The famous architect Frank Gehry, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Price in 1989, and the founder and artistic director of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy, Michael Tilson Thomas are linked by a long and close friendship. Their professional paths crossed when the American architect was chosen to design the new building for the New World Center in Miami Beach, home to the institutions masterfully directed by Tilson Thomas, also known by his fans as MTT.
“I’ve known Michael Tilson Thomas for many years. What he does with a very generous teaching program for young musicians in Miami, the New World Symphony, and the way he teaches is very special, and, so this building is a teaching facility,” says Gehry.
The America’s Orchestral Academy, founded in 1987 by Californian maestro MTT in Miami, prepares young musicians to develop their career in symphony orchestras or chamber music ensembles around the world. To that end, the renowned academy selects the most gifted graduates of major conservatories in the United States who receive a three-year scholarship and the privilege to integrate the New World Symphony. The academy and the orchestra share the new facilities at the New World Center, which opened in January 2011 and has become a point of cultural reference for the city Miami.
The New World Center is housed in a rectangular glass and white steel building of striking simplicity if we consider the history of Gehry, who is well known for the extravagant designs of prominent buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Michael Tilson Thomas, Frank Gehry.
““It’s a Miami building—it’s not meant to scream out in the neighborhood. The strategy behind the design is to lure in the community, especially those who might be put off by classical music”, says the celebrated architect. “It’s not a public building, except for public performances that they’ll have. It’s mostly a teaching facility. The building has a strong persona, but it fits in very well with the community, and the action is on the inside because that’s where the teaching happens.”
The interior is, in effect, its most outstanding feature, with the sculptural design characteristic of Gehry´s personal style. Through the 79-foot tall glass facade, one can see marvelous images of rehearsal rooms, studios and labyrinthine stairs.
The main auditorium is the heart of the building. It is considered one of the world´s most technologically advanced concert halls, with the capacity to seat 757 people. The distribution of the seats and the stage allows fourteen different configurations. It was designed with the intention of breaking the emotional distance between the audience and the performers, making the musical experience more intimate and accessible. As Gehry explains, “the public remains immersed in the music.”
The sophisticated sound system developed by Yasuhisa Toyota includes large acoustic panels, shaped like sails, which reflect sound and seem to come to life with the theatrical lighting and the images projected onto them. The whole building, especially its rehearsal rooms and studios, are equipped with the most advanced electronic technology, such as high-speed Internet2, which allows the New World Symphony to interact with orchestras in other cities, connecting students with the most renowned teachers during their lectures and establishing contact with composers and conductors in other countries.
Almost three years have passed since its inauguration, and the new center is highly appreciated by those who frequent it and participate in its activities. A huge 7,000 square-feet screen, located on the building’s sidewall, allows the public to enjoy free live concert broadcasts from the auditorium, which have become anticipated events in the city. Miami´s music and art lovers gather in the park opposite the main entrance, next to which there is a screen where they can enjoy musical evenings, film screenings and art videos.
The visionary MTT conceived the idea of the New World Center as a music laboratory, based on the way he teaches, performs and experiences it. The architectural and technological design created by his friend, Frank Gehry, perfectly incorporates this vision. Both artists worked closely together to achieve the main goal of the ambitious project: to make the New World Center a lure to attract the younger generations to the world of classical music. ■