Festival Miami opens with politically charged ‘House of Cards’ show

Dean Shelly Berg of UM’s Frost School of Music helps curate the genre-bending line-up of concerts every year.
Dean Shelly Berg of UM’s Frost School of Music helps curate the genre-bending line-up of concerts every year.

On the eve of the inauguration of one of the most controversial president-elects, Festival Miami kicks off with a program of music from the politically charged Netflix series “House of Cards.” The show chronicles the seedy underbelly of Washington politics narrated by the Machiavellian D.C. politico Frank Underwood, who claws his way to the top spot in American politics by hook and by crook.

“Too bad it’s not too topical at all,” jokes Jeff Beal, the composer who will lead the UM Frost School of Music’s Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra through his Emmy Award-winning score tonight in the program he unveiled last summer at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Politics may be on the lips of everyone in the United States, but the series resonates with audiences around the world, Beal explains, because “the U.S. does not have the monopoly on politics, human behavior, corruption and intrigue. The politics serves as a backdrop for a larger drama.” The drama will serves as a backdrop for the orchestra; during the show images of the series are projected on screens overhead.

The program is the first of more than 20 events hosted by the University of Miami Frost School of Music’s annual festival, which celebrates 33 years of organizing its series of concerts, master classes, lectures and forums, inviting award-winning talent to collaborate with Frost jazz, classical and vocal students.

Dean Shelly Berg says the exchange with seasoned and celebrated musicians is of “incalculable value” to Frost School of Music students: “They are being taught and having master classes with some of the world’s greatest musicians.”

The benefits are mutual, says Beal, who also works with young musicians at the Sundance Film composer seminars and other conservatories. “Young artists understand the world in a way that is fascinating to me. They don’t have a strong sense of the boundaries between styles and genres and between high and low art.”

But the real winners in this game are Miami audiences.

In years past, Miami has seen the likes of Joshua Bell, Luis Enrique, Arturo Sandoval and Jackson Browne in the intimate 600-seat Gusman Center for the Performing Arts for a song (most tickets are under $50). “There is no bad seat in that house, so you get a very intimate experience,” says Festival Miami Director Marianne Mijares. The year Gloria Estefan performed, her show turned into a Q&A session between hits.

The Festival, which moved from fall to winter this year to allow easier access to big artists’ schedules and to avoid overlap with the football season, runs through Feb. 11, with four categories of concerts available for Miami audiences; Great Performances, Jazz and Beyond, Music of the Americas and Creative American Music. Highlights include Miami Latin jam band Tiempo Libre on Jan. 20; Mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran on Jan. 25; the festival debut of Emily Estefan, the daughter of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, (“She’s way more than the daughter of famous people,” assures Dean Berg) on Feb. 2; Bruce Hornsby performing original songs with the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra on Feb. 4; and a blowout closing concert at the North Beach Bandshell on Feb. 11 with Snarky Puppy. For the full schedule, visit festivamiami.com.

The blend of pop, Latin, classical and fusion is what makes this festival an only-in-Miami experience. Says Mijares, “There is no other festival that provides such a variety of genres.”

For his part, Beal is excited to kick off the festival with a show that he finds helps in the musical evangelization of younger audiences who are just beginning to see the relevance of orchestral music: “When you look at how much these traditions of music making are used every day in the studios of L.A. to make the music we enjoy in our movies and TV shows and even video games, it’s very much alive and well.”

If You Go:

What: Festival Miami Opening Night: “House of Cards” In Concert

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19

Where: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Cost: $25-$95

Info and full schedule at FestivalMiami.com