time to change the way we view music and the arts

crossing new borders

Winter has its enjoyable points; crystalline landscapes, rise in comfort food, fun outdoor sports…that sort of thing. I particularly enjoy the occasional burning log and hot tea. Nevertheless, the northeast U.S. has been on the receiving end of repeated snow storms week after week, so who wouldn’t be opposed to a brief change of scenery? I know I wasn’t opposed to walking on the beaches in warm Bermuda for the first time this past weekend. Just the change in the smell of the air and amazing color of the water in some place new can really make you stop in awe after being frozen in the same ice covered world for weeks on end.

It certainly wasn’t hard to think of my calming getaway when hearing about the New World Symphony and the opening of its new, architecturally innovative residence in the equally pleasant winter escape of Miami Beach. The venue is appropriately named the New World Center. NPR is buzzing around news of the opening performance, which is to take place tonight, at 7:00PM EST. The hall is in the heart of Miami Beach behind the Lincoln Theater.

The New World Symphony has a distinguished and impressive history on its own –there’s no doubt about that. As NPR’s article neatly summarizes here:

The New World Symphony is made up of immensely talented 20-something musicians, fresh from top music schools around the country. It’s more than just an orchestra it’s also America’s only orchestral academy, founded by conductor Tilson Thomas in 1987. Here the best of the best young players spend up to three years getting ready to make the leap to professional orchestras and ensembles. To date, more than 600 alumni of the New World Symphony now play in top orchestras all around the world.

With that kind of legacy in mind, association with the New World Center will probably be no less than a perfectly fitted “other half” to the evolving musicians. There is of course, much more to the building than simply calling the project complete and dusting off your hands. Frank Gehry is the mastermind architect behind the New World Center and his achievements are nothing to take lightly. To name a few past works Gehry has designed:

1) The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain
2) The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles
3) Renovation of the Art Gallery of Ontario

The spark that lit the way for Mr. Gehry’s latest build rose out of the long, solid relationship he has with the New World Symphony’s Conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas. Gehry was a babysitter to the then eight year old, known only as Michael Thomas until his rise to conducting prestige. Not only was the construction project an unusual collaboration, but the collection of ideas and collaborative potential in the space makes for an almost strange, perfect children’s fable type finish.

Thomas and Gehry’s professional ambitions and mutual desire to push the boundaries of their respective industry standards created a space capable of fulfilling both their goals. For Thomas especially, utilizing Gehry’s building to its best potential is being described as “an effort to break down the emotional distance between performers and the public, and in doing so, to pump new life into an art form that is often perceived as stuffy and old-fashioned.”

The New World Center is a 160 million dollar investment, 756 seat venue (accompanied by several rehearsal spaces), filled up with fresh technological advances that do seem fit to accomplish that task. Thomas has the latest broadband internet connection, called Internet2, at his disposal for contacting other educational institutions. For passing pedestrians or late show arrivals, peak HD capability and a 7,000 sq. ft. outdoor projection wall eliminates that ever unspoken but still intimidating barrier that tends to ward off those new to classical concert attendance. With that in mind, the hall is also described as having “maximum adaptability and appeal,” according to the Miami Herald.

Thomas elaborates on this statement by explaining his vision for possible future projects.

“The idea [is to] foster real-time collaborations between musicians in Miami Beach and somewhere else, or between musicians and video artists, or between classical instrumentalists and D.J.s, or any number of other, as-yet-unimagined musical mash-ups.’ `Everything about this building is new — the spaces, the way they work, the way they relate to the audience, the presence of the concerts on the skin of the building.”

Furthermore, Thomas stands by the inevitable statement he’s making in the face of more traditionalist classical figures, knowing that the space can be “morphed from a symphony hall to a nightclub.”

“All these things are reflective of new thinking about what the performing arts, especially classical music performing arts, can be, and how they can be shared. I know that it’s probably going to delight and outrage people. Sometimes people say to me, `Well, exactly what are you planning to do there?’ And I laugh and say, `But that’s kind of the point. We don’t exactly know.”

Gehry doesn’t leave Thomas to defend himself or the New World Center all alone. Founding architect aside, Gehry’s dedication is also to the musically artistic side of the project, as well as to the bond with his close friend.

“The only reason I did it was for him. …He was a triple threat at 8. He knew everything about classical music and he could play piano like a devil. His way with music has been intriguing to me for years.”

“…[Gehry’s] belief is that music, like other creative endeavors, should be more than an aesthetic matter.”[NY Times Article]

Tonight’s concert will feature a world premiere by composer Thomas Ades titled Polaris, (with accompanying video by filmmaker Tal Rosner being projected directly onto acoustically conscious panels of the hall.) as well as Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3 and the Overture to Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. Listen at 7:00EST HERE.

…When I was standing in the water on an empty beach this past Saturday, I got asked if I was from Canada because that could be the only explanation for why I could find it okay to go in the water in spite of that day’s “terrible” Bermudian weather. To that question I just laughed because the idea of water temperature at my best was less than their worst. The thought of relaxing “under palms and yellow Poincianas” sounds infinitely more appealing than the oncoming heavy snow due my way at 7:00 and I only wish I could be sitting outside down in Miami Beach for the concert; because I’m sure it will hardly be what I would consider a “relatively chilly January night.”

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