Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Study in Contrasts

The New World Symphony is a wonderful institution. Founded 22 years ago by Michael Tilson Thomas,  who still conducts, the NWS is an orchestral academy which trains and showcases talented young musicians. Since shortly after its founding, it has made its home at South Beach's Lincoln Theatre, which boasts a restored art deco exterior and a modern, comfortable interior with great acoustics.

This afternoon, I attended a lovely NWS performance. The orchestra played selections by Milhaud, Ravel, Berg, and Richard Strauss. The young musicians were masterful. They combined tremendous technical skill with freshness and enthusiasm. The audience was also enthusiastic, giving the performers a well-deserved standing ovation. But I was more struck by the stark difference between the musicians and their audience—the musicians were all in their twenties, while those of us in the audience were mostly seniors.

This is a common phenomenon at classical music concerts, but somehow at this performance, where the musicians themselves were so young, the contrast seemed all the greater. Their musicianship makes it clear that there's no shortage of brilliant young musicians, but their audience appears to be on its last legs.

The NWS seems to think there's still a market for its musical product. It will soon move into a new Frank Gehry-designed campus right around the corner from the Lincoln Theatre. The orchestra hopes to create interest in classical music among a younger generation. I hope they succeed, because it's certainly weird to feel like one of the youngest in the crowd at age 60.

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