Oct 12, 2015 10:19AM
Joe Marasco loves music, and he loves being the executive director of the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival. His license plate—VERDI, his favorite opera composer—gives you a clue. Now in its 15th year, the festival continues to grow and build on its historic success. Ever considered the crown jewel for the festival, Yo-Yo Ma will come to Amelia Island in January 2016. “From our earliest days, our Artistic Director Christopher Rex has shared his dream of bringing Yo-Yo Ma to the island. He is considered a superstar,” says Marasco. Unlike the festival’s usual smaller venues, Ma will perform in the 989-seat First Baptist Church January 14. It will be Ma’s first-ever appearance in northeast Florida. Considered one of the world’s greatest cellists, he has made over 90 recordings and received 18 Grammy Awards. Marasco has been part of the festival through the years and is proud of its promising future. An amazing array of talented performers have performed through the years. Many have fallen in love with the island and return year after year. Under his leadership, a shift has been made to offer more programming from January through March, with Yo-Yo Ma the headliner in January this season. Spring programming in April and May is focused on community outreach and programs for young, aspiring musicians. A combination of factors has contributed to the Festival’s continued success. All involved will agree that the volunteers that provide the nitty gritty labor are key. A variety of unique venues have made for successful concerts and have included Ft. Clinch State Park, the Palace Saloon, the Historic Courthouse, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, the Omni-Amelia Island Plantation Resort, and many of the historic churches on the island. One of the most successful venues has been the Amelia Plantation Chapel, where Marasco is a member. Originally from Pittsburgh, Marasco grew up in a music-loving family. Their passion was opera. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, undergraduate and medical school, and then continued his professional training at U.S. Navy Medical School, Philadelphia Veterans Administration Hospital, Temple University, and Columbia University. He enjoyed a successful professional career as a renowned radiologist and medical administrator. Joe and his wife, Carrie, have four children, and two of their daughters live on Amelia. Joe and Carrie have always been active in their community, including involvement in their church, the Pittsburgh Opera, and the Pittsburgh Trust for Cultural Resources. They found Amelia Island as a place to escape from Pennsylvania winters, and they moved to the island full-time in 2000. Again committed to their new home, they soon became involved in the Amelia Plantation Chapel, the Jacksonville Symphony, ARIAS, and the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival. As a child, Marasco learned to play the violin, played in his high school and college orchestras, and has continued throughout his life to share his talent. He enjoys joining members of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra when they offer special Christmas and Easter performances at the Amelia Plantation Chapel. Marasco is particularly excited about the many AICMF outreach programs that mentor young artists and offer them performing opportunities. Every year, young artists are chosen to come to the festival and perform through the Beth Anne Newdome Fellowship program, named for a talented violinist who was dedicated to the festival from its earliest days and who was lost to cancer. Especially proud of the Student/ Teacher/Parent Complimentary Ticket Program, Marasco explains that free concert tickets are offered to students, music teachers, and parents in the community when concerts are not sold out. Students are asked to write an essay on their experience. The first days of something significant are always magical, and so it was with the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival. Artistic Director Christopher Rex dreamed of an island chamber music festival, and brought the best of the best of chamber music performers here. Amelia Island welcomes the performers, and Joe Marasco keeps it all beautifully organized.