Guess what? South Florida Symphony still won’t pay

Guess what? South Florida Symphony still won’t pay


norman lebrecht

March 18, 2019

You may remember the fuss raised here by Morris Robinson when the South Florida Symphony dodged paying its singers in Porgy and Bess.

Guess what?

Two months on, they still haven’t paid the musicians in the orchestra.

Musicians, you play South Florida at your own risk.

From Dilyana Zlatinova-Tsenov:

Some of you probably know that recently I resigned from the South Florida Symphony Orchestra and I did send an email to some of my colleagues from the orchestra with whom I had the pleasure working for a while to let them know my reasons. Many people were asking me about more details about what happened and I would like to share this post written by my dear husband which sums up all that is wrong with this organization brilliantly. I stand for doing what’s right and for respect for my fellow musicians. Enough is enough!

Post by Guerguan Tsenov:

I am simply mesmerised by the sheer arrogance and by the incomprehensible level of irresponsibility shown by the South Florida Symphony Orchestra and its leaders Sebrina Alsonso (founder, music director and conductor, pictured)) and Jacqueline Lorber (president of the orchestra). This “institution” is nothing but a ponzi-scheme, as apparently according to Wikipedia, a ponzi-scheme is “a form of fraud that lures investors and pays profits to earlier investors with funds from more recent investors”. And this is exactly what happens in SFSO at this very moment. SFSO is inviting musicians from all over the United States to play in the orchestra, while the orchestra does not have the sufficient funds to pay these gullible (and most of them very young) musicians. What usually happens in this orchestra is that as soon as the musicians start asking questions or protesting the late payments or the lack of payments, Sebrina Alfonso immediately fires them and hires a new pole of absolutely unaware musicians who very soon become the victims of the same diabolic scheme. Basically, the musicians in SFSO are treated like illegal immigrants without work permit (including verbal abuse). And this treatment will continue until we, the musicians of South Florida, finally say “NO” to it.

I have been the principal pianist of this orchestra for three years and was also the chorus master, the assistant conductor and the cover conductor for the Porgy and Bess production that SFSO staged in January 2019. At the end of January, as soon as my services were no longer needed, I was fired by Sebrina Alfonso, with a text message, without being paid for my work, and today, almost two months later, I am still waiting for my January and part of my December pay (as SFSO tried to cheat on me by not paying me for the overtime rehearsal time).

What astonishes me much more than the already famous carelessness of SFSO is the irresponsibility of the public grant giving institutions who continue to give to SFSO every year more than $200 000 for what is clearly a very ugly scam. Few years ago, one of the major donors of SFSO froze their donations towards the orchestra until the orchestra finally paid their musicians. Today, few years later, the scam is running nice and smooth as nothing ever happened.

All these institutions know very well that SFSO has a long and disgraceful history when it comes to paying their musicians. Things got so serious in the past that in 2010 SFSO had to cancel their entire April concert series because of inability to pay their musicians for previous concerts.

SFSO recently sent (in the middle of the season) new contracts to their musicians changing the pay period from “within two weeks of final performance” to “within four weeks of final performance” which does not make any sense since the payments comes way after this now newly introduced 1-month period. These new contracts are also another very ugly and very transparent move in this scam, as now pay periods overlap in such a clever way that musicians will wait not for one late payment but for two late payments. And because the poor musicians have already invested so much time and money (many of the musicians come from out of state and pay for their air tickets), they keep playing for free hoping that eventually they will get their pay checks and thus turning themselves into musical slaves.

Along with introducing this outrageous 1-month pay period, some of the rehearsal and performance dates from the season calendar were changed after most of the musicians had already booked long time ago these new dates with other opportunities. Those of the musicians who asked questions or who expressed disagreement with these sudden and practically impossible changes were fired immediately. (My wife Dilyana Tsenov, who has been with this orchestra for six years (four years as a concert master and two years as a personnel manager) was forced to resign few weeks ago after she found the new contracts simply humiliating and degrading to her and to her fellow musicians.)�

Another despicable aspect of SFSO’s fraudulent activities is their systematic practice to overbook musicians. A typical example would be how two years ago about a dozen of musicians were overbooked for one of the concert series and they were paid without even showing at the rehearsal or the concert venue. Of course, this translates into about $10 000 wasted. Yes, that is how public funds are “spent” in South Florida. Most recently, there were few overbooked musicians for the Porgy and Bess performances, as these same overbooked musicians “faked” playing for whole two weeks right in front of Sebrina Alfonso’s eyes and ears which I personally as a conductor find unacceptable.

