Taking a Hard Hat Tour of Frank Gehry's New World Symphony HQ

Categories: Heads Up, News
John Hood
The story goes like this:
A few of the principals behind Miami's New World Symphony were sitting around discussing their dream of building a combination campus/concert hall that would be large enough to handle an ever-increasing crop of talent and bold enough to wow the world.

At one point someone mentioned that an architect would eventually have to be selected. To which NWS Artistic Director and Founder Michael Tilson Thomas replied:

"I'm acquainted with Frank Gehry, should we call him?"

NWS performance space - large projections 2.jpg
New World Symphony's new campus performance space
After some initial awe, it was agreed that Gehry should indeed be called. Turns out the Maestro not only was acquainted with the builder of Bilbao, he grew up in the neighborhood where Gehry got his start, and in his more formative years the budding classicist would visit the future starchitect every chance he could get. So the call was made. And the next day a small group of NWS emissaries were on a plane to L.A. The rest, as everybody hopes, will go down in history.

That's a quick paraphrase of the tale delivered by New World Symphony CEO Howard Herring as he wrapped-up a hard-hat tour of Gehry's soon-to-be-completed NWS HQ. And it was there and then, standing in what will become the roof-top garden as the sun set over our shoulders, where we got to fully feel what it's like to have one's proverbial dreams come true.

In fact, the dream-fulfilling factor was evident throughout the entire whirlwind tour. Then again, when you've got the immense enthusiasm of a gentleman like Herring leading the way, it would be kinda difficult to see the site in any other way.

Not that you'd want to do so, mind you; nor that you could. Because just stepping on to the grounds of this milestone edifice has the potential to restore your faith in the future.

And oh what a future does this grand building promise. From the 7,000-square-foot exterior projection wall which will face its adjacent 2½ acre park, through the digital nooks and high-speed crannies of the 100,641-square-foot edifice itself, this campus/concert hall is tailor-made to take classical music into the 21st century and beyond.

Of course it will do so by both providing some of the most robust concert programming ever concocted and "preparing young graduates for leadership roles." Just as importantly though, everything about this forward-facing enterprise is designed to welcome the world into its midst, a world that most likely has yet to experience the pleasures of Bach or Beethoven, let alone Adams or Ives.

To achieve that, according to Hemming, NWS will continue its highly successful $2.50 Mini Concerts, as well as a series of hour-long programs which will offer a brief yet vivid history with each piece that's performed. And it is hoped that those more introductory efforts will result in creating a whole new class of classical music fans.

As will its scale, which is divided into humanely harmonious sections. Hemming says NWS and Gehry purposely kept everything intimate. The performance hall is set at 757 in-the-round seats, and, with four satellite platforms surrounding a main stage capable of fourteen different configurations, is itself incredibly flexible. Add a 2400-square-foor pavilion, 1200+-square-foot music library, two 100-some-odd capacity multi-purpose rooms capable of hosting everything from lectures to screenings, and a bevy of rehearsal spaces and technical suites, and you've got a hive fit for a legion.

To further wow the crowds, the entire structure is set-up for a diverse array of visuals. From the inner sails which wave across both the pavilion and the performance hall, to the aforementioned exterior projection wall, which is large enough to be seen clearly from the hotel roofs that dot Collins Avenue, high def and possibly 3-D views of the past, present and future will be made available to all.

Tilson Thomas calls the new space "a music meeting house," which nicely sums up the big idea behind this multi-faceted Miami Beach milestone. And on January 25, 2011, when New World Symphony officially opens the doors of its sweeping new headquarters, you'll be able to see, hear and feel just what he means.

Long live the classicists.

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