By Lawrence Budmen

Can you imagine a world renowned opera star singing Happy Birthday to you right in the middle of a public concert? Well that’s exactly what occurred on May 5 at the Carnival Center when Renee Fleming serenaded Lynn Arison, widow of Carnival Cruise Lines magnet Ted Arison, with birthday greetings in a special arrangement – half Baroque, half neo-Impressionistic – by Michael Tilson Thomas. Happy Birthday never sounded quite like this version. Arison, her late husband, and her son Mickey have been instrumental in the founding and support of the New World Symphony, America’s only full time orchestral academy – a gift to Miami and young musicians that keeps on giving. 

Fleming’s glorious vocalaise was icing on the cake to the New World’s final concert of the season, a stellar evening all around. Fleming brought that extra touch of glamour and the voice of an angel to Richard Strauss’s poignant Four Last Songs. These valedictory lieder are deeply moving, a combination of nostalgia and resignation. The final two songs – Upon Going to Sleep and At Sunset – are as glorious as any opus ever penned by Strauss. Fleming’s opulent, gleaming soprano soared through the Knight Concert Hall’s warm acoustics with magical fervor. Tilson Thomas and the New World players gave her vital, attentive support. In response to a cheering ovation, Fleming sang another Strauss song of more heroic bent. 

The New World Symphony sounds wonderfully lush and richly sonorous at Miami’s glorious new concert hall, in contrast to the harsh acoustics of the Lincoln Theater. That wonderful sound benefited Sibelius’s Symphony No.2 in D minor immensely. This eloquent score was treated to a vigorous, noble traversal. Tilson Thomas’s crisp tempos and the burnished orchestral sound made this a Sibelius performance for the ages. In the soaring finale, the restless build up to the climax had an inexorable sense of inevitability. The triumphant climax rang the rafters. (Many of the musicians were playing their final concert in their three season New World fellowship. Tilson Thomas asked them to stand to accept the evening’s final applause.) 

Not to be outdone, New World conducting fellow Steven Jarvi opened the evening with a rousing, super intense version of Dvorak’s Carnival Overture. Sensuous string playing and razor sharp brass brought sparkle and lilt to the Czech composer’s festive creation.

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