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
This past Saturday, the already-popular Gramp’s transformed into the place to be in Miami for both music and activism. The funky Wynwood bar known for karaoke and 80’s power hour dance parties, played host to a massive, 11-hour Everglades Awareness Benefit, featuring some of Miami’s biggest bands and over 18 short talks by local politicians, environmental activist groups, and Floridian non-profits.
Ploppy Palace Productions and Love the Everglades, the movers and shakers behind the Benefit, utilized Gramp’s three different performances spaces to host the volume of events, featuring headlining acts and speakers on its Outside Stage (complete with dance floor, et al), a lineup of performers on its smaller “Inside Stage” in the back barroom, and its main entrance as a performance space for acoustic acts, DJ’s, and speakers. At any given point in time, from 4 pm Saturday to 3 am Sunday morning, one could weave through the venue and focus in on their pick of musical style or political discourse. Gramp’s is an interesting choice for such a large event, given its size – but the close quarters worked to the Benefit’s advantage, as participants were forced to brush elbows. The effect cultivated an overall “party” environment that celebrated the art and music on display as much as it illuminated the plight of the Florida Everglades and the many efforts by present organizations to restore and preserve them.
The event kicked off with speeches from the Love the Everglades movement, then ran a tight schedule through the afternoon. Highlights of the speakers on the main stage included an appearance by Mayor Phillip Stoddard of the City of South Miami and Rep. David Richardson of the Florida House of Representatives, and Laura Reynold, Executive Director of the Tropical Audubon Society. In true Miami fashion, the lengthening of the shadows did little to turn numbers away: Mike Antheil, the Executive Director of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, wasn’t slated until after 11 pm.
Musical highlights included Magic City Hippies (until recently known as the Robby Hunter Band), an indie-funk staple that has captured an infectious throw-back sound, and always draws a regular crowd. Acoustic act from Hollywood, Fl, Brendan O’Hara, also managed to still the inside room with a set of originals, relying upon looping equipment and the wonders of modern technology to fully produce his songs as he performed. A simple midi keyboard, guitar and pedals, and sparse auxiliary percussion transformed into multi-tracked indie-pop replete with harmonies and modern dance rhythms. The headliners, Spam All-Stars and Suenalo, weren’t slated until later in the evening, with Spam All-Stars on at 11:30 pm-12:20 am, and Suenalo on at 1 am. Almost the entirety of the outdoor space was packed with audience members dancing, spilling off the dance floor into side spaces where local artists and artisans had set up shop.
The Benefit comes at a time when the Florida Everglades have been front and center in state policy dialogue. A source of water for over 20 million Americans and home to 20 different species on the Endangered Animal List, the Everglades have been the victim of much state legislative controversy. Though an “Land and Water Amendment 1” to the state’s constitution received 75% approval of voters in 2014, partitioning off $700 million for the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund over the next 20 years, only $109 million was approved by Florida Legislation and Gov. Rick Scott for Land acquisition and Everglades Restoration. A number of wildlife groups have filed a lawsuit charging the Legislature with violating the State’s constitution.
Anyone who missed this event should absolutely keep a look out for follow up performances by the many artists who performed and next year’s Benefit. In addition to Ploppy Place Productions, promotional materials listed The Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, Dr. Michael Lemus and VolunteerCleanup.org as sponsors as well.
Contributions can be made at: www.gofundme.com/LoveTheEverglades
And sometimes opera isn’t even operatic… it’s just adorable.
We’ve heard a lot of hype about the Miami Summer Music Festival recently, which opened this week and already held two recitals at the Betsy Hotel in SoBe. The brainchild of Washington National Opera conductor Michael Rossi, the Festival attracts young pre-professional and emerging musicians from all over the world to gain experience performing at the intensity level of professional companies, but with instruction and masterclasses to polish its performers. It held its inaugural run last year and was well received in its endeavor to mount three fully-staged operas and multiple orchestral concerts in a four-week period. This year, to raise the stakes, the Festival is programming four fully-staged operas. In four weeks.
