Doreen Marx celebrates 30 years of bringing great music to Miami

By David Fleshler

Doreen Marx and husband Byron Krulewitch work together to present the Sunday Afternoons of Music seres at Gusman Concert Hall

As a 14-year-old girl, Doreen Marx liked to climb to the top floor of her family’s west London house to watch the searchlights during the Blitz

“Doreen! Come down and get into the shelter,” her mother would call, and she would descend to the safety of a reinforced basement as the Heinkels and Stukas rumbled overhead. One bomb exploded across the street, shaking her house violently but leaving the sturdy building undamaged. She served as a nurse’s aide in the tube station shelters, bandaging minor wounds. She still has her Red Cross hat.

All of which helps explain why she was unflappable when the grand piano failed to arrive for the concert, when the soprano showed up with nothing to wear, and all the other little crises that dot the life of a classical music presenter. And yet. as concert time approaches, she still tenses up. “My husband knows I’m nervous,” she said. “Driving to the concert, he holds my hand and he can tell when my hand gets cold.”

Marx, a youthful 84, is celebrating her 30th year as founder and executive director of the Sunday Afternoons of Music Series, which presents top-quality recitals and chamber concerts at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall. Like Julian Kreeger and Judy Drucker, two other South Florida concert promoters of her generation, she brings a unique, personal and appealingly eccentric touch to her concerts. Speaking in an accent that gives no hint that she’s lived in this country since 1947, she introduces the musicians and goes on (and on and on) about the people who helped make the concert possible.

“In the profession we tend to forget about the concert promoters, the people who actually make the concert happen,” said the violinist Peter Zazofsky, who played one of Marx’s first concerts and will perform on her 30th anniversary concert this Sunday. “People see performers on stage—singers, cellists, violinists, pianists. The audience sees that but they don’t see the hard work behind bringing those people.

“We’re a peculiar bunch, performing artists. and we have a lot of sometimes odd requests for housing, for meals before concerts, for whatever happens afterwards, and it takes a very special personality to deal with musicians.”

When the soprano Gwendolyn Bradley arrived at the airport from Berlin, the six-months-pregnant singer announced “I don’t have a thing to wear!” They went to Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, and found a store, but it was about to close. “I stuck my foot in the door and told them we desperately needed a dress for the following day,” Marx said. They found a gown that fit, and the crisis passed.

On another occasion, when her concerts were still being held at Temple Beth Am in Kendall, the pianist Carlo Grante was to play a recital. Unfortunately, the piano didn’t arrive. Marx got on the phone, and three hours before the recital she was able to secure the use of one. “The piano in question was a new piano right out of the warehouse – quite brittle and needed adjustment,” she said. “It was quite harrowing.”

When a baritone forgot his medication, Marx drove him to her pharmacist. When one musician announced plans to bring his young son, Marx saw that the child’s bed in the hotel room was covered with teddy bears. When the soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian’s son arrived suffering from an ear infection, Marx drove her, her husband and son to the emergency room and spent the day with them.

“She was like a fairy godmother to us,” Bayrakdarian said. “It’s very unusual for a concert organizer and an artist to be so close. She just makes you feel like family.”

Like many other concert promoters with strong tastes and personalities, she has idiosyncratic ways of choosing performers. She hates CDs. Once at breakfast, while reading a review of Vadim Repin’s performance of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 by the Miami Herald’s late music critic James Roos, she read the sentence, “This is a young virtuoso South Floridians will want back, soon.”

“I said out loud, ‘OK, South Florida, I’m bringing back Vadim Repin.” And she brought him down for a recital. At a concert of the New World Symphony, she heard the pianist Jeremy Denk. “I said to my husband, ‘My God, he’s fantastic. Let’s get him.” Denk will perform a recital on her series April 17.

Marx grew up in the west London neighborhood of Notting Hill. Her father was an insurance agent, her mother ran a hat shop. “Hats in those days were the thing,” she said. “A woman was not dressed unless she wore a hat. And gloves.”

