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The New World Symphony Plays Shostakovich's Fifth In Miami Beach

For more than a decade now, the conventional image of South Florida as extended retirement community has been belied by the revival of Miami Beach. If anything, the reef island at the tip of the peninsula has become a magnet for the hip, the fashionable, and most definitively, the young. Which makes the presence of the New World Symphony/America’s Orchestral Academy eminently apt.

Founded in 1987 by famed conductor Michael Tilson Thomas who remains its artistic director, the orchestra is comprised of gifted young graduates of outstanding music programs. Each year, approximately 30 musicians are selected out of 1000 applicants, and for the next three years, they live together (rent-free) in two converted Miami Beach Hotels, and practice, study, and perform in the Art Deco-landmarked Lincoln Theater on Lincoln Road, Miami Beach’s byway for pedestrians (the 2006-2007 season also includes three performances at Miami’s Carnival Center for the Performing Arts), and take the show on the road to such destinations as New York’s Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall, London’s Barbican Centre, and Paris’ Bastille Opera and Cité de la Musique often in the company of such musical luminaries as Yo-Yo Ma and Renée Fleming. At the end of their intensive fellowships, participants are well positioned to assume coveted roles in orchestras and ensembles throughout the world.

 As part of a season’s offerings, the New World Symphony presents an “In-Context” Festival where a particular theme is examined from within a historical and cultural perspective. For 2006-2007, the subject was “The World of Shostakovich” which celebrated the centennial of the composer’s birth through concerts, a lecture, film, and a concurrent art exhibition at Miami Beach’s Wolfsonian FIU Museum.

Our exposure to this exceptional series was in a Friday night “Discovery Concert” where maestro Michael Tilson Thomas preceded the performance of Shostakovich’s ambiguous Fifth Symphony with a disarming lecture accompanied by video that anchored the composer in his time and place. It revealed the emergence of his artistry, part of nationalistic creative expression, in the free-wheeling liberalism of the years following the Russian Revolution, then compared that time to the repressive Stalin-dominated period which followed, focusing on Shostakovich’s official condemnation and the subsequent restoration of his reputation with his Fifth Symphony. At turns playful and serious yet consistently engaging, Thomas led musicians in small excerpts that illustrated his commentary and pointed out the work’s themes, Mahler-like influences, and passages that could be interpreted in dramatically different ways.

So prepared, the audience was treated to a complete performance of the symphony, masterfully executed and encompassing the range of human emotions from the powerful first movement evoking the thrust of Beethoven beginnings, to the stomping Scherzo, the purity and poignancy of the slow movement and on to a triumphant conclusion of the three notes Thomas had alerted us to that brought the assembled to their feet in rousing acclaim.

It was an “enchanted evening” and a “singular sensation” to witness Michael Tilson Thomas, as maestro but also mentor, lead a group of young musicians who were virtually lifted out of their seats with passion for performance. And it happened on a summery night in February in Miami Beach. If only Shostakovich were there.

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New World Symphony/America’s Orchestral Academy
541 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Box Office Phone: 305-673-3331
Web:  http://

Photograph courtesy of New World Symphony

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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