When I packed up and moved to the Pensacola area from the Houston, Texas-metropolis years ago, I didn’t look back.
I came here for the amazing coastal outdoor lifestyle and small town coziness with the understanding I’d be giving up some of the big-city benefits, including attending musicals, theater and ballets.
How naïve I was.
I soon discovered the Pensacola area may be small compared to Houston, but it has a generous slice of the big-city arts and culture. Symphony, opera, ballet, theater, jazz, free-outdoor concerts, art galleries and festivals, gallery night and a working art center. It’s all here, and more.
Many visitors are pleasantly surprised to discover this too. We even bear the distinction of having the oldest Symphony in Florida, founded in 1926, and a seasoned Opera in its 34th year. These have helped fuel a growing creative class that continue to feed and expand our cultural offerings.
In a town where the dress code is coastal casual, an added perk to attending the Symphony, Ballet or theatre is the opportunity to dress up. Sequins and black ties, however, are optional. No big town stuffiness here. You’ll fit right in with business casual, but leave your flip-flops at home unless they’re sparkling with rhinestones.
If you’re ready to feed your cultural muse, here are some tantalizing offerings.
Pensacola Symphony Orchestra
Pensacola Symphony Orchestra is entering its 91st year and celebrating 20 years with Maestro Peter Rubardt. It’s come a long way from its humble beginnings as the Pensacola Philharmonic Orchestra and Military Band, performing free concerts in a high school auditorium. Today the Symphony performs in the beautiful, historic Saenger Theatre in the heart of downtown Pensacola. Symphony-goers can always count the Symphony Orchestra delivering a fresh menu of diverse programs that evoke emotion and inspire. You will surely want to reserve your tickets early for these performances.
- Russian Spectacular will be presented April 1 at 7:30 p.m. in the Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox Place. Under the direction of guest conductor, Bill Eddins of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra will fill the Saenger with the traditional and rich sounds of popular Russian composures, including Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Suite from Mlada,” and an audience’s favorite, Tchaikovsky’s “Fifth Symphony.”
- You’ll want to mark your calendars for Bernstein & Beethoven on April 29 at 7:30 p.m. at the Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox Place, when the orchestra fills the theater with the beautiful notes of Bernstein's “Serenade after Plato's Symposium” and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7.”
Touting itself as the Big-City Opera with small town charm, Pensacola Opera delivers on that moniker with beautifully staged and perfectly performed productions.
- One you’ll want to catch is Dead Man Walking, March 17 & 19. This emotionally powerful journey is based on a book about Sister Helen Prejean who writes about a death row convict. With cinematic music, it’s hailed as one of the “most gripping and important operas of the new century.” This performance is for mature audiences because of the nature of the content.
Ballet Pensacola truly showcases the talent pool in Pensacola. Founded in 1978 as the Kaleidoscope Dance Theatre, today it has established itself as a professional performing company with 40 dancers. It serves as a training school for more than 300 students of all ages. With a mission to enhance the cultural experience and develop an appreciation for dance, Ballet Pensacola presents several major productions each season, including the quintessential holiday favorite, “Nutcracker.” Just in time for spring, you’ll want to gather up of the children for this production:
- At 7:30 p.m. April 7 & 8, and 2:30 p.m. on April 9, venture down the rabbit hole with the troupe when it performs Alice and Wonderland, at the Pensacola Cultural Center, 400 S. Jefferson Street.
When it comes to Arts & Culture, Pensacola sure knows how to make a scene! Be sure to check out our calendar of events page to help you incorporate some of these events into your next visit.
If you have a favorite Pensacola cultural event, we’d love to hear about it in the comments!