Southwest Florida musicians lose jobs but win new opportunities during the pandemic


We can look back on the pandemic summer and say we’ve spent ours in hibernation. But four Southwest Florida musicians, competing online and being added to some high-stakes nominees, might prefer to think of it as working from their hive.

None of them will say 2020 has been a total treat of a summer. Mary Elizabeth Bowden, the former Naples trumpet virtuoso who still performs here, lamented that her two weeklong teaching programs in Paris and in Germany in August evaporated after the European Union banned American visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Frazar Henry, the 14-year-old Bonita Springs piano and composing star, has lost a fall season of performances. And his debut in the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 on Florida’s east coast next spring is beginning to look shaky, he worries.

It hasn’t stopped either of them from jumping into the limelight, as two Naples musicians, pianist Alexandra Carlson and violinist Daniela Shtereva, did by becoming Grammy nominees this summer. Cue the smiles all around.

Work is slim, but awards potential is a thrill

Bowden’s recording company recommended her newest disc, “Reverie,” to Opus-Klassik, the German equivalent of Grammys for classical music. And suddenly Bowden found herself on the list for best soloist, instrumentalist and best new artist. 

“That was a nice surprise, especially during these tough times for artists in this country,” she said. “And when you look at the nomination list — I think Hilary Hahn is on it — It’s very impressive. So just to be nominated is really cool.”

Her other competitors: international stars like cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Cameron Carpenter, the pipe organ virtuoso.

If she does win, Bowden will have another challenge. Winners are invited to Germany for a recital Oct 18.

Bowden still teaches at the conservatory of Shenandoah University, and she’s leading a video project to raise money for the Global Fund for Women. Some 81 female brass musicians from 31 countries around the world performing pop tunes composed by women.

“It’s going to be pretty exciting,” she declared.

Mary &Norma: Mary Bowden, Kassia Ensemble offer Arban arrangement of Bellini’s ‘Norma’ themes

But the commissioned trumpet concerto she was to premiere at the Las Vegas Symphony has been postponed and her concerts with the Kassia Ensemble, Chrysalis Chamber Players and Seraph Brass are canceled.

“We’re having to think creatively, do a lot of virtual projects and socially distanced, tiny concerts and things like that,” she said. “We feel like there’s a big pause on our careers here in America while most of our European friends are starting to perform again.”

There’s one ensemble she can still work with, however: The Dash Duo, featuring Bowden and her husband, David Dash. He’s the former assistant principal trumpet for the Naples Philharmonic who now teaches at University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts.

“We’re working on some virtual concerts,” she said. The pair even have a website for their work together at

At age 14, he’s still competing virtually

Frazar Henry has been unemployed since March and faces a jobless fall. It may be less of a mental strain because he’s a high school freshman.

Still, at age 14, he is a published composer and performer, and has been rehearsing for his debut of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 with an orchestra on Florida’s east coast next spring.

It may not happen. Nor, Frazar worries, might his spring dates at Artis—Naples, where he was to demonstrate Beethoven on the piano for lectures by musicologist Frank Cooper. More than most, however, Frazar’s world has not been upended. As a home-schooled student he was already spending more time at home than most teens his age.

“It does give you a lot of time to practice,” he mused about the pandemic restrictions.

It has also given him and his teacher time to sleuth out more competitions, including the young HeartOut competition, which targets online performances such as auditions and virtual concerts. Frazar came away just under the audience favorite prize, with an honorable mention.

It’s all a win for him: “We’re always looking at virtual and online competitions. I try to enter a lot of competitions to improve my style and my discipline. You always learn things.”

For the HeartOut competition, his father was a student, too. The performer had to be photographed at prescribed angles and the sound maintained at certain levels, and Robert Henry was his son’s videographer.

“There were people with a lot more experience at this than I had,” Robert Henry fretted. “But I learned a lot. I feel I can do a better job on these now.”

Hear Frazar perform: Frazar Henry at the 2019 FGCU/Steinway Piano Society winners’ recital

His son’s composing has been as intense as his piano performance. This year he won first place in the Miami Music Teachers Foundation Composition Contest for his “Pitch and Decay,” which followed last year’s thrill of having the Naples Philharmonic premiere his string quartet, “Going Around,” at its on-location concerts. Florida Gulf Coast University Bower School of Music musicians premiered his “Keyshot” sax quartet.

