Nu Deco Ensemble and the new (classical) sounds of Miami
This post has been updated.
The attention received and the impact achieved, in such short time, by the Nu Deco Ensemble, a Miami-based collective billed as a 21st century chamber orchestra, suggests not only great musical quality but smart thinking and auspicious timing.
The group’s debut on April 4 at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood was as much a concert as a declaration of principles. It included contemporary chamber music by young composers such as Adam Schoenberg, Chris Rogerson, Paul Dooley and Andy Akiho, an orchestral reimagining of music by the French electro-pop-dance duo Daft Punk and a collaboration with local electro-pop duo Afrobeta.
This was followed, just days later by a collaboration with Chicago-based company Manual Cinema at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and, in June, a performance at the Bang on a Can Marathon as part of an annual fundraiser for Miami Light Project.
Now Nu Deco Ensemble, a Knight Arts Challenge winner, opens its first season at The Light Box Sept. 25-26. The opening concert will include music by young American composers Clint Needham, Greg Simon and Marc Mellits, Chicago-based Brazilian composer Marcos Balter and Miami-based singer-songwriter Brika. Setting the tone for the series, the emphasis is on genre bending and eclecticism.
Other performances include “Nu Deco Water Music,” at Deering Estate on Nov. 22, featuring a program encompassing Bach, Brahms and Daft Punk; and a collaboration with DJ Spam and The Spam All-Stars at the North Beach Band Shell on Jan. 28, 2016.
The ensemble will play music by Paul Hindemith (“a first for us, a major original work by a non-living 20th century composer,” noted Hyken on a recent blog post) as well as works by Nicholas Omiciolli and Ricardo Romaneiro at The Light Box, on March 3-4. And the group closes the season with a nod to their very first concert, performing works by percussionist and composer Andy Akiho, featuring also Akiho as a soloist on steel drums; and also music by Paul Dooley and Jamiroquai.
“I think we really hit a nerve in the community,” says Nu-Deco co-founder and co-artistic director Sam Hyken. “I think what we do is something that fits in between everything else that’s happening without stepping on anybody’s toes and at the same time it’s something new, engaging a new audience. We are really excited.”
Timing and place are X factors for even the best-laid plans, but Hyken notes that he was able “to take risks and do things in Miami that I couldn’t do anywhere else.”
“You can really make your mark here. Being able to build a six concert series in our first season is very impressive, but don’t misunderstand me; I’m not bragging,” he says. “What I’m saying is that this can really happen only in Miami. We are really conscious that we are part of building something here — and we take that very seriously.”
Sam Hyken, trumpeter, composer, arranger and producer, and Jacomo Bairos, tuba player and conductor, began discussing the idea of creating their own nimble, eclectic chamber ensemble after meeting at an audition for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in New York in 2004. The orchestra hired both of them, but the idea of doing something different persisted.
“It took a lot of different forms over the years, but we were seeing that the concept of the small, musician-led collective was having success in other cities,” says Hyken. “There’s a certain brand of music that Jacomo and I love, so it was kind of putting that into the flexible model we saw working real well.”
After Singapore, Bairos, who is originally from Homestead, decided to focus on conducting, becoming conductor and musical director for the Amarillo Symphony Orchestra in Texas. After two years as associate principal trumpet of the Singapore Symphony, Hyken joined Miami’s New World Symphony. He is now teaches at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.
For both, the notion of the 21st century do-it-yourself artist represented not only a certain artistic freedom to explore and grow, but also a practical response to the financial uncertainties of the classical music world.
“I came to Miami to be a trumpet player with New World Symphony and initially I wanted that big trumpet job,” says Hyken. “But then I started asking myself: ‘What would happen if I got into an orchestra and that orchestra didn’t exist in 20 years? What would I be doing then? Would I be trying to get another orchestra job, competing against those hungry conservatory-trained young musicians?’ So I went to the University of Miami for media writing introduction and … started exploring how to build a more diverse career.
“I spoke to the New World fellows [recently] and I said this exact thing, which is: You need to diversify your skills. Being a 21st century artist means much more then knowing your instrument. It’s also about how to do basic video, editing, website development, composing, arranging, producing. That is what a complete artist looks like in our century. All those experiences are represented in Nu Deco.”
Implied in Hyken’s analysis, are also long-term concerns in the classical world about dwindling audiences, aging listeners and the need to develop new fans for the music. The choices of repertoire and the collaborations by Nu Deco Ensemble reflect, in part, their approach to those issues.
“It’s funny because, for us it’s a combination of things,” says Hyken. “The more contemporary styles that we are producing are entry points [to the classical chamber music world] for certain audiences — but this is all music that we really love. We love Daft Punk and we feel it needs to be presented by an orchestra, in a different context, but still at a high artistic level. We feel it’s the best of both worlds: “It’s an entry point, but it’s also fine music.”
Besides, he notes that after the first concert, he found out that while the younger audience “might have been there for Daft Punk and Afrobeta, they really loved the first half with young composers, and also that members of the audience, like my wife’s grandma, loved the second half. It shows me that music is universal and the barriers are really theoretical.”
As for collaborations, they are “key to our work,” says Hyken.
“We look at collaboration in three different parts: We are collaborating with local talent whether it be in graphic design, video, choreography, and that is going to help us grow and export Miami culture. We are also looking at collaboration with outsiders, bringing artists to Miami, so Miami becomes a destination for artists and audiences, and then we are also looking at collaborations just as experiments to show how we can push the boundaries of the art form.”
Fernando González is a Miami-based arts and culture writer. He can be reached via email at [email protected]
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