A Body Needs a Home, Orchestrally Speaking

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The classical music season is winding down, as it usually does in this month, though the arts groups have been soliciting next season’s audiences for months, firming up their programs and reaching out to longtime subscribers.

There are plenty of good things to look forward to for the 2010-11 season, and one of them is the opening of the new Frank Gehry space in Miami Beach for the New World Symphony, which I was reminded of this week when the season brochure arrived in my mailbox.

There will be time to write about this performance space in more depth as its opening approaches, but it got me thinking about the importance of an orchestra’s home and how that affects what happens on stage.

Up in Palm Beach County earlier this year, Lynn University unveiled a 752-seat concert hall that the Boca Raton school’s music conservatory undoubtedly will find a big step up from the high school auditorium its student Philharmonia has been playing in for years.

And years ago, while writing a piece about a visit to South Florida by the Jacksonville Symphony, the people I talked to up there made a point of noting how crucial it was that the orchestra had not just its own concert hall, but its own rehearsal space. At the time, there was no home for the Florida Philharmonic, as indeed there never was, and this was something players I met often mentioned with frustration.

Even today, were the Philharmonic hale and hearty, undoubtedly it would be sharing the Knight Concert Hall, Broward Center and Kravis Center spaces with many other acts, just as it always did, and at some point that sort of thing has to stop. A performing ensemble needs a place it can live in, not just so it can make its own kind of mess without worrying about upsetting other guests, but simply because people do better work when they feel they’re wanted.

I once worked at a newspaper years and years ago at which the staff was forced to share desks with other people, using one for a shift, and then abandoning it for the next person who needed to use it. The staff hated it, because there’s nothing more natural than wanting to call even a modest piece of work real estate your own, so you can bring in pictures of family, drinking vessels from sports arenas and other quirky things that don’t really go anywhere else. Without their own desks, the staff felt as though they were being tolerated on sufferance.

An orchestra is a big operation, full of creative people all working together to meet an artistic challenge. If it takes itself at all seriously, it needs a home, a place where it can pursue those challenges confident that its community is happy it’s there, and secure in the knowledge that it is creating a history in a physical space.

The New World’s new space surely will be a spur to even better things for this remarkable academy, and not just because its designer is so celebrated or even that its hometown is synonymous with the good life. It will benefit because it will be home, and sometimes there’s just no better place to be.