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Miami Wagner Institute

Wagner Concert Pulls Out All the Stops
Miami Beach, FL. 7/23/2018

The Miami Music Festival outdid itself yet again with this season’s piece de resistance, the annual Wagner Institute’s performance at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach on Saturday. Entering its fifth year, the Festival makes active strides to expand and surpass with every new season, and fans of the three-year-old, internationally-respected Wagner program were surely not disappointed by this year’s presentation.

Under the baton of Artistic Director and Founder Michael Rossi, the full-sized Festival Orchestra performed the second acts of the renowned works Lohengrin and Die Walküre, with casts that blend veteran Wagnerian superstars, such as Alan Held and Linda Watson, with young professionals who attend the training program to brush elbows and sharpen their chops with famous faculty and co-stars. The festival welcomed Antoine Wagner among the stars on this year’s roster, who, in addition to being the composer Richard Wagner’s great-great-grandson, has made his name as a distinctive international visual artist with an impressive resume.

The second act of Lohengrin starred young singers who acquitted themselves well of their roles, especially the dulcet soprano Megan Nielson, who sang a heavenly Elsa, and Peter Bass as the plotting, acrimonious Friedrich of Telramund. The treat in this half was the thrilling combination of full-sized romantic orchestra and a festival-wide chorus tackling some of Wagner’s finest musical themes.

The turbulent opening themes of Die Walkure were deftly sculpted by the orchestra under Rossi’s conducting, producing a roiling sound that underscored the cold, foggy projections of Wagner’s visual design. Alan Held, who returns for his third year with the festival, sank into his signature role of Wotan with masterful dimension. In contrast to the menace of Held’s Wotan, Vivien Shotwell sang Fricka with a delicacy and tenderness difficult to achieve given the weight of the role (and orchestra). Linda Watson was an energetic Brünnhilde, and Dominic Armstrong sang the hero Siegmund with great warmth, especially in the top of his range.

The highlight of the concert was Wagner’s imaginative visual design throughout Die Walküre’s Act II. Frank Gehry’s New World Center is a breathtaking venue that requires a reconceptualization of space in both stage and visual production, and here Antoine Wagner thrives. In lieu of stage sets, which would be difficult to execute in the space, massive cinematic projections cast across the three ceiling panels that tower over the u-shaped stage. Behind the orchestra and singer-actors, squalls rolled in across a stormy Valhalla as Wotan and Fricka argued; later spectacular Nordic mountain passes gave way to a stark, concrete ruin where Siegmund and Sieglinde rested from their flight from Hunding’s hall.

The combination of visual creativity and live performance, underscored by the wall of sound from the compositional masterpiece, converged into a feast for the senses, making for a truly special evening. The Festival, which runs for 8 weeks from June to end of July every year, has grown in leaps and bounds in its five-year tenure and continues to impress with the quality of musicianship it brings to South Florida and the imagination of each production. After Saturday, it is clear the future of opera and orchestral performance is bright with such creativity steering the way.



A photography exhibition on the Miami Pop Festival which was “where the seeds of Woodstock were sown”. The festival featured Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Frank Zappa and many others. The photos in the exhibition were taken by Ken Davidoff and took a deeper look at the first rock festival on the East Coast. The opening was marked by live music with special guests Lee Tiger and Leon Hendrix. The exhibition was hosted by and held at HistoryMiami Museum. It is a premier cultural institution that is committed to the gathering, organizing celebrating and preserving the history of Miami. The museum helps everyone to understand the significance of the past in shaping Miami’s future with the help of different kinds of presentations.


A five-time winner of the DownBeat Collegiate Award, the Frost Latin Jazz Orchestra brought to the audience a performance by Grammy nominee and McArthur fellow Dafnis Prieto. the event was organized by the Frost School of Music. The organization seeks to improve our lives through the study and performance of music.  It is devoted to excellence and a culture characterized by a culture of collegiality, in which diverse people, careers and musical styles are encouraged. The performance consisted of songs from his new big-band album. Also, Alberto de La Reguera will premiere new works for the orchestra to complete an exciting evening of music. The event was held at UM Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables.


Vitri Corporation collaborated with local collectors of art and event partners to organize a two-week art exhibition at the company’s headquarters and showroom in Allapattah. The exhibition was graced with artworks and sculptures by artists who have acquired global acclaim such as Carlos Cruz Diez, Anrika Rupp, Carlos Cabezza, Jorge Blanco and many others and had the theme “Living with Art”. The space was designed for giving it the feel of a home environment having photography, mixed media, paintings and sculptures arranged cautiously throughout. The mission of the foundation is to build sustainable, visually appealing and economical structures for impoverished areas throughout the nation. The co-producer and the host of the event were Alban Communications.