The bookkeeping of this organization is a complete parody. After I insisted on being paid according to my contract, I was asked to present my own invoice for my work. Aside from the fact that this is the most unusual request you can get from an employer anywhere in the United States, it also means that people in SFSO’s office don’t even bother to keep record on my working schedule.

The most dangerous thing about scams like SFSO is that it easily becomes epidemic. More and more orchestras in South Florida begin to adopt this sinful method of systematic abuse of mainly young an naive musicians and this vicious practice poisons the entire cultural life in a place like South Florida that could easily flourish culturally. Irresponsible behaviour like the behaviour of the SFSO is the reason for many young musicians from Florida to leave their state and to look for career opportunities somewhere else. Such an unscrupulous behaviour is also the reason for the local community to await impatiently every year for good out-of-state orchestras to come and bring high quality music instead of local Florida orchestras to grow up, flourish and undertake this noble task from within.

I would like to encourage every person with power and influence to spread the word and help freeing our community of scams like this.


  • Jewelyard says:

    The South Florida
    Symphony (formerly Key West Symphony) has long been a stain on the cultural life of South Florida. The nonpayment of musicians is inexcusable and I do hope that sharing this story far and wide will impel these dirty crooks to pay the musicians what they are owed.

  • Doug says:

    Example 654,372 “sociopath is part of the job description.”

  • Carlos U Villarreal Elizondo says:

    There seems to be a south Florida tradition of not paying part time musicians, The Miami symphony started this a few years back, shame on this organizations. On the other hand getting rid of the Florida Philarmonic and bringing in the Cleveland orchestra servral times a year was a bad move for the whole music seen there.

  • Thomas Jostlein says:

    I wonder why the AFM has yet to put them on it’s Unfair list? It took me a few years to get paid from my gig there, and, while it’s a gorgeous location, hard to eat sand.

    • Iris van Eck says:

      The local 655 has nearly every year, for years, put out a warning for musicians not to play for the South Florida Symphony, a “call” to South Florida Symphony to pay delinquent wages as well as petitions for musicians to sign. Yet the problem continues to recur. If we all speak up we can be strong together.

    • Charles Reskin says:

      SFSO is a non-union orchestra. There are a very few union members who play with them. In fact, its former contractor IS on the AFM Unfair List. We have repeatedly advised our members and others not to play with this orchestra.

    • NYMike says:

      The AFM’s unfair list includes organizations who’ve stiffed union musicians out of money. These young non-union musicians have no leverage working for a well-known sleazy group.

  • jeff says:

    Miami-Dade and Broward counties consider it wage theft if employees are not paid within 2 weeks. It’s time to file some claims against the South Florida Symphony.

  • Anonymous says:

    I was one of the poor suckers that played the last Key West gig. I was in grad school at the time and thought this opportunity was great, who doesn’t want a paid trip to Key West?

    I put my flight, rental car, food, and instrument flight cost all on my credit card. I was going to get reimbursed, right? Wrong. It took them a couple of years to eventually pay me for this, I had to continuously email and hound them.

    It’s a shame they can’t just be honest. If you don’t have enough money, pay less.. offer less.. At least PAY ON TIME. Honor the contract you send out.

    Money aside – she’s a complete hack as a conductor. She messes up and then verbally abuses THE ORCHESTRA for the mistake. You miss a few meter changes and then it’s our fault? She’s lucky she always hired good people or it would have derailed more than once.

    This orchestra could be great! MSFSOGA

    • guest says:

      Why does a dinky orchestra pay these kind of expenses? I recall average players “commuting” from the Baltimore-DC area for this orchestra. Seems like an unworkable situation.

