Nu Deco Ensemble serves up a fizzing mix from Bernstein to Kraftwerk

By Lawrence Budmen

Jacomo Bairos conducted the Nu Deco Ensemble Friday night at The Light Box in Wynwood.

Jacomo Bairos conducted the Nu Deco Ensemble Friday night at The Light Box in Wynwood.

The Nu Deco Ensemble has carved out a unique niche for programming music by emerging contemporary composers and cross-genre collaborations with artists who combine pop and classical elements.

In less than two years since its first concert, the orchestra consistently draws the most youthful and multicultural audience of any concert organization in South Florida. On Friday night at the Light Box in Wynwood, conductor Jacomo Bairos led two premieres and further explored the intimate venue’s video possibilities in tandem with live music making.

The program opened with an American classic – the Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein. Sixty years ago this month Bernstein’s operetta opened on Broadway. The show was a flop, running only two months, but Bernstein’s score has achieved cult status and the overture has become a concert staple . . . and for good reason. Is there any better high spirited, chase-the-blues-away opener this side of Rossini? Bairos led a new chamber arrangement by co-artistic director Sam Hyken and this smart reduction preserved Bernstein’s inspired melodies while making individual instrumental details transparent and audible. The rich sound of the orchestra’s violas and cellos stood out in a crisply articulated reading.

Prelude in F by Jorge Mejia, president of Sony Music Latin America and a Nu Deco board member, offered a lively four minutes of Carlos Chavez-like bustle. The composer played the busy keyboard line.

Murder Ballads by Bryce Dessner is scored for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, piano and percussion. The Academy Award-winning composer of the film score for The Revenant, Dessner originally wrote the work for the contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird. Dessner’s engaging thematic material mixes folk and jazz influences. Only the menacing aura of a repetitive figure played by flute and cello suggests the score’s title. In four sections lasting just over ten minutes, the compact work is skillfully conceived and does not overstay its welcome. Playing without a conductor, the players gave Dessner’s work their all.

Last season Nu Deco’s performance of Ricardo Romaneiro’s Strata was an envelope-pushing combination of electronics, traditional and populist genres, tossed off with considerable panache. Romaneiro’s new Digital City is both more and less ambitious. With 3D surround video by Romaneiro’s partner Christian Hannon, the work conjures up a busy urban landscape. Sounds of Miami transit are incorporated into the electronics, and Hannon’s rapid patterns of light were certainly eye-filling. With the composer literally swerving to his music at the console, the score was very loud although its ending fades to quietness. While it definitely made an entertaining barrage of audio and video, the work lacked the wild inventiveness of Strata. It was given a first-rate debut with clear images and high-octane playing.

Singer-composer Kishi Bashi was the featured performer on the program’s second half. A folk-pop singer who loops his own instrumentals (which he controlled with a foot pedal), Bashi has a penchant for odd song titles like “In Fantasia” (about vampires) and “Atticus in the Desert.” He writes flowing rhapsodic melodies and his orchestral charts were quite lush and expansive. His violin and piano work were similarly more creative than the average folk band arrangements. Mike Savino from the group Tall Tall Trees provided backup vocals and banjo and percussive licks. Bashi is a fresh voice in the pop crossover world.

Hyken’s arrangements of rock bands’ work have become this orchestra’s regular closers. Instead of putting a suite of tunes together, this time he offered Kraft-works,¬† a through-composed setting of music by the German band Kraftwerk. Hyken sometimes adds classical references to these compilations and this time he constructed a full-scale fugue. Video images from¬†Mauricio Ceppi matched the rhythms and percussive beats. An excerpt from Hyken’s Daft Punk Suite, played at the ensemble’s debut concert in April 2015, was the evening’s encore and illustrated how far Hyken has come as an arranger.

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

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Nu Deco Ensemble serves up a fizzing mix from Bernstein to Kraftwerk”

  1. Posted Dec 14, 2016 at 12:55 pm by Bob Mayoh

    I attended Friday evening’s concert and I have to say it was one of the most interesting and exciting concerts I have ever attended. Bravo to Nu Deco!

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