How can it be that at a time when streaming, hip-hop, and YouTube are kings, Miami’s New World Symphony is thriving?
New World started in 1989 as a fellowship program with the mission of preparing fellows to be leaders in communities and institutions where they would create music after participating in the program. This Saturday, the symphony will celebrate 30 years as a leading classical-music institution in Miami with an anniversary gala at the New World Center; the symphony's home for the past seven years.
The theme is “Passing It On: 30 Years of Musical Innovation.” Craig Hall, VP of communications, says the theme of the night is in keeping with the symphony’s original mission. Classical musicians’ biographies often highlight the instructor under whom they studied, he says. It’s a musical environment steeped in the custom of paying homage to those who laid the foundations. In a full-circle moment that exemplifies those traditions, this year’s gala chair will be Sarah Arison, a member of New World Symphony’s board of trustees and the granddaughter of its founders, Ted and Lin Arison.
Hall says part of the reason New World Symphony is going strong in a volatile musical environment three decades after founding is its ability to adapt. "Technology is a tool, and if it allows us to effectively share our music with more people and more places, and to do that in a vibrant way that gets everybody excited, then that's a fantastic thing,” he says.
One recent New World Symphony piece, Project 305, was a yearlong collaboration with the Knight Foundation and the MIT Media Lab aimed at connecting people throughout Miami-Dade County to create a crowdsourced symphonic work and film.
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“Our goal was to express Miami aurally and visually through film, through the lens of its people, which means if we were going to be successful, we had to get to all areas of Miami-Dade County. We couldn't just have people on Miami Beach or the people who are already in our audience participate, because it would be very biased toward one view of Miami and not some others.” Hall says that engaging with communities beyond the traditional New World Symphony audience opened NWS's eyes to all of the people it had yet to reach three decades after its inception.
It’s a trajectory Hall and company hope to follow as they face the future, and one they had in mind when the New World Center was designed. Architect Frank Gehry aimed to break down the walls of separation between musicians and their audiences. Rehearsal spaces in the building are enclosed in glass so that attendees can observe practice before concerts. Audience members walking into the hall from the parking garage are able to catch glimpses of the players retrieving their instruments from their lockers, and jutting balconies provide views of floors above and below.
“Playing onstage is important,” Hall says, “but how do you get people into the hall to listen to your music? How do you connect with people outside the hall?” The answer, New World Symphony has found, is not only to instruct musicians on improving their playing but also to teach them to effectively engage with the communities where they will continue their careers. “Our goal is really to try to unlock their creativity. They spend many, many years playing their instrument, dedicating their time to the craft of how to technically excel at playing their instruments, but here, we’re hoping to unlock their creativity about what that means and how that can be expressed in their communities.”
New World Symphony 30th-Anniversary Gala. 6 p.m. Saturday, February 10, at New World Center, 500 17th St., Miami Beach; 305-673-3330; nws.edu.