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Another Reason To Love Pensacola: The Arts


One of the enduring strengths of Pensacola is that it has a remarkable cultural arts infrastructure for a city its size. From the many art galleries to the museum of art,  the Little Theatre and the Opera, Pensacola showcases high quality shows and performances you might not expect to find, often showcased in the beautifully restored Saenger Theatre.

But the city’s primary cultural arts asset has to be the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, which recently opened its 90th season. That’s a remarkable run in a city featuring a downtown that has been left for dead more than once.

While the ongoing rebirth of downtown could be expected to support efforts like a symphony orchestra, it’s easy to argue that the symphony has helped support downtown. Restaurants are well attuned to getting customers out in time for the curtain to rise.

Like many Pensacolians, over the years my wife and I have attended a number of symphony performances. But one of the things we promised ourselves to do when we retired was get season tickets, which we finally have done.

Based on the opening night performance, we’re very happy with the decision.

What has consistently marked the symphony’s performances, especially under the almost 20 years of leadership by Music Director Peter Rubardt, is the professionalism of the orchestra, enhanced by the high quality of featured musical guests.

The opening night performance featured an appearance by Cuban pianist Jorge Luis Prats, who studied in Moscow, Paris and Vienna, and has performed around the world. Both his performance and that of the orchestra Saturday night was impressive, to say the least.

The orchestra itself has developed a strong reputation, and now attracts musicians from across the South to play here in Pensacola.

For all its detractors, Pensacola has always been an interesting study in contrasts, including those of us who call ourselves Pensacolians. We can be guilty of the worst, dumbest, most selfish actions imaginable, and yet also accomplish some of the most admirable,  effective and community-minded actions.

I’m not trying to pretend that we’re New York or something. But like in so many areas, the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, as well as the other cultural arts institutions, continues to punch above its weight class. It represents the side of Pensacola that shows what we can accomplish.

There are many reasons to live in this area. Increasingly, I think we’re seeing more and more people who could live elsewhere finding that they can achieve both professionally and personally here, including the cultural arts.

It’s nice to see Pensacola growing up.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.