By Lawrence Budmen

Something special must be in the air when 1,000 arts patrons throng downtown Miami on a Sunday morning. On August 20 a palpable sense of excitement swept through the soon to be inaugurated Knight Concert Hall at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts when the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra took the stage to rehearse scores by Bruckner, Prokofiev, and Verdi. After several days of closed sessions during which acousticians made minute adjustments to the hall’s flexible acoustical properties, it was time to invite an audience for Tuning the House – a test of the auditorium under concert conditions. 

With the clear, precise baton of Music Director Franz Welser-Most taking musical charge, the orchestra’s luminous sounds thrilled the audience. The hall is a work in progress. While continued adjustments will be made to enhance sound quality, music lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. Miami’s new concert hall was clearly on the way to success. The acoustical problems of Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center will not be repeated here. (Both halls have sound designs by New York’s Artec Associates.) 

“The fundamentals of the room are exactly where they ought to be. We are thrilled,” proclaimed Gary Hanson, the Cleveland Orchestra’s Executive Director. Carnival Performing Arts Center President and CEO Michael Hardy added, “The hall is tunable and extremely responsive. This is not a short process. Acoustical effects are palpable with changes in the variable elements. While it will be a good year before we go through all the variables, the basic setting is pretty close.” Hardy added, “The Cleveland Orchestra can make any hall sound good.”

Robert Conrad, President of Cleveland’s classical radio station WCLV and the voice of the Cleveland Orchestra’s radio broadcasts, revealed plans to return the orchestra to South Florida’s airwaves. (For many years Cleveland Orchestra concerts were carried by Miami’s former classical music station WTMI.) Although technical details remain to be worked out, WCLV and Miami’s WLRN plan to broadcast the Cleveland ensemble’s Carnival Center concerts live. The programs will also become part of the orchestra’s syndicated radio series. Conrad stated that the Knight Concert Hall is “a great broadcasting and recording studio.” 

Cleveland Orchestra chief executive Hanson stated that the cost of orchestra’s annual visits (under a ten year contract with the Carnival Center) will be three and a half million dollars a year. That will be funded by sponsorships and ticket sales. The orchestra is forming a new Florida support organization – the Musical Arts Association of Miami. 

Hanson announced an extensive educational program as part of the Clevelanders annual residency. Music Director Franz Welser-Most and Assistant Conductor Andrew Grams will lead Side-by-Side Rehearsals with the New World Symphony and Cleveland musicians. (Cleveland first chair players will also give master classes for New World fellows.) Grams and orchestra members will work with students at Miami’s New World School of the Arts and perform educational concerts for the Dade County Public Schools. 

In a new relationship with the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, the orchestra will hold reading rehearsals of new scores by student composers as well as instrumental coaching sessions. Dean William Hipp of the UM Frost School of Music proudly acknowledged that “no other university has a similar composition reading program with a major orchestra. This will enhance the work of our students and complement the work of our faculty.” 

With its initial two weeks of concerts in January, 2007, the orchestra will assume a strong local presence. More than just a series of concerts, the Cleveland Orchestra’s annual residency promises to transform Miami’s cultural landscape. 


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