She came to the United States just after the end of World War II, sent to visit cousins in Los Angeles by parents who didn’t want her to marry a man she was dating. Still, the post-war economic slump, with its shortages and unemployment, was an excellent time to leave England, and she ended up with a job as a secretary in an import/export firm, where–not for the first time—her distinguished English accent turned out to be an asset. In Los Angeles she met her first husband, Marvin Marx, an actor and television writer. He brought her to Miami in the 1960s when he moved here to write for Jackie Gleason’s musical revival of The Honeymooners.

Dealing with the portly and temperamental Gleason, Marx developed the celebrity-management skills that would serve her well with the lower profile but no less demanding personalities that populate the classical music business. “Every show day I would make Jackie an open-faced apple tart,” she said. “I made it with artificial sweetener because he was always on a diet. I would always walk in Saturday night before the show at the Jackie Gleason Theater. They were quite delicious actually.”

The classical series began modestly in 1981 as an adjunct to an arts program at Temple Beth Am in Kendall, using local musicians. The first concert was free. After that, Marx charged $5, or $2.50 for seniors. Tickets prices have gone up since then, and Marx now brings in an appealing combination of big-name performers and high-quality but lesser-known ones. Over the years she has presented the violinist Aaron Rosand, the cellist Janos Starker, the pianist Richard Goode, singers Aprile Millo, Dawn Upshaw, Sherrill Milnes and Ben Heppner, and an abundance of high-quality ensembles, including the Pacifica, Orion and St. Lawrence string quartets.

Today she runs the series from their Kendall home, with husband Byron Krulewitch handling the budget, grant applications and computer work.

“It’s a passion, you know,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have a passion in life, and I am thrilled to bits that my husband shares my passion. Sitting in the audience, I would glance at the faces of the audience, listening to the wonderful sounds that come from the stage, and it’s a wonderful sense of joy that I can give some of that joy to others. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Byron says the series is a reflection of his wife’s personality. “She cares about humanity and the community, and that shows,” he said. “She’s able to get people to donate, cajole advertisers into advertising and patrons into resubscribing.”

It’s no secret that classical music audiences are graying, and chamber music audiences were gray to begin with. Marx has addressed that problem aggressively with a long-running children’s concert series, using balloons, cookies and child-friendly programs with works such as Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. “Where is our audience of tomorrow coming from?”she asked. “I’m not a lover of the music I hear coming from these cars that shake, and I figure I’ve got to add some refinement and beauty to their lives.”

Lori Eschmann, a member of the Sunday Afternoons board, said Marx has the gift of drawing people into her projects. For a major children’s concert for Miami-Dade County public school students, Marx asked board members to come early and blow up balloons, and they did. “I was there at the crack of dawn, with the balloon brigade, and we just put out hundreds, I mean hundreds, of balloons,” said Eschmann.

“When these kids got there, it was just like Disneyland. And it’s because of Doreen’s enthusiasm. I don’t know who else would get about a dozen adults out of bed at the crack of dawn to blow up balloons.”

Violinist Peter Zazofsky and pianist Michele Levin perform the 30th anniversary concert of Sunday Afternoons of Music on Jan. 30 at 4 p.m. at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall.; 305-271-7150.

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3 Responses to “Doreen Marx celebrates 30 years of bringing great music to Miami”

  1. Posted Jan 29, 2011 at 7:24 pm by Thomas Sleeper

    Doreen is a treasure — we’re so fortunate to have her in our community.

  2. Posted Feb 01, 2011 at 7:47 pm by Jack Firestone

    Bravo, Doreen. Thank you for your many gifts to our musical community. A wonderful tribute to an amazing woman.

  3. Posted Feb 24, 2011 at 8:55 pm by Sherri Sleeper

    Doreen and Byron, Thank you for all you do: for music, art and our community.

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Tue Jan 25, 2011
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