By Lawrence Budmen

The joyous sounds of great music and good times lit up Lincoln Road on February 4 when the New World Symphony, the Miami based National Orchestral Academy, presented Symphony with a Twist. South Beach yuppies crowded the lobby of the Lincoln Theater for a Happy Hour and concert. Delicious light bites from Il Bistrot Della Gelateria and cool jazz by the terrific duo of Aaron Lebos (guitar) and Bryan Robertson (keyboards) entertained the lively crowd. Most of the throng was attending a New World Symphony event for the first time and the experience was heady. After the high spirited party, the concert was a real rouser and, to many of the newcomers to classical music in the audience, a revelation. 

With Luis Aguirre of Channel 7’s Deco Drive serving as the evening’s host, the concert brought together the high energy performances of the New World Symphony fellows with the rhythmic, highly colorful music of Rimsky-Korsakov, Gershwin, and Ravel. Joana Carneiro, Principal Guest Conductor of the Metropolitan Orchestra of Lisbon, provided dynamic leadership on the podium.

The concert opened with a rousing performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. Carneiro captured the music’s Spanish rhythms and color with astute mastery and idiomatic authenticity. The orchestra’s cello section and horns sounded rich and full in the piece’s second movement Variations. The evening’s concertmaster Nancy Chang played her solos brilliantly. Chang has the fleet virtuosity and rich, vibrant tone of a violinistic superstar. Julie Smith’s harp solos really glistened. The concluding Asturian Fandango sparkled. Carneiro found the Latin fervor beneath Rimsky-Korsakov’s opulent orchestral palette. 

Between performances (while the stage was reset) the New World’s ace Vice President for Marketing and Public Relations Marc Fest interviewed two members of the orchestra – flutist Ebonee Thomas and horn player Ryan Gruber. Their comments and anecdotes gave the audience a first hand picture of what makes the New World academy so special. 

Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue can sound passé but not in the hands of Terence Wilson. This young pianist has 24 carat virtuosity to burn. Wilson is a real dynamo. His technique dazzles the ear. A striking figure in a black leather suit, Wilson brought jazzy brilliance and lightning speed to this musical evergreen. He made the Rhapsody really swing but did not ignore its grand classical line. His octaves and runs were truly breathtaking – so was the finely elegant phrasing of the big romantic theme. Stephanie Wernli was the agile clarinetist whose opening riff (right out of klezmer) was nothing short of astounding! The orchestra sounded lush and rhapsodic under Carneiro’s taut direction. Wilson and Carneiro reinvented this thrice familiar score. They put the jazzy modernity back in the music. 

Carneiro’s imaginative take on Ravel’s Bolero brought the evening to a smashing conclusion. She began at a very slow tempo. Ebonee Thomas’s flute solo was scintillating. Gradually, almost imperceptively, Carneiro accelerated the tempo. Instead of being monotonous, she brought the music to vibrant life – emphasizing myriad orchestral colors and constantly changing instrumental textures. Rick Basehore’s evocative English horn solo was beautifully articulated. A clarion trumpet turn by Justin Bartels riveted attention and a jazzy trombone solo by Maciej Pietraszko emphasized the musical relationship to the preceding Gershwin score. (Gershwin and Ravel were friends.) With the cobwebs dusted off, this Bolero was exciting. Joana Carneiro is a terrifically gifted conductor – definitely a young artist to watch. The splendid playing of the New World Symphony was a total delight. For the large and enthusiastic audience, this concert was a real event. Kudos to the NWS for producing this wonderful South Beach arts happening!

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