Art Works Blog

Miami Vision

March 23, 2010
Washington, DC

NWS Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas has called Frank Gehry's design for the conservatory's new concert hall "playful, inviting, and, yes, life-affirming." Photo by Yamila Lomba

As part of the February Art Works tour to Miami, Senior Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa visited New World Symphony (NWS), an innovative conservatory for professional musicians that focuses not only on musicianship but also on leadership and donor and media savvy. (Visit the NEA Arts archives to learn more about NWS.) Here are Joan?s thoughts on NWS?s equally innovative and decidedly 21st-century concert hall, which it's building in concert (pun intended) with architect (and National Medal of Arts honoree) Frank Gehry.

The new concert hall is fascinating because it?s a laboratory for the future of the symphony orchestra and a lab for the future of concerts. So this is a hall that is highly interactive; no two concert experiences may be the same. The ceiling panels, which adjust for the sound, are also projection screens in a Frank Gehry-designed sculptural installation. Usually the acoustic machinations are behind the walls, but these are right there hanging from the ceiling. The floors can go anywhere from flat for something that is participatory---and perhaps dance related---all the way up to bleacher style seating.

NWS also has this amazing high tech broadband capability, so interactivity and real time is possible there. So you can have a coaching session with another master musician who?s in another city watching you rehearse or perform, for example. And then one whole huge wall on the exterior of the building faces a new public park. It?s a screen so it will project everything that?s taking place on the main stage inside. And there will be speakers in the park, very high quality speakers, so you can have a surround sound experience of the concert going on inside while you?re sitting on a bench or on the side of a hill having your picnic. So it?s really designed to have a conversation among the audience, the musicians, and the music in a way that is unprecedented really for a concert hall.

I think this hall has a chance of shifting the paradigm and really embracing experimentation and innovation with the concert experience. It?s not a festival shed outdoors; it?s a real concert hall. But it?s a concert hall built for the 21st century. It?s going to open at the end of 2010 and it?s going to, potentially, lead the way in rethinking what a concert is and can become. So it?s very exciting.

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