Innovation will help us turn corner
By Enrique Fernandez and Lawrence Budmen
From The Miami Herald - Sun, Jul. 02, 2006
With the Miami Performing Arts Center set to open this fall and the visual arts thriving, South Florida's classical music offerings might be turning a corner.
It's a heavily challenged corner, with a state-of-the-art symphony hall -- but no full-time, resident symphony orchestra to play in it. Yet, the panorama has possibility. It all depends on how it's handled.
Julian Kreeger, director of Friends of Chamber Music, has been observing the South Florida classical music scene for many years and he sees the need to foster new classical music in the same way the area now does other arts. ''Otherwise, we become static,'' he said.
Kreeger's own series has featured contemporary master John Corigliano, as well as work by Pulitzer Prize winner Lewis Spratlan. This coming season, the musicians from the Ravinia Festival's Steans Institute for Young Artists will perform the Florida premiere of a commissioned work by Jaakko Kuusisto.
''It's absolutely important to encourage composers, even if we will not understand how great their work is for 25 or even 50 years,'' Kreeger said.
If anyone put South Florida on the classical map, it's Judy Drucker, whose Concert Association of Florida consistently brings leading figures in music and dance to area stages. With the Miami Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Drucker's organization will be enjoying resident-company status in an extraordinary new venue -- and perhaps a new musical focus.
The Concert Association's programming has often been considered ultra-conservative, but in the coming season two orchestras, from Chicago and Atlanta, will provide some needed contrast.
The Chicago Symphony under David Zinman, perhaps America's greatest unsung conductor, will play works by the iconoclastic avant-garde composer Gyorgy Ligeti and Osvaldo Golijov, a master of cross-cultural fusion. Golijov's music also figures in the Cleveland Orchestra's residency at the MPAC, and the MPAC will independently present Golijov's large-scale La Pasión Según San Marcos in January.
The Atlanta Symphony also brings unusual offerings. Several seasons ago, the group hired Robert Spano, a contemporary music specialist, to spruce up its programming. True to form, Spano has scheduled Rainbow Body by American composer Christopher Theofanidis for the group's South Florida appearance.
At the other end of the spectrum, Miami's ace training ensemble, New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, has enjoyed a reputation for freshness. In 2003, New World won an award from ASCAP for innovative programming of contemporary music, prompting comments that Tilson Thomas was not nearly as adventurous a programmer on the West Coast where he directs the San Francisco Symphony. The coming season, however, finds the New World in a mixed mode of continuous commitment to new music and retrenching itself in the traditional repertoire.
The orchestra's three-concert Sounds of the Times series features a panoply of recent scores by such diverse creative voices as British mystic James MacMillan, Austrian chansonier H.K. Gruber, French master Henri Dutilleux, and American wunderkinds Michael Gandolfi and Jennifer Higdon (the latter two conducted by the omnipresent Spano). But on the New World's regular symphonic programs, next season's schedule is somewhat less diverse than in previous years.
Only Ligeti's Violin Concerto (with Christian Tetzlaff) and Corigliano's First Symphony, an American staple, come close to breaking the conservative mold. The group's chamber music series includes works by Elliot Carter and Leon Kirchner as well as a Notturno by Tilson Thomas.
A CHOIR AFIRE
Along with New World, Miami's often-miraculous chamber choir, Seraphic Fire, has excelled at showcasing new music. This year is no exception, as director Patrick Quigley mixes Renaissance and Baroque scores with modernist voices. Quigley will direct music by British choral icon John Rutter, electronic composer Ingram Marshall, Shawn Crouch (whose The Road to Hiroshima Seraphic Fire premiered two seasons ago), and Paul Crabtree. The choir will also premiere a new piece by Haitian composer Sydney Guillaume and present Ariel Ramírez's multicultural Misa Criolla.
