By Lawrence Budmen

After years of planning and construction, Miami finally has a glittering new concert venue. The Knight Concert Hall at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts hosted its first official concert without amplification on October 5 and the hall more than passed the test. The New World Symphony and the Concert Association joined forces to produce a gala in the best sense of the term Ė exciting artists, great music making, champagne, and scrumptious desserts. It was an evening to savor.

From a seat in the choir loft behind the stage, the orchestral sound emerged clear, rich, and well blended. Even the most volatile brass and percussion salvos were never strident or overpowering and the string and wind sections had bloom and presence. 

The gifted young musicians of the New World Symphony, Miamiís one of a kind orchestral academy, sounded brilliant and warmly sonorous. (In the intimate, very bright acoustics of Miami Beachís Lincoln Theater, this orchestra always has tremendous impact. They were no less persuasive in the larger environs of the new hall.)

New World conductor Michael Tilson Thomas opened with a specially commissioned piece by Steven Mackey. Tilson Thomas has long championed Mackeyís rock tinged scores. In many ways Turn the Key, the new work, is an important step forward for Mackey. Beginning with handclapping, the piece embroiders Mackeyís trademark rhythmic impetus in an aura of Aaron Copland style Americana. Reminiscent of Coplandís virile Outdoor Overture, Turn the Key is a delightful curtain raiser.

Russian violin virtuoso Maxim Vengerov took center stage for one of the landmarks of the violin-orchestral literature Ė Beethovenís Violin Concerto in D Major. The first movement was slow going; Vengerovís tempo was hardly the requisite Allegro ma non troppo. When he reached the cadenza, the violinist caught fire. Offering his own lengthy cadenza, Vengerovís playing was beyond mere technique. His violinistic pyrotechnics glistened with the burning inner fire of conviction and artistic revelation. In the Larghetto, Vengerovís velvety tone seemed to take flight on wings of song. He brought elasticity of phrase and joyous elegance to the Rondo finale. Ably abetted by Tilson Thomas and the orchestra, this Beethoven concerto touched sublime heights. 

In response to a standing ovation, Vengerov essayed Massenetís Meditation from Thais (as an encore) with endless beauty of tone and impassioned intensity of utterance. 

With the hallís shiny acoustical canopy (above the stage) lowered, Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman filled the hall with refulgent vocal hues in the Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 for Soprano and Eight Cellos by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Her deep, luminous flood of tone seemed borne on air in the familiar Cantilena (made famous by the great Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayao). Brueggergosman rendered the Dansa with bright, characterful vocalism. The New Worldís cellos matched her phrasing and vocal coloring in a spacious accompaniment. Brueggergosman, in a stunning red gown, capped her performance with a deeply felt acappella spiritual. 

The concluding movement of Aaron Coplandís Symphony No.3 (1946) opens with the composerís stirring Fanfare for the Common Man. With superb brass and percussion playing, Tilson Thomas drew reserves of power from his players. He is a great Copland interpreter; always capturing the musicís quintessentially American spirit. As an encore, Tilson Thomas led a light, airy, scintillating version of the Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein, another American musical icon and Tilson Thomasís mentor Ė the perfect conclusion to a joyous evening and the beginning of a new era for Miami! 

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