Nu Deco Ensemble opens ambitious season with a blast of energy

By Lawrence Budmen

Jacomo Bairos conducted Nu Deco Ensemble Thursday night at The LIght Box theater in Wynwood.

Jacomo Bairos conducted Nu Deco Ensemble’s season-opening concert Thursday night at The Light Box in Wynwood.

The Nu Deco Ensemble, Miami’s adventurous orchestra specializing in contemporary music, opened its season on Thursday night with a high-voltage program that crossed musical genres. Some of the area’s top freelance players comprise this group, which has its own vibe. The ensemble’s concerts draw a young and multicultural audience that is itself unique for classical concerts in South Florida. With seating of no more than five rows on three sides of the stage, the group’s home at The Light Box in Wynwood offers the most intimate and up-close-and-personal experience imaginable.

Adam Schoenberg is one of the classical world’s hot young composers and his mini-overture Go, aptly illustrated why. Like many youthful creative artists, Schoenberg mixes and matches stylistic patterns. His work begins with each of the string players executing overlapping, slightly out-of-sync lines reminiscent of the 1960’s avant-garde. Without missing a beat, the score morphs into catchy melodic fragments with prominent roles for hyped-up percussion battery and electric bass. What seems like a big William Schuman-style ending with a brass chorale over string figures leads to a reprise of the first section.

Schoenberg’s score is a winning curtain-raiser that should become standard concert fare. Jacomo Bairos, the ensemble’s co-artistic director, led a spirited performance with the orchestra playing at top speed and sonic power. Bairos announced that, in partnership with the Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation, Nu Deco has commissioned Schoenberg to write a concerto for two pianos and orchestra.

Judd Greenstein’s Get Up Get Down is pop-infused minimalism. Short motifs and solos from marimba and piano infuse the score with color and instrumental variety. Greenstein manages this fusion of pop and traditional orchestral writing with skill and sophistication. This is the type of piece Bairos excels at and he had the instrumentalists giving there all. Special kudos for the standout solos of pianist Maria Zdralea, electric guitarist Aaron Lebos and Elizabeth Galvan on mallet percussion.

Future Shock by William Brittelle is a three-movement, 20-minute suite that mixes funk and soul into classical molds. A synthesizer adds eerie sounds to the busy string writing in the opening section. The second movement is more symphonic in the contemporary manner of Corigliano or Del Tredici. Brittelle’s rock-based string figures in the final section require precision of the highest order and the Nu Deco players were not wanting. The sheer vitality of Brittelle’s work is irresistible, and he is clearly a composer to watch. Schoenberg and Brittelle were on hand to acknowledge the crowd’s enthusiastic response.

Bilal. Photo: Alex Markow

Bilal. Photo: Alex Markow

Featuring a pop artist on the program’s second half has become a standard part of the Nu Deco format. The Grammy winning singer-songwriter Bilal proved to be the most gifted performer the group has yet presented. This Brooklyn-based vocalist’s multi-style palette runs from bubble-gum rock to ballads. “For You,” the second of his four-song set, was particularly imaginative, traversing rap and falsetto singing and deep dramatic expression. Co-artistic director Sam Hyken’s arrangements rock and swing but his charts also blend strings and guitar in lush romantic style. Hyken’s string postludes to Bilal’s songs were highly inventive with the music sometimes fading out to silence.

The concert concluded with Massive Attack, Hyken’s symphonic arrangement of music by the British electronic trip-hop band of the same name. While orchestral adaptations of rock can turn into mixing musical oil and water, Hyken is such a skilled arranger that his reinventions seldom miss their mark. In pre-performance comments, he pointed out that Massive Attack often samples film and classical genres in their work and that he had deconstructed their songs to highlight the sampling. The resulting blending of instrumental timbres produced its own unique sound. Craig Morris displayed tremendous versatility on trumpet and the huge sonority of Maciej Pietraszko’s trombone added heft to Hyken’s energetic transformations.

Nu Deco Ensemble repeats the program 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Light Box, 404 NW 26 Street in Miami.; 305-702-0116.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Nu Deco Ensemble opens ambitious season with a blast of energy”

  1. Posted Oct 31, 2016 at 11:21 am by Pamela C.

    This was my first time experiencing the magnificence called the Nu Deco Ensemble and I must say I was surprised by the simple yet inviting stage area but once the music began the diversity of the sounds and the soothing ambiance were captivating to say the least. And to top it all off the phenomenal & magnificent BILAL with the orchestra…heaven. I am truly grateful for these little nuggets of greatness in Miami. Thank you!

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Fri Oct 28, 2016
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