Two young artists are at the center of the adventurous “New Work” program the New World Symphony will present April 20. Choreographer Justin Peck, 25, created a pas de deux for Miami City Ballet for the occasion, and Zosha Di Castri, 28, composed a piece the orchestra will premiere.
Rather than a traditional night at the symphony, “New Work” will be a whirlwind tour of the contemporary arts world, with a fresh palette of commissioned dance, poetry, music and video works.
“The inspiration was those evenings like the ones you have in Wynwood or [the New York gallery district] Chelsea, when you know the galleries will all be open and you know it will be all new work in lots of different areas,” says NWS artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas.
The show is another major step for Tilson Thomas and the symphony as they flex the creative possibilities of architect Frank Gehry’s multi-tiered, multimedia-friendly New World Center.
“So many of the things we did in the first two years were about us getting in and getting comfortable,” says Tilson Thomas, who has been an advocate for daring new work throughout his career. “Now we’re really starting to imagine how we can use this wonderful center.”
He has been encouraged by the enthusiastic response to events such as the recent John Cage festival, which incorporated dance, multimedia and environmental pieces with performers ranging throughout the hall. Pulse, the symphony’s popular classical-meets-dance-music series, has added an “unplugged” element, offering acoustic performances of pieces first played in loud, amplified versions.
“So many people wanted to come across and make an evening that is a combination of these experiences,” Tilson Thomas says. “This is a very new direction.”
Numerous firsts will be on display in the April 20th program, which includes composer Ian Dicke’s O Bury Me Not, a poetry reading presented in collaboration with the O, Miami poetry festival, and the premiere of a video work commissioned from Los Angeles artists Tyler Adams and Pascual Sisto to be shown on the “sails” of the concert hall to the strains of minimalist composer Morton Feldman’s Structures for Orchestra.
The centerpieces will be the Di Castri composition and Peck’s new ballet, which marks the first collaboration between Miami City Ballet and New World Symphony, South Florida’s leading classical arts institutions.
Tilson Thomas proposed the idea to MCB Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez when he met her at a reception soon after her appointment was announced a year ago.
“I’ve always wanted very much to do a project with the ballet,” he says. “Dance is one of my favorite mediums. This came up so quickly, but it’s a chance to get our toes in the water.”
Lopez was instantly receptive. “I loved the idea of collaborating,” she says. The project meshes with several of her goals for the troupe: to commission more new ballets, to work with other arts groups in Miami and to attract new audiences to the ballet.
“It’s collaboration at a very high level,” Lopez says. “Michael Tilson Thomas is this iconic musician and major artist. It puts Miami City Ballet and our dancers in a place where maybe the audience members haven’t seen us. And it brings into [MCB] a choreographer … who’s on my five-year artistic plan for the company.”
That would be Peck, a hot young talent who is the first choreographer-in-residence at New York City Ballet, where his ballets have earned glowing reviews. She reached out to him in December.
“I thought of Justin first because he’s very, very talented, he’s new and he’s young, so this last-minute crazy idea would appeal to him,” Lopez says. “He’s also incredibly musical and sensitive, and I had a sense that what was needed was a strong response … for a house of music.”
Peck was thrilled. “I’ve always been a big fan of Lourdes,” he said. “And [MCB] is a great institution that was on the top of my list to work with outside New York.”
Over two weeks in March, he created Chutes and Ladders for Jeanette Delgado and Kleber Rebello. It’s set to the first movement of Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 1, which fit the program’s length requirements and appealed to Peck with its hypnotic, intimate and unexpected qualities. “The music doesn’t have a typical arc, with a big climax in the middle,” he says. “It’s lots of little thoughts, passages, fragments … a lot of contrast.” (That unpredictability inspired him to name the dance for the child’s board game, with its abrupt ups and downs.)
Peck calls Delgado “one of America’s greatest ballerinas right now,” and praised Rebello for “great internal depth.” Their eagerness was typical of the company, he says. “There’s a great hunger from the dancers to work on new choreography and for me that’s rare. They put a lot of value on the experience and want do more and more. There’s nothing better for a choreographer.”
The New Work commission is a major event for Di Castri, who was raised in a small town in rural Alberto, Canada. She is the first artist selected for New Voices, a collaborative project with NWS, the San Francisco Symphony, where Tilson Thomas is also artistic director, and music publishers Boosey and Hawkes, to commission new works from young composers.
Di Castri also created a percussion quintet, Manif, which NWS performed in March.
“I pinched myself — I couldn’t believe it was happening,” she said from New York, where she is studying composition at Columbia University. “To work with such a well-known, fantastic conductor ... it’s such a great opportunity to learn and also to have my music played in cities where I never thought it would be heard at this point in my career.”
Called Lineage, the piece is rooted in Di Castri’s reflections on musical and cultural memory, inspired partly by her maternal grandparents’ close ties to their roots. Although they were born in Canada, they lived in a close-knit Ukrainian community immersed in Ukrainian culture. Their stories made a powerful impression on Di Castri.
“When you hear stories repeated so often they become like your own personal memories,” she says. “You have an emotional tie to those ideas.”
She connected that personal experience with the role of memory in music.
“Memory is so relevant to music in general, the musical memory of the audience or the performers,” she says. “As you’re playing or listening you’re constantly evaluating. ‘Is this something I’ve heard before? Has it changed? Is it new?’ ”
She also linked these concepts to her own efforts to forge an artistic identity in classical music. “Are you dealing with tradition or charting your own path in terms of your cultural identity and artistry?” she says. “Most contemporary artists want to find new sounds and new ways of doing things, but that can be alienating if you completely throw out everything.”
For Lineage, which will be performed by an 80-piece orchestra, Di Castri uses “micro-tonal” sounds that arise between traditional notes, creating a haunting, foreign-sounding counterpoint to sections reminiscent of folk music.
She says the musicians and others at NWS have been unusually open to her ideas.
“Within the classical musical world, orchestras are seen as most resistant to new music and closest to tradition,” she says. “At New World Symphony and especially with Michael Tilson Thomas, that’s at the heart of what they do. So that’s really exciting.”