Miami’s pioneering Sunday Afternoons of Music reaches its bittersweet finale

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Miami’s pioneering Sunday Afternoons of Music reaches its bittersweet finale

Posted on: May 18th, 2014 by tommyj

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If not for a devastating personal loss, Doreen Marx wouldn’t have launched the music series that turned into a life-altering passion. If not for that loss, the dynamic Marx never would have met and married Byron Krulewitch, an engineer who was trying to recover from a tragedy of his own. And if not for the combination of skills, dedication and nurturing the two brought to a series they describe as a “mom-and-pop operation,” who knows whether Sunday Afternoons of Music would have survived for 33 years?

Yet survive it has, along with the 28-year-old Sunday Afternoons of Music for Children, a series aimed at counteracting the erosion of arts education and the graying of the music audience. Through the decades, Marx and Krulewitch have showcased the artistry of several hundred musicians in recitals and chamber concerts. They have sparked a love of music in uncounted numbers of children. They have featured celebrated artists and introduced rising stars to South Florida.

But as with all good things, Sunday Afternoons of Music is coming to an end. At 4 p.m. Sunday at the University of Miami’s Gusman Concert Hall, mezzo-soprano and rising Metropolitan Opera star Isabel Leonard will give the final performance in the much-loved series.

“To everything, there is a season,” says the petite Marx. Her London accent still gives away her birthplace, though she has called the United States home for 67 years. “It’s bittersweet, but it’s time. We’ll miss it.”

Michael Spring, director of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural Affairs, calls Marx and Krulewitch “arts pioneers who have been instrumental in developing the first generation of Miami’s cultural life.”

So why pull the plug on a series that has never been in the red? As Marx noted, the decision was driven by the passage of time. On Nov. 23, Krulewitch will turn 90. On Christmas Day, Marx will celebrate her 88th birthday. Though both exude a vibrant energy that contradicts the dates on their birth certificates, they’re ready to step away from their 24/7, 365-days-a-year labor of love.

Miami City Ballet principal soloist Callie Manning, who led the program on the children’s series this season, says the couple is inspiring.

“I really believe the concerts, though they require a ton of work and energy, have kept them young,” Manning says.

Marx, who conquered cancer several years ago and will soon get a knee replacement, smiles as she sits in the kitchen of the elegant Kendall townhouse where she and her husband have hosted so many post-performance garden dinner parties for their stars, patrons and friends.

“I want to go to Lincoln Road and just sit, without the pressure of getting out a press release or a grant application hovering over us,” she says.

That Marx, whose education was cut short by World War II, wound up becoming one of South Florida’s most significant music presenters would have surprised no one more than her younger self. Sent to Los Angeles to visit a cousin by parents wanted to break up a budding romance, young Doreen Lewis met and married Marvin Marx, a successful television writer who became head writer for Jackie Gleason in the 1950s and ’60s, working on Gleason’s variety show and The Honeymooners.

The couple had two sons, Myron (now a radiologist) and Gregory (a rabbi), and when Gleason moved his show from New York to Miami Beach in 1964, the Marx family was aboard the train that the actor-comedian had rechristened the Gleason Express. All was well and glamorous for a time, but then Myron Marx fell ill with a fungal infection of the brain that claimed his life in 1975, after eight agonizing years.

As a widow, Marx rebuilt her life. Always insecure about her lack of a degree, she earned her GED at Miami’s Palmetto Senior High School. She joined the board of Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, and as a member of the cultural arts committee insisted that a special cultural arts weekend in 1981 had to include music. She persuaded Yefim Pastukh, Stuart McDonald, David Chappell and Nina Gordon, first-chair musicians from the now-vanished Florida Philharmonic, to perform for $500, her entire allotted budget from the temple. There was another concert in 1982, and by 1983 the series that became Marx’s informal graduate education in music was born.

Her life changed again in early 1984. An accountant who was taking the same aerobics class as Marx asked if she’d be open to meeting one of his clients. Krulewitch, father of three (Jay is a lawyer, Harry a doctor and Susan a police grant writer), was a widower whose first wife Marezel had been killed in a car accident.

“I was in between gentleman callers, so I said yes,” Marx says.

On their first date — Jan. 29, 1984 — Krulewitch took Marx to the Chart House.

“On our second date, I said we’d be married,” Krulewitch recalls, though Marx found that a bit “cheeky,” and it took her tall new beau two more years to make his prediction come true.

Maria Roos, the widow of former Miami Herald music critic James Roos, says Marx became her first friend when she moved to Miami from Italy nearly 36 years ago. She remembers that despite Marx’s warm nature — “she is outgoing, funny, ready to learn new things, playful … and very intuitive,” Roos observes — the woman who served as her matron of honor had sad eyes. Meeting Krulewitch changed that.

“When Byron came into her life, her smile became more confident, wider. Her eyes twinkled. She was loved and cherished, and life was good again,” Roos says.

