If the Design District were its own municipality, the Estefans would be its co-mayors. Emilio — the songwriting, producing, and restaurant-owning counterpart to his superstar wife, Gloria — for years has spearheaded the production of the Design District's successful outdoor performance series with the mission of providing free live music to audiences while supporting musicians who struggle to find stages in today's stream-driven market.
"Our focus with the series is to play live music in front of people, and right now there’s not a lot of live gigs for musicians," Estefan says. He partially blames advanced production technologies such as Pro Tools for allowing individuals to create music using a full artificial "band," as well as listeners' increased consumption of recordings as opposed to live performances.
It's a crime, Estefan says, that in a city overflowing with talent, some great musicians have had a hard time getting in front of an audience. The Performance Series, then, remedies the problem by bringing Miami's top talent together with audiences that might not otherwise attend live music events.
Every Friday evening when the crowds make their way to Palm Court Plaza (usually after a stop at the adjacent Estefan Kitchen), Estefan marvels at the variety of people that the Performance Series' programming attracts to the ritzy neighborhood. "Miami has always been an incredible city for music, so to showcase the diversity we have here is absolutely fantastic," he says.
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This year's Performance Series opens with a special concert by the Miami Symphony Orchestra (MISO), featuring vocal performances from two National YoungArts Foundation alumnae: Grammy winner Grace Weber and Prince's onetime protégé, Ashley Támar Davis. MISO conductor and music director Eduardo Marturet believes he's in the minority of classical music conductors who enjoy delivering performances of all kinds of music, each tailored to their venue and audience. "We certainly must adapt ourselves to whatever the public enjoys. But thankfully, I thoroughly enjoy performing any kind of music," he says. "Unlike many other conductors, I like it because it shows that we have a new audience."
Similar to New World Symphony's expansion of access to classical music with its groundbreaking Wallcast series, MISO's upcoming Design District performance with Weber and Támar is just one example of the orchestra reaching out to new audiences with uniquely programmed shows that combine elements of the traditional with the modern.
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"It has to be something very different because a very high percentage of these people have never come to a classical music concert," Marturet admits, "and the free admission price is a hook for them to hear something classical that they've never heard before."
Beyond Friday's season opener, this year's performance series will offer something for music fans of all stripes through the holiday season. In addition to a slew of local and national musicians, highly accomplished artists from all genres and eras will take the stage at Palm Court. Martha Wash (of "It's Raining Men" fame) and former Bob Marley backing band the Wailers will undoubtedly fill the plaza. A merengue and salsa tribute featuring the legendary Johnny Ventura and a "Holliday" concert by original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday are also sure to attract crowds.
Despite not earning a penny from the performance series, Estefan gets some of his greatest satisfaction from providing live music in this capacity to the residents of his city. Along with the generous Knight Foundation and Design District developer Craig Robins, Estefan's goal is "giving a gift and saying thank you to Miami" by bringing cultural experiences like these to people who otherwise might not have access to them. "It's never enough to say thank you to a city that always been supportive of me and my family," Estefan smiles. "It's always beautiful to do something to give back to everybody."
Miami Design District Performance Series Season Opener. 6 p.m. Friday, October 18, at Palm Court Plaza, 140 NE 39th St., Miami; miamidesigndistrict.net. Admission is free with RSVP via eventbrite.com.