Miami Light Project celebrates 25th anniversary with contemporary music marathon

Arts / Article

Photo: Nu Deco Ensemble performs its second suite, Adam Schoenberg’s Third Movement, Rondo, from “American Symphony.” Credit: Alec Schwartzman.

Miami Light Project turned down the lights and upped the ambiance for Saturday’s sold-out Bang on a Can marathon featuring Bang on a Can All-Stars, Spam Allstars and Knight Arts Challenge winner Nu Deco Ensemble.

The event, held at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood, commemorated the nonprofit’s 25th Anniversary Contemporary Performance Series, and featured the New York-based Bang on a Can All-Stars’ first public Miami performance. The group provided a preview of its set during a Miami Light “friendraising” event Friday night.

“The marathon format (albeit in abbreviated form) was the perfect way to celebrate and to end the season with a ‘bang,’” said Beth Boone, artistic and executive director of Miami Light Project, a multiple Knight Arts Challenge winner. “With regard to opening with Nu-Deco and closing with Spam Allstars, it was really important … we lead and close with Miami-based artists. I have an internal mandate … which is rooted in supporting Miami-based artists equally as we do artists from around the world.”

While Bang on a Can All-Stars and Spam Allstars have large followings, the anniversary marked only the second time Nu Deco Ensemble, founded by conductor Jacomo Rafael Bairos and composer Sam Hyken, has performed live. The 19-member orchestral group opened the show with a performance aimed at bridging classical and contemporary music to appeal to a wide audience.

“There is no bridge between young people and the transformative experience a big symphony can provide,” Bairos said. “I think Nu Deco fits that … because we are combining [classical and contemporary.]”

The ensemble’s set list featured three movements of diverse music. The opening composition was “Ki Iro,” which translates to “Yellow,” part of the “Synesthesia Suite” by Andy Akiho. Following, the group performed the upbeat third movement, rondo, of “American Symphony” by Adam Schoenberg, which was inspired by Barack Obama’s presidential election in 2008. The finale peaked with an original composition by Hyken, which mixed several tracks by Daft Punk, the French electronic duo.

“When you go to arrange music like this, you want to do something that translates well to orchestra instruments,” Hyken said. “It is truly orchestrated Daft Punk … It almost sounds like Bach.”

“To hear it in a classical setting, there is a lot more shape to it,” Bairos said. “It gives [the music] this organic nature that you can’t do with a synthesizer.”

The formation of the orchestra can be traced to a chance meeting 11 years ago at an audition for the Singapore Symphony. Bairos and Hyken have been trying to work together ever since. They discovered an opportunity to unite by applying for Knight Arts Challenge South Florida last year.

“The more we thought about applying for that grant and the challenge involved, we knew we couldn’t come in with this wild, big idea anymore,” Bairos said. “We had to get really focused. We both wanted to add an education and outreach component … We wanted to make sure we were giving back.”

The ensemble has kept to its word. This April, it paired with Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts. The ensemble played side by side with the students, and even brought in a broadcasting team to record the performance and help draw attention to the school’s music program. Eventually, Bairos and Hyken hope to do three educational concerts a week, three times a year at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.

“We want to focus on the south. The whole area is super underserved, and music just isn’t in the classroom like it used to be,” said Bairos. “Budgets have been slashed so much … We aren’t the answer for arts education, but what we can do is provide some inspiration for the kids and interactive concerts to get them excited.”

It’s that same spirit that has infused the work of Miami Light Project for the past 25 years.

“I believe with all my heart and soul that great art adds essential meaning to our lives,” Boone said. “On a daily basis, we are working to support and develop the work of artists, and in doing so, we add meaning to people’s lives, we contribute value to our community.” 

Alec Schwartzman is an editorial intern for Knight Foundation. Email him at [email protected]  and follow him on Twitter @AMSchwartzman.