Though Marx launched Sunday Afternoons of Music, the series soon became the couple’s shared passion. Through the years, Marx and Krulewitch have presented 82 pianists, seven piano duos, 23 violin or viola virtuosos, 14 cellists, 24 solo singers and the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida, 25 string ensembles, a brass ensemble, three clarinet players, two flute players and solo masters of the French horn, guitar, harpsichord, saxophone and trumpet. The children’s series featured numerous dancers from Miami City Ballet, distinguished narrators like Martin Bookspan, as well as Florida’s Singing Sons Boychoir, musicians from the New World Symphony, the Florida Youth Orchestra, the University of Miami singers, the Greater Miami Symphonic Band and more. A number of artists appeared multiple times.

Predictably, given the duration of the series and the number of artists involved, there were occasional crises.

Soprano Gwendolyn Bradley arrived from Germany six months pregnant and without a gown, so Marx whisked her over to a just-about-to-close shop on Miracle Mile and found just the right baby-accommodating blouson dress. Maria Roos’ brother, acclaimed pianist Carlo Grante, was set to play a concert when Marx got a call after a Saturday evening Temple Beth Am bar mitzvah, telling her no piano had been delivered. She and Krulewitch scrambled, and on Sunday Grante sat down at a brand-new Bösendoerfer. Marx spent one Saturday afternoon sitting in an emergency room with soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and the singer’s ailing son.

The two series evolved over the years, becoming a 501c3 not-for-profit, moving from Temple Beth Am to Gusman Concert Hall in the 2002-2003 season, seeing the budget climb to $325,000. Unofficially, Marx served as artistic director and Krulewitch as managing director, but they ran the series together from their home, where a Sunday Afternoons of Music line rings frequently.

Sitting together, they talk with the ease of a couple married 28 years, interrupting each other to fill in details, their affection obvious. Yet as their histories illustrate, real life is not a romantic made-for-TV movie. There have been disagreements and sacrifices. Being late for or missing family functions is just one price they’ve paid, a sticking point for their children and grandchildren.

“The only time we fight is when we’re working on the series. When we leave the [home] office, it stays in the office,” Marx says.

The two have lavished their artists and audiences with TLC. When pianist Menahem Pressler said he’d like Chinese food after a concert, he launched a tradition that had Krulewitch scurrying to the Canton Chinese Restaurant in South Miami for takeout, which he and Marx served at home with an open bar, cheese and veggies and home-baked goodies. Marx found babysitters for artists with kids, and she and Krulewitch always did the airport runs themselves.

“We would pick them up on Saturday afternoon, usually not knowing them,” Marx says. “By Monday morning, we were hugging and kissing them goodbye.”

For so many of the artists who performed on the Sunday Afternoons of Music or children’s series, that affection is mutual.

“I have a photograph of Doreen, [the late series sponsor] Ed Miller and myself on my desk … . It’s a constant reminder of our friendship,” says violin great Aaron Rosand. “Doreen and Byron are passionate music lovers. They’re devoted to perpetuating classical music, in particular the recital form … . I think shutting down the series is a sad loss for Miami.”

Cellist Jason Calloway of the Amernet String Quartet observes that although other presenters will “pick up the slack left by Sunday Afternoons, the ending of this series will mean the loss of one of South Florida’s most vibrant and devoted concert platforms.”

Shelton Berg, dean of the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, says of Marx and Krulewitch, “They love each concert like it is their ‘child,’ and that sentiment permeates the experience. Their passion is off the charts and has been the motivating factor behind the series. They have been doing this for a very long time, so they know the artists and always curate a world-class series.”

Soprano Elizabeth Caballero, who performed twice for Sunday Afternoons of Music, calls the duo “impresarios of the highest order.” Violinist Scott Flavin, who performs with the Bergonzi String Quartet and the Pulse Chamber Group and is resident conductor/artistic coordinator at the UM-based Henry Mancini Institute, says he thinks of Marx and Krulewitch as he works on creating the Miami Mozarteum chamber orchestra.

“Byron and Doreen have done so much to perpetuate the highest quality of live concert music in this town,” Flavin says. “Their sense of humor, intelligence and unflagging energy continue to be an inspiration to me.”

Though it’s curtains for Sunday Afternoons of Music — a name that simply occurred to Marx, and a time chosen “because that’s when [legendary pianist Vladimir] Horowitz used to play,” she notes — it’s certain that the couple will be spotted in many concert audiences. After all, it’s music that fueled their passion and became a joy to be shared with each other and generations of music lovers.

“What is life without music? It can raise your spirits if you’re down and make you soar within,” Marx says. “Whenever I would sit down in the hall and hear that first note of music, I’d see everyone being affected. Whatever you went through, it’s worth it. How can you equate a few aggravating moments with the rapture on those faces?”

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