“Wallcasts” provide at-home sonics in the outdoors

Arts / Article

When the New World Symphony was building its new home on 17th Street in Miami Beach, officials at the orchestral academy had high hopes for the park outside, where they hoped to get plenty of foot traffic for the “wallcasts” on the center’s 7,000-square-foot white wall. Tonight the group opens its concert season with a pre-season concert by the New World’s wind, brass and percussion fellows. On the program, which will be directed by Mark Scatterday, are pieces by Karel Husa (“Fanfare for Brass and Percussion), Shostakovich (“Folk Festival,” “Polka and Galop), J.S. Bach (Toccata and Fugue in D minor), Giovanni Gabrieli (“Canzon per sonare quarti toni”) and Joseph Schwantner (“Recoil). Also planned is Steven Stucky’s “Threnos,” a memorial for a composer friend who died of leukemia.

Scatterday himself arranged the Gabrieli, and the Shostakovich and Bach works are arranged by the veteran composer Donald Hunsberger, who led the Eastman Wind Ensemble for decades. It’s a strong program and one that provides a good glimpse into the wind ensemble repertory, a field that has seen many significant American compositional careers.

Marketing chief Craig Hall said crowds for the outdoor musical events have exceeded expectations, with about 1,900 people showing up to hear the music broadcast to the park from inside the Frank Gehry-designed center. As many as 2,500 people are estimated to have shown up for the best-attended wallcast, he said.

This year, the orchestra will do 14 of the wallcasts, up from seven last season, when the academy was only in the new hall for half the year. One of the key broadcasts will be the world premiere of James Lee III’s “Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula,” a piece commissioned by the Detroit-based Sphinx Foundation (a Knight Arts grantee), on Oct. 15.

Outdoor concerts like this, of course, have a permanent appeal. And the sound amenities for the outdoor concerts are exceptional, with battalions of high-end speakers and a space designed for listening. It’s a sonic step up from a typical al fresco experience, where the sound can be compromised by the outdoors.

But the intent here appears to be different. Yes, it’s outside, but it’s also a superlative auditory experience, as well as one with compelling visuals. In a way, it replicates the opera-at-the-movies experience a growing number of concertgoers are getting from the comfort of their local cineplex. You get superior visuals —  far better than you’d get in the actual opera house — and the sound is balanced so that it’s similar to a home video-and-audio setup.

What we see here is the intersection of home comforts in an away-from-home setting. I don’t think people will give up on more standard outdoor concerts, be they for bands, orchestras, jazz groups or what have you. But that’s a different kind of concertgoing, and if you can get the other kind, well, why not?

The New World Center stands fair to be another game-changer for classical music in Miami and South Florida generally. With the Knight Concert Hall, the Ziff Ballet Opera House and the New World Center, Miami has a trio of fine venues that put art-music culture right where it needs to be in the area consciousness.

Tonight’s wind ensemble concert, which is one of the first events of the new season — another being Ross Harbaugh’s cello recital last weekend for the Sunday Afternoons of Music series — will give area music-lovers a better chance to see the substantial stature the New World Center is certain to assume in the coming months and years.

It’s exciting, and that so many people show up outside to hear the music going on within surely shows that if you build it, they will come, and that great music only gains by its increased accessibility.

Tonight’s concert is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.