Tilson Thomas and Gehry's New New World

Miami Beach Leads the Way to Future of Classical Music

By: - Apr 18, 2017

New World Center
Musicians Forum
Miami Beach, Florida

Classical music, contemporary or otherwise, is challenged for most large institutions who continue to perform it. Frank Gehry baby sat for Michael Tilson Thomas in Los Angeles where they both grew up.

In the 21st century they undertook a new complex in Miami Beach. They were determined to bring in new audiences to an art form they loved.

Steeply raked seats inside the 756 seat main hall of the New World Center are just one of  many ideas they executed in designing and building this space. Tilson Thomas wanted the audience to be able to see the sweat on  performers' brows.

At a free open concert in which members of the America's Orchestra Academy for musicians performed in the Center on April 17th, you could feel the energy and delight these top young artists striving for a place in the musical world displayed as they performed Barber and Beethoven.

Gone are Gehry’s signature stainless steel shapes that characterize the over-weighted Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago, an eyesore when you look out at it from the Renzo Piano extension of the Art Institute. Now we have large and different shapes in white, often looking like sails as they float above seats covered in blue like the Atlantic Ocean to the East.

Many venues are available in the building, from practice rooms young artists do not want to leave they are so comfortable and safe, to smaller concert halls scattered throughout.

Gehry did not want to design the 2.5 acre public park outside the building. Dutch architectural firm West 8 designed SoundScape park. Gehry did design the largest outdoor projection screen in North America to project concerts into the park about a once a week. The sound is surround even in the park. Inside we are treated to Gehry’s frequent sound collaborator, Yasuhisa Toyota, who is also represented in Disney Hall, Fisher Center at Bard and the Helzberg Hall in Kansas City (designed by Moshe Safdie).

Wine is deeply discounted at the New World Center for a half hour before the concert, and young people sit in high chairs around the bar waiting for the concert to begin. Although snowbirds and older audience members were in their seats as a brass group opened the program with Ingolf Dahl's Music for Brass Instruments, young people wandered in as the concert progressed. In the olden days, like in Shakespeare’s time, roaming audiences were typical. The age of fancy dress and straight backs may be over. Certainly the New World encourages whoever wants to come whenever as long as a piece isn't in progress.  Music easily yo-yoed between the 20th and 18th centuries. It fits in a place created for music making.

A sense of community is developed. At comfortable tables and banquettes outside the second floor entrance to the top of the hall, people waited to enter. Casual is not the word, because a high sense of expectancy soars in the space. It is intense and exciting to be here and hear all kind of music. Tilson Thomas and Ghery are offering solutions others might well adopt.