MIAMI BEACH, FL - When most folks plan their vacation to South Beach, Florida, they likely dream of days spent lounging around pools in stylish art deco hotels, or sunning along the long, wide strip of ocean beach. At night, they might grab dinner al fresco, then dress to the nines in an attempt to gain entry to some trendy hotspot where they can while away the hours dancing, prancing, or just lying around. When it's 80 degrees here and 30° back home, there are worse ways to spend a long weekend.
But, for those who think evenings in Miami Beach are confined to bass beats and overpriced cocktails, consider the New World Symphony, which turned thirty years old this year. I've been a longtime fan of this intrepid youth orchestra/academy, made up of 87 talented young musicians from across the U.S. and, increasingly, from around the world. Like Tanglewood, Aspen, and other post-conservatory programs, most come here to enhance their already-formidable skills in the hope of landing a position with a major orchestra. But instead of just one or two summers, at New World the fellows are given three years of all-expense-paid tuition, room and board - all just a stone's throw from the beach. Not a bad way to spend your post-college years.
In prior visits, my experience has been limited to performances in the sparkling, Frank Gehry-designed New World Center, which opened in 2011 and remains the best small concert hall in America (second only to Gehry's Disney Hall in L.A.) But, after spending three days in South Beach sitting in on rehearsals, discussions, and performances, I've come to realize that what appears onstage at the New World Center on any given night is just one facet of a sophisticated, technologically advanced organization that over three decades has evolved from humble beginnings into a premier training ground for the musicians of the 21st century.