Nu Deco Ensemble Is Miami's Best-Kept Musical Secret

Nu Deco Ensemble's third season begins at the end of this month.
Nu Deco Ensemble's third season begins at the end of this month. Photo by Alex Markow
Sam Hyken is a classical music composer, but lately he's been diving deep into David Bowie's music and reading a biography of the paradigm-shifting artist. Bowie was the kind of artist for whom boundaries of genre, medium, and style were nonexistent, so if he were around to witness Nu Deco Ensemble's genre-bending, classical/pop hybrid, he probably would've felt he was leaving Earth in good hands, musically speaking, that is.

Nu Deco Ensemble, led by conductor Jacomo Rafel Bairos and with music largely composed by Hyken, is entering its third season as Miami's best-kept secret. The ensemble's shows at the Light Box in Wynwood have become the hushed talk of the town: Locals want their friends in on the secret of these inspired performances, but in some small way, they dread the day they'll have to share the magic of this futurist ensemble with the rest of the world.

Nu Deco's stages are growing already. Last season, the ensemble debuted at the Adrienne Arsht Center, for which Hyken composed a reimagined version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in collaboration with the Brooklyn-based theatrical hip-hop dance company Decadancetheatre. Bairos calls the performance a high point in the ensemble's blossoming existence, and Nu Deco will return to the Arsht Center this season for a string of performances, including classical reworkings of Stevie Wonder's and Queen's music.

Last season, Nu Deco collaborated with violin-playing singer-songwriter Kishi Bashi, and though Hyken says they typically wouldn't bring back an artist the very next season, they'll perform together again for Nu Deco's April concert at the New World Center. The ensemble will collaborate with Bashi to present a multimedia piece observing the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's signing of the executive order that permitted the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

That Nu Deco can shift from performing such a composition to the music of Bowie to that of Daft Punk and Kraftwerk, as it did last season, speaks to the diversity of its talent. "Our musicians are as eclectic in their lives as they are artists onstage," Bairos says. "We're a hybrid ensemble. We take artists from the classical music world and jazz world and pop world altogether to create a new sound." The musicians split their time between their commitment to Nu Deco and other music organizations and projects. Some play in multiple bands, and others are music teachers and professors. "It's interesting that Nu Deco brings them all together to bring all these different sides of Miami's musical scene together to perform our concerts," Bairos says.
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Nu Deco Ensemble in collaboration with Magda Giannikou of Banda Magda.
Photo by Alex Markow
For Nu Deco Ensemble, the merging of genres and musical styles is one form of art, but the merging of schedules is also an art in itself. Hyken and Bairos begin working with guest collaborators around six weeks before they share the stage.

"What Jacomo and I have been finding," Hyken says, "the difference between the classical music and popular music world is that in classical music... in terms of creating collaborations, things are done much further in advance. And in the popular world, the schedules are a bit more flexible because things happen in real time, a bit faster."

Aside from collaborating with acclaimed artists such as Bashi and Bilal, Nu Deco Ensemble also gives back to the community. Hyken and Bairos mention their educational series at the Seminole Theater in Homestead as a career highlight. The two estimate they've performed for about 10,000 children. "These are immigrant kids down there for the most part," Bairos says. "Homestead is now an immigrant community, and I was raised down there. To go back to where you came from and to give back what it is that you've learned around the world, there's no words for that."

Nu Deco Ensemble With Guest Emily King. 8 p.m. Thursday, October 26, through Saturday, October 28, at the Light Box, 404 NW 26th St., Miami; 305-576-4350; Tickets cost $40 to $90 via
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Celia Almeida is the digital editor of American Way and the former arts and music editor of Miami New Times. Her writing has been featured in Venice, Paper, and Billboard; and she co-hosts Too Much Love on Jolt Radio.
Contact: Celia Almeida