When maestro Michael Tilson Thomas founded New World Symphony in 1988, he aimed to bring an orchestral academy to Miami Beach in part to help transform the then-stagnant neighborhood around Lincoln Road into a cultural epicenter for South Florida. After the symphony moved into its palatial new home across the street from the Fillmore Miami Beach in 2011, Tilson Thomas was able to realize a long-held dream: to expand audience access to symphony concerts by simulcasting them outside the hall.
Now, after eight years and 99 concerts screened on the New World Center's eastern wall, the symphony will open its new season Saturday, October 12, with its 100th Wallcast concert, which will also mark the debut of the center's 4K projection technology. Tilson Thomas, the symphony's artistic director, who is set to receive Kennedy Center Honors in December, will conduct the orchestra through grandiose compositions from Beethoven, Berlioz, and Scriabin, accompanied in part by the world-renowned Russian pianist Daniil Trifanov for his Miami debut.
Howard Herring, the president and CEO of New World Symphony, believes this 100th Wallcast milestone isn't a finite goal, but the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the organization. The installation of a 4K screen, for example, represents a tremendous leap forward that places the symphony at the forefront of technological development in Miami Beach. "The quality of that image says about New World Symphony that we intend to stay out on the edge of technological breakthroughs," Herring says. The 4K improvement marks the first technological upgrade of the New World Center since it opened in 2011 and was made possible in part by a generous general obligation bond from the City of Miami Beach that covered more than a third of the project's $9.5 million price tag.
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Serving the South Florida community has always been at the center of New World Symphony's mission, and Wallcast concerts have been one of its most successful tools in reaching new audiences that otherwise might never be exposed to symphonic classical music. Case in point: Seventy-five percent of Wallcast attendees, according to Herring, have never purchased a ticket to New World Symphony, creating a new group of devotees that reliably flock to the New World Center in numbers matching or surpassing the number of patrons with tickets inside. "To create a second audience is an amazing phenomenon," Herring says, "so we are very proud of the fact that these folks come to hear our music."
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New World Symphony's community-oriented approach to the arts is often reciprocated by Wallcast attendees. According to Herring, 80 percent of Wallcast audiences gather at SoundScape Park in groups of five or more. "There's a phenomenon — especially in performing arts — that when you have a transformative experience, it's even more powerful in a communal setting." Wallcast concerts create that opportunity for attendees, who in turn expand the opportunity to their families.
The maiden voyage of New World Symphony's 4K projector marks a significant step in Miami Beach's ambitious Lincoln Road District plan, which calls for greater integration between the New World Center and the nearby pedestrian mall. Forty percent of Wallcast audiences include Lincoln Road in their evening plans, so Herring believes that as the newly reimagined Lincoln Road District continues to gel, it'll be increasingly important to create a seamless experience for visitors. This includes the creation of a new performance area on the corner of Drexel Avenue and Lincoln Road where musicians from the symphony will greet passersby and play a short concert after each show, further bridging the gap between culture and commerce that Herring says led to the popularization of Lincoln Road following the symphony's 1988 arrival.
Noted cultural institutions such as the Kennedy Center have followed New World Symphony's lead in outdoor programming — something Herring believes is a crucial component in expanding access to the performing arts for new audiences. "When you can bring sophisticated art to a community with no barrier, no ticket admission, and everything out in the open, it's going to make a huge difference to everyone in the community."
New World Symphony Season Opener. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, October 12, at New World Center, 500 17th St., Miami Beach; nws.edu. Tickets cost $44 to $150 via nws.edu; admission to the Wallcast concert in SoundScape Park is free.