New World Center Inspires Despite Ugly, Blue Seats

Earlier today, Michael Miller posted his thoughts on the new Frank Gehry campus of the New World Center. And we agree, those damn blue and white speckled seats are ugly and look more appropriate for an airport gate seating area than a performance hall. Thing is, though, during a performance those seats will be filled (ideally).

We attended the Grand Opening ceremony last night and can attest that with an almost full house, an orchestra filling the stage, and projections overhead, the word tacky never came to mind. And after growing up in Miami and hearing about this imminent cultural resurgence, it was a moment where it seemed the city had actually accomplished something grand for the arts. This is about more than the fabric on the seats.

Last night, Michael Tilson Thomas and Frank Gehry, among others, talked about the

igloo-like space, which is intimate without feeling claustrophobic

thanks to plenty of blond wood and white walls. The acoustic panels hang

like sturdy sheets or sails puffed out by the swell of orchestra


A main draw of the new concert hall is the ability to present synched

video projections with classical music performances. Last night, we got a

glimpse of that when the national anthem was played to Colbert Report-type

graphics of eagles and flags. It was a long way from the curated art we

hope to see in the space, but it gave us a glimpse of total immersion

in symphonic sound and large-scale moving images. It just makes the

brain feel good. Looks like they're saving the real sound and light show for the Opening

Concert tonight.

To showcase the hall's grand acoustics, the New World Symphony played

pieces from Gershwin to Debussy. Solo platforms at varying heights in

Gehry's cracked-open interior allowed for a surround-sound effect,

almost mimicking the delineated activity in lobes of a brain.

And as Frank Gehry approached the podium, the cameras behind us began to

rapid-fire. It was clear he was the main attraction of the night,

although the crowd shuffled and murmured when Gloria and Emilio Estefan

took their seats a few rows ahead of us.

After the talks, performances, and video montages of NWS's 20 year

history on Miami Beach -- including shots from now closed Wolfie's, which

inspired some cheers in the audience -- we then headed out to the park,

called Soundscape, designed by West 8.

The video art of Brit Tal Rosner

christened the outdoor, gigantic projection wall.

Guests were given a tatami mat and a picnic dinner to recline on the

park's subtle hills and enjoy the new outdoor space. We imagine Rosner's

curling and twirling's  kaleidoscope designs would be almost

transcendent paired with the right music, but when a salsa

band started playing on a nearby stage, the total effect was a little

Miami ridiculous.

Nevertheless, the gigantic projection wall is impressive and the

pod-like, projection stand at the rear of the park, shooting out rays of

light, is wonderfully eerily. We'd like to see local outfits like Borscht

have a chance to screen something on this wall. Or can you imagine

Jillian Mayer's "Scenic Jogging" or Antonia Wright's "Are You Ok?" screened

this large? In the meantime, NWS plans to

broadcast their performances outside. This Friday, stop by to see the Opening Concert from the night before projected.

So the big question: Now that the New World Center has been built, will

the crowds come and fill those awful blue seats? It looks hopeful. The

space now appeals to three distinct audiences: those who love strings

and horns, those who dig architecture, and those who like trip out on

video art. Plus, classical music just might be the art to bring Miami's

disparate communities together. After all, it's better than bilingual.

It's non-lingual.

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Amanda McCorquodale