  • drummerman says:

    Here is their 2016-2017 IRS Form 990

    They’re showing some strange numbers (take it from a guy who has been an orchestra manager for 30 years) such as: total income of $1.5 million of which $937,000 is grants and contributions.

    Another strange item: in FY 2012-13 their total contributed income was $171,000, then it jumped (year by year): $378,000; $698,000, then $937,000. Who is pouring this kind of money into this orchestra?

    Mr. Tsenov, have you filed charges with the state labor department? Has anyone?

    • Guerguan Tsenov says:

      Hi Drummerman! This is Guerguan Tsenov writing. Thank you for your detailed information, as well as for your expert opinion. To my knowledge, as of today (March 18) no legal action has been taken against the SFSO, as we just started our campaign, but if you think that there is a legal ground for such an action I would love to exchange information and hear your further advices. May be the best thing would be to find me on Facebook and send me a private message. Thank you!

      • drummerman says:

        I am not a lawyer, can’t give you legal advice. I don’t know how much money you are owed but it doesn’t cost anything to speak with someone in the state labor department. Perhaps if you are owed a lot, you might join with 2 or 3 other affected musicians and share the cost of a one hour consultation with a labor lawyer. Good luck!

  • Karl says:

    Maybe they should put tip jars by the exits.

  • NYMike says:

    While I sympathize with your and your wife’s plight, I’m wondering what you expected when you continually worked for this sleazy group without union coverage.

  • Garrett Charnin says:

    An Absolute Disgrace… Played With Them Once in 2014 and Never Again, Due To Their Breach of Contract… South Florida Symphony should be Shut Down!

  • Chris says:

    If each musician sues SFSO and saturates it with litigation, they might not recover much or anything at all, so it could be in the musicians’ best interest to contact a bankruptcy lawyer together to discuss filing an involuntary bankruptcy petition against SFSO. It could have a higher likelihood of success, and, could in turn push Sebrina to file a voluntary bankruptcy case (as usually happens with a closely held corporation of this size). I’d love to see a deposition of Sebrina from a § 523(a)(2)(A) adversary proceeding within that filing. Get out the popcorn.

    Anyway, in my experience, the musicians would likely be in better hands with a commercial bankruptcy lawyer than with a consumer bankruptcy lawyer. I don’t know attorneys from that part of the country so I’d suggest someone – so just see who’s around, I guess.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    Talking about it won’t help one bit – hire a lawyer and sue.

  • Cathy says:

    And this is why Florida orchestra musicians need the American Federation of Musicians. I can’t, for the life of me, understand what the resistance to unionizing has been. This would not happen with a Collective Bargaining Agreement. A CBA spells out conditions and requirements of both sides and protects both sides.My Florida colleagues, unionize. YOU.DO.NEED.THIS.
    PS. I play in 2 Florida orchestras.

    • Ian E Zation says:

      The AFM has their own Ponzi scheme going on- Theur pension fund! It is facing insolvency yet insists organizations become signatories and contribute up to 15% into it- good money thrown after bad. The Naples (FL) orchestra is an example of doing it right WITHOUT being unionized!

  • Wayne D. Fenno says:

    Why after so many years of th is nonsense doesnt somebody sue?…SAD?

    should be on the street!

  • Larry says:

    Just a reminder to all…do NOT confuse this orchestra with the Southwest Florida Symphony, based in Fort Meters. Nir Kabaretti is the music director – he’s also M.D. in Santa Barbara, California.

  • drummerman says:

    Re: Maestra Alonso. About 20 years ago I saw a copy of her resume. Imagine my surprise to see her mention a “guest conducting” appearance with the very orchestra I was then managing. I checked the history – it seems that she had only auditioned for a special conducting position there. I sent her a very polite, discrete letter suggesting that she delete that from her resume. In case a colleague ever called me to ask about her “performance” with my orchestra, I’d have to explain that she’d never conducted us.