He’s won two ASCAP/Morton Gould youth composing awards, and he has a standing request for a work to be premiered by the Portland, Oregon, Youth Symphony. At this point a live performance may not be feasible, but it won’t be because Frazar hasn’t given them material.

“I’ve been working on it,” he promised.

Labor of love CD could be a Grammy winner

When violinist Daniela Shtereva and pianist Alexandra Carlson began working on a collaborative CD, it was at the urging, and sponsorship, of a good friend, Alfred Arbogast. Their “Parallax” album was the result, and if it were possible for a CD to be nominated for its programming, this would be the one. 

But its sound engineer, a member of the Grammy organization, nominated it for best chamber ensemble, best producer and best engineered classical album.

They’ve been thrown into a big hopper, the two realize. It’s filled with stars like Anne-Sophie Mutter and newly visited classics, such as a recording of Black composer Florence Price’s symphonies 1 and 4. 

Grammy members are given access to all of it before they vote, and Carlson hopes they listen. 

“Unfortunately for us it’s not a very clear process,” said Carlson. “They don’t have to listen to all the entries. That’s the problem with this. On the website there’s a page where you can listen to them but you’re not required to. And there are dozens of albums.”

They only know the round of winnowing entries down to four in each category should be finished by December. 

Their nomination was from confidence: The sound engineer, Robert Friedrich, has already won five Grammys. Even that instilled fear: “What if they say he’s already got enough, we’ll give it to someone else?” Carlson worried. 

But both are proud of the work they put into “Parallax,” named for the shifting of two different perspectives into one, more sophisticated point of view.

Shtereva, a violinist with the Naples Philharmonic, drew on her Bulgarian heritage for a hora, a folk dance, by Pancho Vladigerov. Carlson chose works tied to Joseph Achron, of Russian and Lithuanian heritage. The latter, in fact, represented a parallax via two works: a lively Caprice No. 1 by Paganini, for which Achron was the arranger; and an emotionally deep Hebrew Melody of his own composition. 

It will be the first U.S. recording of the former, for which Shtereva had received copies of Achron’s original staff music from her instructor. There are works from the Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu and Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz. 

“We decided, ‘Let’s not play another Brahms’ sonata, or something that’s been recorded 10,000 times. Let’s plan something that will be interesting to hear,”  Shetereva said.

If they do win, it will be a tribute to their mentor. Arbogast, a friend of many Naples musicians, who died Aug. 1.

‘Hebrew Melody’ tribute:: Daniela Shtereva, Alexandra Carlson honor Alfred Arbogast, Leon Fleisher and Simon Vainer

They do have another group cheering for them. While most Americans don’t know his name yet, there’s a society dedicated to the composer Achron. It enthusiastically helped the two, even supplying the only known recording of the Achron-arranged Caprice, which isn’t available in the U.S..

“They were so excited we were going to record it,” Shtereva recalled. 

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/ Reach her at 239-213-6091.

Getting awards, giving awards

Estero artist Pat Zalisko has been in at least two exhibitions since Southwest Florida came under coronavirus restrictions in March and she’ll be in a third in California this autumn. 

But Zalisko created her own bubble of joy during the pandemic by awarding collages to her viewers.

The idea of was the confluence of a challenge by her own informal artists’ group, who were reading together via Zoom, Jerry Saltz’ book “How to Be an Artist.” He charged his students with creating art by erasure — smudging, overpainting, obliterating other works to create a new one. Zalisko decided to transform her junk mail into collages.

And what to do with those small collages?

“I decided to give them to people who had made comments about my art on Instagram that I thought were interesting. I wrote them and asked if they would like to have one, and then I’d mat it, put it between two sheets of cardboard and send it off,” she said.

There were unexpected results. While Zalisko said she had no idea of the occupations of her writers, one turned out to be an art consultant. Another was a financial consultant in Nashua, New Hamphire,”and he must have hung it in his office. I’ve now got all these followers from financial districts in New Engand.”

It may not replace the lost residency in France she had won a scholarship for this summer. But Zalisko said her own “random act of kindness” has been rewarding.

“It’s so interesting that you make these connections, even though you’re distanced.”

Her next show is with Artistvenu, a Calfornia virtual exhibition coming this fall. 

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