An international festival of hip-hop dance theatre which celebrated the origins and evolution of hip-hop culture. It included performances by world champion dance troupes and also a free Block Part featuring dance workshops, installations of graffiti and much more. The programme was presented by the Adrienne Arsht Centre and Knight Foundation at the Adrienne Arsht Centre for the Performing Arts. The organizations assemble in one place, artists and audiences to provide out of the ordinary cultural and educational programmes of the highest standard for a diverse audience.

Tonight @Wynwood Yard: Local Songwriter Comes Full Circle with CD Release

Tonight, Wynwood Yard will throw a party that honors a little bit of jazz, a little bit of Vonnegut, and years worth of passion and hard work rolled up into a freshly-minted compact disc. The Zach Larmer Electric Band will be out performing works from their debut album, self-released and available today. We had the great pleasure of talking to composer/bandleader/local music impresario Zach Larmer about the development and recording of the album, with a sneak peak of what to expect from tonight’s show.

Continue reading Tonight @Wynwood Yard: Local Songwriter Comes Full Circle with CD Release

(Mostly) Jazz swings at the Betsy on SoBe: Art Basel and Beyond

Here at the Miami Arts Review we’ve grown very fond of the Betsy Hotel for its dedication to injecting arts and culture into public space. As Art Basel returned to the city for its 2015 winter run, South Beach’s dining and entertainment scene featured a plethora of venues to enjoy live music, but few are so committed to ensuring the quality of the Betsy Hotel’s (Mostly) Jazz live music series. Twice weekly, and more frequently during Art Basel, hotel guests, diners at BLT Steak, and the savvy music aficionado are privy to an array of world-class musicians presenting in the lobby’s performance space. Continue reading (Mostly) Jazz swings at the Betsy on SoBe: Art Basel and Beyond

Pugilists of the pen face-off at Miami’s 9th Literary Death Match

Last evening our very own Vice City played host to it’s 9th edition of Literary Death Match, an international reading-series-turned-game-show produced just in time for the Miami Book Fair International. Nestled in the well-appointed lobby of the Standard Hotel & Spa, the Literary Death Match episode interrupted a private authors’ party, playing expertly to its close-quartered audience.

Combining literature and performance in a comically competitive event, creator and host Adrian Todd Zuniga is a dizzying compère. The gathering of writers and literary fans, and the occasional wandering hotel guest trying to return to a room, pits four authors against each other in a competitive reading of original works, each under a seven minute time constraint. Despite the suggestively violent title of the series, the environment was warm and humorous. Rounds one and two featured award-winning journalist and author of A River Runs Again, Meera Subramanian, Colin Channer, author of the poetry collection Providential and best-selling novel Waiting in Vain, Sara Benincasa, author of DC Trip, and Bob Morris, best known for his works Crispin the Terrible and  Assisted Loving. During an LDM match, the real challenge for these authors is performing a reading live. The work having already been written, they must woo the audience, emote, breathe life into words they’ve crafted with both care and wit. They perform with the best comedic timing and natural delivery they can muster and adjust to the many variables of a live audience (laughter, people moving around from room to room, a small dog run amuck through the lobby, etc.). All is taken into consideration by the judges after each performance.

The panel of judges featured an equally exciting crew of established authors: Richard Price, author of The Whites, Clockers, Lush Life and contributing screenwriter to the critically-acclaimed television series The Wire; Joy-Ann Reid, national MSNBC correspondent and author of Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons and the Racial Divide; Eric Bogosian, actor, monologist and playwright, and author of Operation Nemesis; and Chip Kidd, art director, book designer, and author of Only What’s Necessary. They provided commentary after each round, sometimes sage, sometimes profane, always  constructive and humorous. They were honest and friendly, keeping the competitive environment light at all times.

At the risk of mythologizing an already larger-than-life personality, the whole collaboration couldn’t pull off such success without the theatrics of Mr. Zuniga. Tailored and thin, and both bombastic and intellectual, Mr. Zuniga presides over all with a fast-talking panache reminiscent of variety show hosts of an earlier era; the effect, while vaudevillian, is apropo, for how else does one make static written word attention-grabbing in a live performance format? Quoting Dorothy Parker and wielding his microphone like a cocktail, Zuniga keeps it fast-paced enough to stay interesting, and on track when writers push their time-limits.

