets and Josh Parsons on tuba. All of them perform with major symphonies, including the Orlando Philharmonic.
The musicians had been looking forward to seeing the mansion and performing in the Great Hall for the first time, but they will have to wait a little longer.
“It will be a very elegant place to play, and I’m sure that will make us feel very special in the surroundings,” Kathy says.
Arisa also hopes to establish a Music at the Mansion children series consisting of educational presentations by classical and jazz artists.
Expansion is dependent on donations and grants to the series, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. But Arisa is excited about the future.
“I had a dream for about 15 years to do this,” she says. “I really wanted to one day have a festival where I could invite all of these people that I had become friends with around the world to come and perform.”
The mansion’s history, which is rich and rooted in Florida lore, now has another chapter.
Hold on to your brass
The Sovereign Brass concert scheduled for April 16 at the Howey Mansion, 1001 Citrus Ave., Howey-in-the-Hills, has been postponed until next season to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Patrons are asked to hang on to their tickets, which will be honored next season. For anyone choosing to purchase a 2020-2021 season subscription, there will be a special option exclusively for fans who have already prepaid the Sovereign Brass ticket.
Check howeymusicseries.org and your email for announcements in late spring about the 2020-2021 season and subscription presales.