The ambitious programming, however, has been clever. The Festival opened the incredibly family-friendly children’s opera Hansel and Gretel last night (instrument petting zoo… ‘nuff said), but will also put up the more mature-themed Albert Herring by Britten next week, and then the French fairytale Cendrillon (Massenet) and the sexy Don Giovanni (Mozart) the week after. These operas all range in themes, musical styles, and targeted audiences, meaning there will ultimately be something for everyone to enjoy.
Last night was for the kids and it was, as we mentioned before, ADORABLE.
The festival is grooming the next generation of opera lovers by offering an outreach component with a children’s production. To kick off the evening, members of the orchestra waited outside the venue with a range of instruments – horns, strings, plenty of percussion – and invited families with young children to come try them out. The musicians were quickly swamped with little ones jumping at a chance to bang on the snare or channel their inner Satchmo on the trumpet sans inhibition. The lobby was filled with the clamoring, inharmonious noise of children getting to test drive instruments they might later want to study in without the pressures of potentially getting it wrong.
When everyone was finally corralled for the start of the show, founder Rossi turned to the audience and asked for a volunteer. Hands went up like lightning bolts, and a 6-year old girl beat out the rest to join him at the conductor’s podium. “Have you ever conducted an orchestra before?” he asked his young guinea pig. Under his tutelage, she made her debut with clear sense of rhythm and natural precociousness – the first great performance of the night.
Next up to bat was Maestro Yuriy Bekker of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, who conducted the performance with warmth. A children’s opera, Hansel and Gretel, by Engelbert Humperdinck, is usually sung in German, but was performed in English for this run – another smart move to increase accessibility with families. It opens with the siblings bored and hungry, attempting to drudge through their chores. Here Jooyeon Song shone as a believably gangly and boyish Hansel in both her acting and interpretation, harnessing the elegance of her mezzo-soprano timbre to betray her character’s quick-changing emotions.
The children ultimately upset their mother and are sent into the woods to pick strawberries where they dawdle until night falls, setting them up for their adventure. The sandman, played by Kara Smoot, entices the children into a deep sleep, but before they fall under her spell, both remember to say their prayers in the beautiful duet, “When at Night I Go to Sleep.” Latini’s clarity and Song’s warmth, buoyed by a chorus of fourteen angels, was a touching and serene moment in an otherwise boisterous story.
The cast hit its stride during the scenes at the Gingerbread House, where it’s likely everyone in the audience wanted to warn Hansel and Gretel of the danger to come. The witch, sung by Melissa Tegeler, was just endearing and warm enough to make a family-friendly villain, and Latini and Song played off of each other’s emotions as real siblings might, working together to outsmart the witch and save the day. The opera has a refreshing ending, wherein the children save themselves, and the two leads bubbled over with energy in their final scenes, reunited with their parents.
Effective, charming, and perfectly targeted to its audience of children ages 5-15 and their families, the MSMF’s opening opera was a delightful experience to partake in. If we can expect the same level of polish and enthusiasm from the Festival’s participants in their upcoming productions, Miamians will be in for a treat.
At time of publication, Hansel and Gretel is enjoying an encore matinee performance with a different cast at Barry University’s Broad Theater.
For more information about the Miami Summer Music Festival’s other upcoming productions, visit www.miamisummermusicfestival.com .
Miami is a fast-paced city. Alive, pulsing with art and music. Miamians party like it’s a job – in the City of Vices, partying can, in fact, be a job.
Trust us, Sunday night rolls around and we don’t want to sit at home and lament the coming Monday either. But perhaps painting SoBe red all weekend didn’t leave you with much energy for another night out. So try on our favorite new routine for a change of pace.
The ever-popular Lagniappe doesn’t need help bringing business through the door. The renovated Midtown-based house-turned-wine garden has a wide following, with live music seven nights a week, a limited but excellent menu, and some of the best wine selections in Miami. Each night of the week, however, brings a different energy, and Sundays just may be the classiest.