The MPAC's most engaged resident company, Florida Grand Opera, is taking bold steps in its new home. To celebrate its first MPAC season, the company will present the world premiere of Daniel Carlson's setting of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. FGO's music director Stewart Robertson has championed this American composer's works -- he has led the premieres of Carlson's previous operas Midnight Angel and Dreamkeepers.
And, in a welcome turn, FGO will also return to conceiving and designing its own productions. During the 1970s under its late general director Robert Herman, the opera not only produced most of its own sets and costumes but rented them out to companies across the country. However, for most of the last decade, FGO has borrowed productions from other companies. This season, in addition to Anna Karenina, Verdi's Aida and Bellini's La Sonnambula will receive the new productions.
In Broward, Symphony of the Americas has occasionally presented new scores. At its Hispanic Heritage concert in October, the orchestra will premiere Edward Hart's A Tidal Concerto (with Uruguayan pianist Enrique Graf as soloist).
And South Florida hosts two yearly festivals entirely devoted to the new: Subtropics Experimental Music & Sound Arts Festival, organized by Gustavo Matamoros, who heads SFCA's interdisciplinary Sound Arts Workshop -- also known as South Florida Composers Alliance. And the New Music Miami ISCM Festival, hosted by Florida International University.
What the area lacks is a series for cutting-edge contemporary chamber music groups. The Studio Theater at the MPAC would be an ideal venue for something similar to that offered by the Miller Theater at New York's Columbia University. Here such contemporary specialist ensembles as Alarm Will Sound, the Contemporary Chamber Players, Counter Induction and the Absolute Ensemble (Kristjan Jrvi's iconoclastic World Music fusion orchestra) could present their musical wares.
On that front, the Friends of Chamber Music series broke the traditional mold when it presented the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra in an all-Corigliano program during the 2004-2005 season to an enthusiastic audience -- proof that there is a public for new music in South Florida. One hopes such feats will be repeated.
The University of Miami's Frost School of Music remains committed, as an educational institution well should, to new composition. This season, there will be a new jazz fusion work by Gary Lindsay (for string quartet and saxophone quartet), two more symphonies by Roberto Sierra, a set of variations on a Gershwin theme by Donald Grantham plus scores by faculty members, including Dennis Kam and Thomas M. Sleeper, and rarely heard music by Holocaust victims Pavel Haas and Gideon Klein.
And, how does South Florida compare nationally? The best comparison, if not geographically then symbiotically, is Cleveland. Its revered orchestra's repertoire for the coming season includes new or recent works by Pintscher, Dean, Kokkonen, Rorem, Anderson and Sortomme -- plus less familiar 20th century scores by Messiaen and Berg. Contemporary scores have been an important part of Cleveland's programming under both Christoph von Dohnanyi and current director Franz Welser-Mst.
The Cleveland Orchestra's first MPAC three-week residency is much less adventurous, a conservative move that the orchestra's management acknowledges is due to the novelty of the Miami venture, though it promises that in coming seasons repertoire will change.
In other cities comparable to Miami, both St. Louis, under David Robertson, and Minneapolis, under Osmo Vanska, have music directors who program classical and modern works in interesting juxtapositions -- sometimes thematically. The Seattle Symphony has long specialized in American music -- and has recorded quite a bit of it -- under Gerard Schwarz. The Colorado Symphony in Denver played a lot of American music under Marin Alsop, and she will likely do the same thing in Baltimore, where the programs have been very conservative, when she takes charge there.
It's not all a map of innovation. The Utah Symphony in Salt Lake City plays mostly standard repertoire. In Portland, the Oregon Symphony's concerts used to be very diverse under James De Preist. Now, under Carlos Kalmar, they have turned conservative.
Will South Florida, the country's -- and one of the world's -- most vital urban areas, now shiny with a new arts center, reflect that vitality in its classical music offerings? Our overview shows a mix of skittishness and boldness, perhaps to be expected in a post-orchestra-fiasco era. Yet, there are signs of change.
A bright new season is upon us and our ears are open. South Florida deserves to hear the full range of contemporary classical styles and voices.