the great new world symphony exploration

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photo by claudia uribe

the new world symphony has too long been a mystery. You know what building I'm talking about, the glass and white building across the street from The Fillmore. The one with the giant sloping concrete awning. The one with the park with the funky silver spider web columns. You know which one it is. But do you know what goes on in there? 

Frankly, I didn't and the mystery was too much for me to bear. What goes on in this Frank Gehry building that replaced the totally non-memorable parking lot in 2011? I know, kind of vaguely about the "Wallcast," the outdoor capability to project, in super sized and perfect picture, onto the wall that faces the park. I've many a time surfed the city's website with the listing of upcoming movies, but I've never pulled the trigger and gone - one day I'll make it! 

But what really goes on in the building? 

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photo by robin hill

Two Thanksgivings ago there was a semi-mystery guest at my boyfriend's family celebration - not a mystery to everyone else, I just hadn't met him and couldn't really connect the family tree dots - who told me he was a flutist in residency at the New World Symphony. I plagued him with questions and was still a bit confused after it all. 

So, I set up a meeting with Craig Hall, the Symphony's Vice President for Communications, and he answered every question I'd ever had and more. Finally. 

Here's what I learned: 

The New World Symphony, like other great Miami institutions (ahem, The Heat), was started by the Ansin family in 1987. The New World Symphony is as much a training and education facility as it is a performing arts venue. Actually, the programming skews more on the education side, which explains why the whole thing is shrouded in a bit of mystery (btw, I'm totally sure that not everyone is as confused by the New World Symphony as I was. I know, that there are people who know perfectly well what this 20+ year old institution does and how it's structured - but I'm a dummy, so I didn't.). 

There's a 35 week fellowship program, every year that dominated the mission of the New World Symphony. 87 musicians spend 3 years in residency. Every year about 30 spots open and 1,500 musicians apply to fill the slots. In short, this is the real deal. Fellows are usually PHD graduates or upper-eschalon performers who come participate in an intense period of rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal before they go out to the best orchestras in the world. 

The Symphony outgrew their facility on Lincoln Road (now the H&M), where they were using closets as rehearsal studios, and struck a deal with the city for the land that is now that big white and glass building we've all seen. 

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photo by rui dias

In a story that would make for a great Pixar movie, Michael Tilson Thomas, the much revered Founder and Artistic Director of the symphony, who goes by MTT, was childhood friends with Frank Gehry. Frank, it turns out, used to baby sit MTT and when he was looking for ways to sell the city on giving the land at a discounted rate to a cultural institution instead of, like, five CVSs or something, he broght his friend on board for a big-wig name to throw around. You give me the land, I give you a Frank Gehry building to show off in brochures. And it worked. 

Gehry and MTT collaborated on a building that would be transparent, so that the public could see in at night and spy on students rehearsing. They came up with the Wallcast ideas and the wild interior that would defy the Gehry reputation of style over substance. Every space, however strangely shaped it may look from the lobby, is a useful performance/rehearsal space - the design doesn't trump the needs of the institution. There are four ensemble rooms and twenty six individual rooms all equip with some sort of super internet that's reserved for academic institutions (it's called Internet 2 if you're curious). 

Now, back to why and when you should go visit. You should go visit because, if nothing else, the building is absolutely beautiful. Here's the other reason you should visit - the Symphony is great and it isn't boring. Part of the New World Symphony mission is to challenge what we think about classical music and bring in audiences that probably wouldn't otherwise sign up for a night of classical orchestral music. 

Not only do they broadcast free symphonies - LIVE - on the outside wall via the Wallcast - yes LIVE - but they have all sorts of programming that is made not to be boring.

For example, PULSE: Late Night At the New World Symphony. PULSE is a night of music that would probably make some of the more traditional composers roll over in their grave. They open up the flexible performance space, which can be configured in a number of ways depending on what works best of the piece, into a dance floor. The night is more like a club with modern classical music than what you think of as a "show." You get a drink, drift in and out of the performance hall, get another drink, and get up close and personal with the orchestra. They aren't elevated on a stage with a boundary between them and the audience - they're there, on the floor, closer than a club DJ. There's one of those too. The night alternated between a DJ and the full orchestra playing new work with more danceable beats. The next one is March 13. 

They also have short 30 minute shows for just $250 and other programming. Gone is the idea of classical music as some boring art that makes you sit in a chair trying to stay awake. Not only are they challenging what constitutes classical music, they're challenging the very ideas of the performing arts structure as we know it. Why make people pay to sit in a chair? Why not give them the freedom to enjoy an open air rooftop with the price of admission. Why not put a bar front and center when you walk into the building? 

Why not play classical music everyday around lunch on the 167 outdoor speakers in the park? 

Why not have yoga in the park attended by hundreds of people? 

Why not make a super nice performing arts venue and open it up to tech conferences? 

Why not buy a ticket and go see it for yourself? Seriously, why not? 

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 a look at pulse

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photo by worldredeye.com