  • Karen says:

    Most South Florida orchestras honor their commitments. It isn’t fair to lump them all together with the so-called “South Florida” Symphony (which has outsourced outside of South Florida for years), by saying “play South Florida at your own risk” as though the entire region is corrupt. That said, yes, this particular organization is and has long been dishonest and a shameful blight on our community. AFM Local 655 has repeatedly warned musicians to stay away. Hopefully people will finally pay attention.

  • Olya says:

    This woman doesn’t deserve the orchestra. She still owes money to dozen musicians who played for her in the past, and yet she still somehow manages to get new people out of town to come play for her. She needs to be shut down!

  • Monty Bloom says:

    I posted this on facebook:

    I think it is really suspicious that Dilyana Zlatinova-Tsenov has finally come out against the South Florida Symphony, when they have been screwing musicians over for years. Now, the same New Yorkers, many whom have publicly scorned me for criticizing their decision to come down and play for this orchestra, are pretending to be INNOCENT VICTIMS of this orchestra. They are NOT innocent victims! They kept coming to play, which is poisoning the local music scene. I am the evil person because I dared to critcize them for being scabs!

    Play stupid games, win stupid prizes! I have ZERO sympathy for them. I have sympathy for some of the younger local students that played, not knowing any better… but many of these players from up North knew very well, but chose not to heed warnings, and repeatedly came to play.

    Dilyana just wanted a chance to be Concertmaster of an orchestra and to contract an orchestra, so she could bolster her reputation. Before she was CM of SFSO, NOBODY considered her to be concertmaster material. She has a terrible reputation among musicians in NYC and in FL for being a bad player. Don’t believe me? Youtube her. She SUCKS! Ever since being CM of SFSO, now she is regarded as a great player and is guest CM of all the orchestras down here, even though she still SUCKS!!

    I once gave her a chance and put her on a gig that I couldn’t be at, and the 1st violinist and cellist that I had sent complained to me that she had MAJOR intonation and rhythm issues!! This was just a wedding!! Sheesh! As a contractor, she is known for asking people to do weddings for $100-$125 — she even once asked my cellist to go to the Keys for $125 to play for 2 hours! Insane!

    We need to Make South Florida Musicians Great Again and get rid of the people from up North that come and take our gigs and lower the standards, and then cry about it and play victim years later!

    Yes, this orchestra needs to pay the musicians, but the musicians have a DUTY to REFUSE to play if they aren’t paid!!

    • Olya says:

      Dude, I think you’re missing the bigger picture here. The least productive thing you could do here is blame musicians who were offered a gig playing by beaches. Would you refuse if somebody offered you a gig on the Caribbean islands? or Puerto Rico? or somewhere else tropical?

      I get your frustration about musicians who keep taking gigs that don’t pay, therefore subsidizing organizations that should be shut down, I totally get it. I felt the same way last year when I heard people complaining loudly behind the stage about not getting paid, then still playing the rest of the concert cycles. But that has little to do with the point of this situation, which is – WE ALL NEED TO COME TOGETHER TO SHUT HER DOWN! Turning against one another has never helped anyone achieve anything good.

      And your comments about Dilyana… man, you should be so lucky to know her. This might a shocker to you but I would much rather work with someone nice and cool like her, rather than with someone who makes so many unnecessary shit comments about someone’s playing. Sounds like you are still fighting the civil war with “the musicians from the north.” UGH. Look. At. The. Big. Picture.

      • Monty Bloom says:

        yes, I turn down gigs all the time when they do not offer the terms I find acceptable. I’ve turned down Mexico,Tuscany, Bahamas, and a few other places because they wouldn’t pay me $2500 plus expenses to do the show. If a gig sucks, then don’t do it. This is a job, NOT a hobby!! Most of these musicians are 2nd rate.

      • Monty Bloom says:

        Olya — my comments about Dilyana are the truth — her gigs suck and she is NOT a good musician. I don’t care if you think she is a nice person being a nice person is useless. The cashier at Wendy’s is a nice person, but I would never do business transactions with her, nor be friends with her, nor date her lol.

    • Rob says:

      They may not be the kindest words, but he speaketh the truth.

  • So Fla Music Lover says:

    Didn’t they move from Key West to Fort Lauderdale to take advantage of the Broward Cultural Affairs Council grant programs?