The world of classical music has a reputation — whether accurate or misinformed — for being stuffy and inaccessible. But over the course of five successful seasons, Miami's misfit orchestra, Nu Deco Ensemble, has chipped away at that perception through its orchestral reimaginings of contemporary music and through community engagement such as its recently announced weeklong youth ensemble program, Nu Deco NXT, which aims to cultivate the talents of Miami's next generation of musicians and composers.
The announcement of Nu Deco NXT comes amid a busy fifth season for the ensemble. The group recently moved its home base from Wynwood's Light Box at the Miami Light Project to Little Haiti's Citadel, where its debut performance included a collaboration with Wyclef Jean. And earlier this month, the ensemble released its self-titled debut album, a project Nu Deco founder and composer Sam Hyken says had been in the works for 18 months. In a statement, conductor Jacomo Bairos said the album "has been a dream of ours 15 years in the making."
The ensemble announced plans for a studio album via a Kickstarter campaign posted in mid-June 2018. Fans and donors contributed $52,000 toward the project. They got their money's worth: The album is a faithful studio re-creation of the typical Nu Deco Ensemble concert.
"What I really love about this album is I feel that it just really represents Nu Deco," Hyken says. "It shows every side of what we do: the collaborations, the suites, the new music... We feel it's a really strong representation of the ensemble and the product."
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The record opens with "Fuse," Nu Deco's recording of a frenetic composition by Nicholas Omiccioli. It's the kind of energetic composition the ensemble uses to open many of its shows prior to performing its suites of contemporary music rendered in a classical style. The musicians recorded two of their most popular suites — which highlight discographies of Outkast and Daft Punk, respectively — for the album.
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The record also includes performances by the ensemble's most frequent collaborators — singer-songwriters Danay Suarez and Kishi Bashi — the latter of whom also produced the album. Hyken says Suarez's track, "Dejando al Mundo," became a viral hit for the singer, and she commissioned the composer to give the song the Nu Deco treatment before it ultimately wound up on the album. "Danay has become one of my all-time favorite collaborators," Hyken says.
Nu Deco's album has already become part of Miami music history in at least one way: It was recorded at the storied Hit Factory at Criteria Studios, where iconic songs such as the Eagles' "Hotel California" and Eric Clapton's "Layla" were also recorded.
"We isolated drums, but everybody — all 40 musicians — were in one room," Hyken says. "When we [recorded] our [guest] artists, we built an isolation booth in the room, so it was almost like the way [music] was recorded in the '50s... We didn't do it with a click track, so it's got a very kind of old-school, authentic feel to it."