Once two finalists had been chosen (Benincasa and Channer) the show wrapped with a ridiculous tiebreaker: a Literary Spelling Bee finale in which the two had to spell complicated author names for a shot at the title as winner (here Zuniga waived home made cardstock signs with the correct spellings over their heads for the audience). These moments of comedy and borderline absurdity tied the Literary Death Match together and contribute to its steady growth in popularity. To date, LDM has been held in 60 cities all over the world, from Los Angeles to Beijing, and anyone fortunate enough to catch one will appreciate the opportunity to hear this generation’s great writers perform their own works at the expense of a  few laughs.
The next Literary Death Match will be held Dec. 4 in Bucharest, Romania.
Visit for more information on the series, podcasts, and authors featured in Miami’s episode.

photograph republished from website

The Betsy A Cappella Festival Kicks off its Second Year at the Adrienne Arsht Center

There’s an old Latin proverb, Vox Populi, Vox Dei: ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God’.

Being witness to a gathering of 150 voices raised in song together, and those the voices of young people, was indeed a divine experience. The Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center opened its doors early on an otherwise quiet Friday morning to fill the cavernous space with music for the 2015 The Betsy A Cappella Festival. 150 high schoolers traveling from as far as Baltimore, MD, gathered for the experience, where the most experienced in their industry were brought to them for series of masterclasses and vocal intensives on the emerging collegiate a cappella genre.

The Betsy Hotel’s Vice President of Marketing, Philanthropy, and Programs Deborah Briggs is the alchemist who wove community and the arts together yet again, and she and Andrew Goldberg, Vice President of Marketing at the Arsht Center, gave a warm welcome to kick-off the festival.

In the annual event, high school participants need not be serious a cappella singers already, but they travel out of an interest to study the craft and tools necessary to reproduce arrangements and blends back home or later in musical careers. The first workshop was led by Shams Ahmed, an accomplished arranger and musical director, who brought a small female ensemble, the Park School Eightnotes, as vocal guinea pigs. His presentation provided a no-nonsense guide into the necessity of technique and discipline in order to sing a capella healthfully. He then had the larger group warm up as well, showing them how physical gesture can free the sound, and a smile can help the voice focus “like a laser,” to carry farther with less effort. His enthusiasm reverberated among the students, who, reserved at first, began to loosen up and enjoy themselves. Personalities started to materialize and singing grew in confidence and passion, matching Ahmed’s stride.

For the second session, the students were split into groups to work with established a cappella professionals, each of whom could impart some of their own experience. In one of the groups, Lauren France and Holly Kitching, members of the professional group VXN, discussed the strategies and challenges to starting an a cappella group, and how their a cappella careers draw parallels and leave impacts on other endeavors they pursue outside of their musical lives.

In a another presentation, the festival’s scholastic producer Jesse Louise Mark gave a session on arranging a new piece for a cappella ensemble. She used John Legend’s single ‘All of Me’ to demonstrate the breakdown of a piece into parts by identifying meter, transcribing a bass line, arranging three-part harmony, and giving proper attention to the voicing of the parts. During a culminating run of the song, she pulled a volunteer to sing the melody, while the ensemble tuned together, gently oscillating between soft “ooo’s” and open “ah” vowels to produce a warm overtone ring. As the verses looped, the students got to practice the interpolation of leading tones and rhythmic subdivision they’d just workshopped. The session finished with a discussion on the value of music theory in a cappella and the greater music industry.

One of the high points for the weekend’s event was a session led by singer-songwriter India Carney, a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts and YoungArts Winner in Voice & Theater, who pivoted the conversation into a more soul-searching aspect of a singing career. Carney covered the value of breathe and posture, but dug deeper into the role of the singer as storyteller, posing questions about finding your own signature and connecting with the audience. She also pulled a volunteer to the front, having her sing Adele’s hit ‘Someone Like You,’ to demonstrate how breathe can unleash more of the instrument, coloring a piece with emotional range. The demonstration was transformative. The student singer stood taller, sang warmly, and overcame her initial shivers of stage fright with India by her side. The rest of the students were equally mesmerized and supportive, and it became immediately evident how powerful the festival was for these participants.

Saturday morning the sessions continued with a “Mix & Match” master class that broke students down into groups of strangers to sing together for the first time, each group under the direction of a different industry professional, including Vocal Coach and arranger for NBC’s The Sing Off, and Grammy Award-winning arranger Ben Bram of Pentatonix. The exercise best imparts the sense of community choral singing fosters, as young people who never met before raised their voices in harmony to create an experience larger than the individual. This is the first and most relevant achievement of a cappella as a genre, but the master classes made it quite apparent that, even beyond that collaborative power, musical expression through singing touches each of these students individually as well, as they find their own voices and sense of self along the way.

The 2015 Betsy A Cappella Festival ran for two days from Oct. 23-24, and culminated in a final free performance at the Miami Beach Community Church Saturday evening at 7:30 pm. The event was made possible by the Betsy Hotel’s arts programming, and occurs annually. For more information, go to