By Sebastian Spreng, Visual Artist and Classical Music Writer
Good music refreshes body and soul. Two sequential events this torrid June confirmed the error of the equation “Miami + Beach + summer = Bye-bye, classical music.” Both the Baroque concert at the Iglesia-Museo Perú Nuestra Señora de la Merced and the finale of the 20th season of the Mainly Mozart Festival at the University of Miami’s Maurice Gusman Concert Hall exceeded all expectations. Both venues were packed – literally overflowing – with audiences hungry for good music.
The “excuse” for the Baroque concert was the retirement of venerable musicologist Frank Cooper from the Frost School of Music. It was held in a new, unexpected venue that should host more musical performances. The charming Iglesia-Museo Perú Nuestra Señora de la Merced church-museum displays a splendid collection of Spanish Colonial art in a neighborhood away from the cultural circuit, although just minutes from the Miami Design District and Wynwood.
The Mainly Mozart Festival, a good example of creative programming, combined chamber music and contemporary dance. The festival also featured three exceptional musicians (violinist Eli Matthews, cellist Joshua Roman and pianist Marina Radiushina, the new, extremely talented, artistic director of the traditional festival) playing an unusual repertoire that elicited enthusiastic audience response. The repertoire included works by Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, Leos Janacek and Manuel de Falla, a Mozart trio and an encore by Astor Piazzolla in which the three musicians sparked off each other. Videos by Ali Habashi, passages read by Frank Cooper and Radiushina herself, plus the premiere of Adriana Pierce’s choreographed version of Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music with Miami City Ballet dancers brought to a spectacular close an effervescent Sunday afternoon, only slightly marred by an excess of introductions and expressions of gratitude.
The success of both programs brings up a question that arouses ever greater, well-justified interest: Why doesn’t Miami host a multidisciplinary summer festival to compete with the dozens of festivals that thrive throughout the country? Local organizations would do well to step up and plan a joint event, perhaps a casual and relaxed series that meets this obvious need. One or two weeks of good music would enjoy the unconditional support of an audience that faces an overload of events during the winter season, when sometimes several are scheduled on the same day. A good precedent is the success, years ago, of the series Beethoven by the Beach, organized by the fondly remembered Florida Philharmonic Orchestra under James Judd.
Opera, ballet, symphonic and chamber music, jazz and other genres would slake the musical thirst of the hefty segment of the audience that doesn’t travel or spend the summer up north, and would also draw European tourists and winter vacationers from South America. Even if they come here seeking beaches and shopping, many visitors would attend, and artists would sign up, enticed by the idea of making music while vacationing alone or with their families by the sea.
The Adrienne Arsht Center, the New World Symphony, Art Basel Miami Beach, Seraphic Fire, Miami City Ballet, MOCA, FIU’s Frost Art Museum, the revitalized Florida Grand Opera, the upcoming Pérez Art Miami Museum and the Frank Gehry-designed YoungArts Center at the Bacardi Building are only some of South Florida’s artistic assets that were unthinkable barely decades ago and confirm Miami’s status as a nascent cultural metropolis. Privileged in every way, the area has the facilities and the potential to make a summer festival a reality. All that’s needed is local organizations to launch a joint effort.
Needless to say, “there’s strength in numbers” and “where there’s a will there’s a way,” two clichés to keep in mind when envisioning a much-needed summer festival that cannot be should not be put off any longer. The die is cast and Miami’s loss will be another’s gain.