Classical starpower in the spotlight for SoBe Arts string festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Violinist Lara St. John will perform Dec. 6 in Miami Beach as part of the SoBe Arts American Masterworks String Festival. Photo: Twain Newhart

Serendipity has become an artistic way of life for Carson Kievman.

The composer and educator first came to Miami in 1990 as resident composer for the now-defunct Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. When Kievman returned to South Florida fifteen years later after a teaching stint at Princeton University, he intended to concentrate on creating new works.

But what Kievman terms “a quirk of life” led him to found the SoBe Institute of the Arts (SoBe Arts) when a music teacher friend needed working space. Then three years ago, a release party with violinist Anastasia Khitruk for one of her recordings started the ball rolling for SoBeArts’ ambitious festival of string music, which opens Dec. 5.

The American Masterworks String Festival is a five-day series of concerts, lecture-demonstrations and master classes at the school’s Miami Beach campus and the Colony Theater. Kievman has attracted several renowned artists for this event: cellist Matt Haimovitz, violist Kim Kashkashian and violinists Lara St. John and Khitruk.

Pulitzer Prize winner John Corigliano will be composer-in-residence. “We wanted a forum for great American music and a high-profile composer for a celebration of his work,” Kievman said. Each of the artists will present a solo recital and then join forces for the festival finale on December 10.

The festival programs encompass a wide-ranging survey of American composers, from familiar names of the past such as Stephen Foster and Aaron Copland to living composers like Ned Rorem, Elliott Carter, Stephen Paulus, and Zhou Long, a recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for music.

Corigliano will be represented by performances of his Violin Sonata, The Red Violin Caprices and Stomp, a violin piece that Lara St. John recently premiered in Canada. Kievman’s own Sine Nomine, a string arrangement of a vocal work based on plainchant, will also be heard. The festival concludes with a performance of Black Angels, octogenarian George Crumb’s rarely heard 1970 score for amplified string quartet.

Carson Kievman

For Kievman, the festival is only part of SoBe Arts’ larger mission. When he proposed renovation of two abandoned buildings in the convention center area to the Miami Beach City Commission, Kievman envisioned a campus that would combine education with high-level performance events in an environment that would foster the creation of new works.

With the assistance of then-Commissioner Saul Gross, he obtained a capital improvement grant to rehabilitate the historic Carl Fisher Clubhouse, one of the city’s oldest structures built in 1915, and the long dormant Little Stage Theater, originally constructed in 1937. Converting the two buildings into classroom space and a black box theater, Kievman launched an ambitious arts education program, drawing faculty from the New World Symphony and the local arts community. Classes in music and drama are offered for children and adults..

Kievman strongly feels that this type of education and performance facility is necessary for the arts to continue to flourish in South Florida. “Lack of arts education equals lack of arts lovers,” he said. “We want to instill a lifelong love of the arts in our students,” he said.

Despite the current economic recession, he has continued to expand the campus, opening the theater and concert space in 2010. “If the economy improves, we should be in a great position,” Kievman stated, noting that the entire project started with nothing and the launching of next week’s festival is a milestone for his vision of building a world-class conservatory and an enclave for the artistic community where creativity will flourish.

He hopes to make the American music festival an annual event and is planning the premiere of his opera Hamlet, a long-delayed project, for February at the SoBe campus. Reflecting continued optimism, Kievman said “We are keeping an open mind about what great ideas and opportunities will develop in the future.”

SoBe Arts presents the American Masterworks String Festival December 5-10 at the SoBe Arts Institute and the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. 305-674-9220;

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Wed Nov 30, 2011
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