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Miami’s Nu Deco Ensemble reimagines classical music for modern listeners

If you’ve ever been deeply moved by a song in which melodic vibrations take a ride down your spine and make every hair stand on end, you’ve experienced musical frisson. Nu Deco Ensemble, Miami’s own chamber symphony, packs an auditory punch to do just that.

The 24-piece musical force has taken the classical genre and reimagined for a new-age sound and crowd, while still playing the classics of modern-day composers. In contrast to a traditional symphony, in which there’s usually two of every instrument, Nu Deco only has one of each, like most small bands that call themselves 21st-century orchestras.

Reworking songs from the likes of Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem, and collaborating with Miami musicians, Nu Deco ingeniously taps into the independent experimental music market and expands a platform for local artists to highlight Miami talent. The symphony also works with local set designers, digital visuals and engineers.

Thursday night, Nu Deco Ensemble will be joined in concert by local groove band Spam Allstars at the North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach. The show is presented in partnership with Rhythm Foundation, a nonprofit arts organization specializing in international artists.

The collaboration seems inevitable: Spam Allstars founder Andrew Yeomanson (known as DJ Le Spam) and Nu Deco’s creative director and co-founder Sam Hyken previously worked together on a project with New World Symphony.

Hyken, a pop music composition and ear training professor at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, has professionally played the trumpet and worked as an orchestral musician since 1999. He’s also the composer and arranger for the ensemble and masterfully crafts music for both groups, creating a harmonious marriage in sound.

“It’s my job as a composer is to go in and listen and say, ‘What sounds of theirs would fit right in for the orchestra?’” Hyken said. “We’re playing some of their original music and some of the sounds that Andrew and the band have created along with some of the acoustic instruments and orchestrating them.”

For Yeomanson, the most exhilarating part of the partnership is presenting Spam Allstars’ music and hearing the songs reach another level.

Spam Allstars began in 1993 and has played a weekly residency at Little Havana nightclub Hoy Como Ayer since 2002. Yeomanson said the band finds inspiration and challenge in taking on new projects.

“If you have a mini-orchestra in the case of Nu Deco, you have all these textures and sounds and possibilities that you don’t have with a six-piece band. You’re able to go to other places. With my six-piece band, I can do certain things. It’s like a sports car. You can take a hard corner or you can stop really fast,” Yeomanson said. “An orchestra is like being on a really big ship. You can go to a totally different place in a boat than you can on a car. You’re going to see and experience things on a way different level, so there’s something cool about both things. It’s just a thrill.”

Nu Deco experiments with different musical styles in hopes of shattering any stigma associated with classical music, and to better engage the youth-culture generation and talent.

“We feel often times contemporary music can reach new audiences. It’s not the orchestra or the [classical] music; it’s the overall experience,” Hyman said. “We’re not not playing any of that music; we’re just presenting it in a way that we feel is current and fresh as well. We’re also presenting a lot of new music of composers we feel are current and are reflective of society today. They have a sound that’s much more aligned with today’s audiences and style traditions of the concert hall now.”

Last summer, Nu Deco performed with local electronic band Afrobeta. Cuci Amador (real name Cristina Garcia), the duo’s front-woman, and Smurphio (Tony Laurencino on the synth) can be seen on Nu Deco’s YouTube channel taking direction from the symphony’s other artistic director, co-founder and conductor Jacomo Bairos. In a cosmic musical performance for Afrobeta’s track Clones, Bairos aligns the audience and the music in visual connection and is a perfect introduction to the intensity that the ensemble adds to independent acts.

“It’s incredible to work with an ensemble, it makes you realize how much more you could bring if you were able to work with other instrumentation,” Amador said.

“I felt so respected as an artist,” Smurfio added. “When the head professor of percussion from the University of Miami calls you because he wants to collaborate with you, it’s incredible. For us, we felt like we broke through a ceiling. Nu Deco Ensemble is the best thing to happen to live music in 2015.”

The ensemble also worked with students from the Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts for a side-by-side reading of the Daft Punk Suite with the ensembles members and read a student composition. They chose the area because Bairos, a Homestead native, saw the need of underserved pockets in South Dade.

Recently, Nu Deco received a $50,000 educational grant from The Heineman Foundation in New York. Symphony members are overwhelmed by all the goodwill and support they’ve received for this project, which began last April. Their mission is to educate young players, connect established musicians with each other and create a re-imagination of the orchestra.

Hyken also want to show the world that there’s more to Miami culture than what people see on television.

“Miami has a voice, and it’s a voice that’s constantly developing and constantly strengthening,” he said. “I feel like it’s ready to say ‘Hello’ to the world right now. In question of Miami, Pitbull’s awesome, but people think that’s the whole culture here and its not. There’s a whole other thing happening and I tell people outside Miami all the time. That’s what we want to do. We want to go out of Miami, tour and say, ‘We are the orchestra of Miami. We’re the musical ambassadors of this city.’”