Violist Jim Griffith is in his first season with The Venice Symphony and is one of our few Sarasota natives. Jim did not grow up in a musical family. “I like to say My father played the radio. That’s about it as far as art and talent in my family,” he said. And if it wasn’t for a happy accident, Jim might have kept that family tradition going. “In seventh grade I took Spanish class as my elective but the teacher and I did not get along. When I went to the office to see what other classes were available, the only thing left was study hall or orchestra. I chose orchestra.”
Even choosing the viola was by chance. “When I walked into the orchestra room that first time, Mr. Bowermeister welcomed me and asked which instrument I wanted to play. I didn’t even know the names of any of them. He said nobody is playing the viola, why don’t you try that.”
Those of you who have been with The Symphony for a while, probably recognize Jim’s teacher as Ken Bowermeister, our former conductor. “I studied with him through junior high and high school. He encouraged me to audition for a music scholarship at Florida State University.,” said Jim. “I auditioned and was given a full scholarship.” After his sophomore year, Jim participated at the Aspen Music Festival which led to another “happy accident.”
At his first private viola lesson there, Jim says his instructor just stared at him. “I was worried she was going to kick me out,” he recalled. Instead she said, “You’re coming to Juilliard.” His instructor was Lillian Fuchs, viola professor at the Manhattan School of Music. Jim moved to New York, finished his degree at that school and like Fuchs promised, was accepted to Juilliard where he studied with Fuchs and Paul Doktor and received his Master’s Degree in 1987.
Jim lives in Fort Myers and is married to violinist Kara Walker Griffith, who will also perform with The Venice Symphony this season. Jim is one of the rare musicians who is an artist and an arts administrator. He is the Founder and CEO the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Downtown Fort Myers. He has helped raised $14 million to restore the old post office building purchased in 2003. The Center is a cultural hub for the area and where you’ll find Jim performing in the American Virtuosi Concert Series, that attracts musicians from all over the Country. “It is a challenge to balance performing and administration but I love doing both. I roll out of bed each morning and practice first thing so I can concentrate on the art center the rest of the day. Rehearsals and performances usually take place at night so I have pretty full days.”
And how did it feel performing in his first Venice Symphony premiere? “I had a blast. This concert brought back many wonderful memories for me as I have performed each of those pieces with numerous orchestras and conductors throughout my life. Performing them with the Venice Symphony added to my memories. I loved every minute of it!”