On Wednesday, the New World Symphony will perform the opening concert at its new campus in Miami Beach. Designed by starchitect Frank Gehry, the campus centerpiece is a 756-seat concert hall that NWS artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas hopes will do no less than fundamentally transform the general public’s impression of classical music. Put simply: MTT hopes the building will make classical music cool. With this goal, it is no surprise he turned to long-time friend and former babysitter (!) Gehry, who, at 81, is one of the world’s brashest builders and has a track record of turning “Where?” to “THERE” with a single structure (see Bilbao).
Of course, Miami itself is on the map, but classical music is pretty much invisible in terms of its popularity among today’s youth. (Name one contemporary composer.) MTT apparently did not interpret this as evidence of the genre’s irrelevance in the age of Beiber Fever, nor as proof of the deterioration of the contemporary ear. Rather he came to the conclusion that young’ns today would love classical music — maybe even tweet about it (@PGlass *only* five minutes of silence? #weak) — if they ever experienced it.
To this end, Gehry devised a building that the masses can enter without ever walking through the front door. Its facade consists of a large, latticed glass wall that allows passersby to see in and, importantly, NWS musicians to see out. In other words, it isn’t a wall; it’s a window through which MTT hopes the public and his musicians will come to recognize each other as fellow earthlings. Gehry, for his part, no doubt hopes everyone will find a moment to gawk at the design of the lobby, a serene composition of papery practice rooms that somehow appear to be falling apart and coming together at the same time.
The other component of the facade is a plain plaster rectangle onto which NWS plans to project live concerts. From a field in the campus’s new park (designed by Dutch firm West 8), people will be able to enjoy the orchestra’s regular performances at a cost of precisely nothing. In this way, the plaster section of the facade isn’t a wall either; it too is a window through which MTT hopes (lots of hopes …) we will fall in love with classical music.
But let’s say you’re hard of heart. You love your Bieber and no one’s going to tell you the Ninth has anything on “Baby”. You might need to actually enter Gehry’s building and behold its auditorium before you get it through your bang-swept forehead that classical music is not a thing of the past. Fine. Once inside you’ll see the light. I can try to describe the beauty of the space — which MTT aptly describes as a “music meeting house” — but I’ll save myself the sputtering and just show you a picture.
See those sail-like planes billowing from the ceiling? Those are also projection screens, and MTT plans to do very cool things with them. Look:
The above image goes a long way to breaking down my skepticism about MTT’s chances of accomplishing his goal. I mean, that is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. When it comes to classical music, I’m a greatest hits listener at most, but I will attend a concert this year. Which is to say, Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony might get the MTV generation into Mozart after all.