The debut concert of the Nu Deco Ensemble drew a youthful, arty crowd to The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Miami’s bustling Wynwood arts district Saturday night. A chamber orchestra devoted to contemporary music, the group is the brainchild of conductor Jacomo Bairos and Sam Hyken — UM Frost School of Music faculty member, principal trumpet of the Miami Symphony and a gifted arranger and composer.
Composed of some of South Florida’s best freelance musicians, the orchestra played a series of rhythmically tricky works with precision and clarity, and Bairos was an enthusiastic leader and host. There was a strong pop sensibility to most of the audience-friendly scores on the program, yet considerable creative ingenuity was on display.
Adam Schoenberg’s American Symphony is a rhythmically throbbing concert opener with suggestions of a Latin beat. The middle movement (titled “White, Blue”) is a pensive, moody flute solo, backed by a rich harmonic palette of strings and winds. A final rondo is replete with clipped, sometimes quirky motifs. Daniel Velasco’s vibrant flute solo was a standout in an exuberant performance.
William Dooley’s Masks and Machines is a repetitive, kinetic ride. The finale is almost a concerto for mallet percussion, with the players arranged on opposite sides of the ensemble. Dooley fills his minimalist essay with surprises, as when a sensual melody played by oboe and jazz-inflected trumpet add spice to the mix. Bairos and his players brought plenty of drive and thrust to Dooley’s often brash concoction.
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Ki Iro (Yellow) by Andy Akiho blends clarinet glissandos that could have been written by Rimsky-Korsakov with electric bass, piano and a highly charged rhythm section. (Akiho is a recent winner of the Rome Prize and best known as a steelpan virtuoso.) The solo viola carries a long-breathed melody over the propulsive beat, and a jazzy trumpet cadenza puts a final exclamation point on this high-energy essay. Akiho’s New Age trance music produced screams and yelps from the enthusiastic crowd. Violist Yael Kleinman Hyken’s sonorous viola and Anabelle Hwang’s agile clarinet excelled in solo honors.
Chris Rogerson’s The Way Through was a skillfully crafted piece of Copland-style Americana. Rogerson excels in folksy melodic writing, and the opening brass theme was particularly striking. A bravura violin solo by concertmaster Alexander Zhuk propelled a rapid, balletic section. Still, for all of Rogerson’s instrumental fluency, his imitation of Copland felt a bit pale compared to the real thing.
The program’s second half was more overtly pop oriented. Rock and pop acts performing with a classical orchestra can be problematical, the cultural mix less than advantageous to either genre.
Judging by the welcome the Miami-based duo Afrobeta received, their appearance was the major draw for many in the audience. Vocalist Cuci Amador and keyboard player and backup singer Tony “Smurphio” Laurencio form a sleek duo, combining retro soul and disco with a soft rock beat. Their song set was backed by sliding rhythmic figures from the ensemble. Despite Hyken’s skillful arrangements, the orchestra here seemed pasted onto the raw energy of Afrobeta’s performance.
Hyken’s Daft Punk Suite bridged the classical-pop divide more successfully and closed the evening on a high note. Based on the tunes of the popular French electronic music duo, the work departs from mere instrumental transcriptions to add witty allusions to neo-Baroque string writing, acerbic brass fanfares and a touch of minimalism. The piece is great fun.
The intimate space, with seating on three sides and a low ceiling, proved acoustically flattering to the 26-member ensemble. The sound was clear and never harsh even when amplification was utilized.
Miami has long needed a permanent contemporary music ensemble. Bairos and Hyken’s plans are ambitious, involving community outreach and touring. Reservations about the pop collaborations aside, their debut concert was highly promising.
For complete coverage of classical music, go to SouthFloridaClassicalReview.com