A typically quiet night for restaurants and bars, Lagniappe has smartly secured the KJ Trio for Sunday night sets. Founded and run by Costa Rican composer and bassist Kenneth Jimenez, the group plays a majority of original compositions punctuated by a few key classic standards for several hours of fantastic modern jazz. Still an undergraduate student at Florida International University, Jimenez has been performing professionally in Costa Rica since his teens and the US since he transplanted here for a musical education. The young bandleader, at 24, has a natural knack for writing. His compositions balance the sensibilities and heritage of the great jazz tradition with some Latin nuance and modern evolution. Keyboardist Derek Fairholm improvises with exceptional lyricism, a rare talent, and drummer and prominent Miami jazzer Rudolfo Zuniga rounds out the group with richly intricate and melodious percussion.
These guys are energetic, easy to talk to, and happy to play, and the gratefulness of crowd is apparent. The trio seeks no attention or ‘bandstand’ (pun only mildly intended), but always manages to hush the room and garner applause as they settle into their sets. Go frequently enough and you might catch them on a night when friends of theirs visit and step in for open jam sessions. The energy is magnetic as musicians from Miami, Chicago, and New York all feed off of each other, often playing together for the first time in years.
The KJ Trio can be found around town and are hire-able for private events, but catch them at Lagniappe for a Sunday night to clear your head before Monday hits. KJ hits at 9pm.
knthjimenez.com for booking.
3425 NE 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33137
Never judge a book by its cover. Or a classical music concert by its warehouse location.
Miami Light Project rounded out their Bang on a Can All-Star Marathon with a stacked deck at last night’s closing performance, featuring a lineup of Nu Deco Ensemble, Bang on a Can All-Stars, and Latin-funk favorites Spam All-Stars.
Performed at the Light Box in Wynwood’s Goldman Warehouse, the Miami Light Project is our favorite recent discovery… but it’s not so new. The M.L.P. was founded in 1989 as a non-profit, and provides multi-format performances of both international and local artists alike, with a strong community outreach presence. The Light Box is a special artistic space, tucked in the heart of Wynwood and easy to pass on the street without notice. From the website:
“Envisioned as a laboratory for artists and an intimate place of gathering where new work is experienced in its various stages of development, The Light Box will provide a creative setting in which artists are able to intersect with audiences in new ways.”
Last night’s concert was indeed an intersection of classical music and the breakdown of classical performance traditions.
Miami’s Nu Deco Ensemble opened the concert with their small chamber orchestra conducted by the charismatic Jacomo Rafael Bairos. Instead of grimacing with the furrowed brow we’ve all come to expect from classical conductors, thanks in part to Bugs Bunny, Bairos presides over his ensemble with a handsome smile and energy for days. The entire orchestra, a non-profit “designed for the 21st century,” performs with a joyful presence. Of their set, the most fun was co-founder Sam Hyken’s own composition, “Daft Punk Suite,” a fantasia on the work of the French DJ group. While attempts at integrated classical music into pop repertoire can often come off as camp, the infectiousness of the dance rhythms and lush instrumentation pulled it off and got the audience loose and moving early in the concert.
The headliners, Bang on a Can All-Stars, jumped in next for a set of truly “new” music that paired well with their industrial venue. Led by guitarist Mark Stewart, the NYC-based ensemble specializes in the performance of post-minimalism and ‘alt-classical’ works. Their penultimate set piece last night, “Closing,” by Phillip Glass, features the clunky rhythmic hydraulics that give the composer away instantly. The ensemble, however, managed to impart a larger sense of phrasing to the composition by leaning into its ethereal harmonic development to a lovely, serene effect. Their standout number and closing piece was Louis Andriessen’s “Workers Union,” a cacophonous hum of dissonance and rhythmic variation. The piece requires excellent artistry despite its seeming raucous nature. With no one conducting, the ensemble members must coordinate exact attacks and releases collaboratively, and the instruments are often used in non-conventional ways (pianist Vicky Chow could be seen arpeggiating across the piano with balled fists). The crunching dissonance and energy of the group was more hypnotic than jarring, and stood at as a favorite performance of the evening.
After a short breather, hometown heroes Spam All-Stars performed the least classically composed set, but their self-imposed genre, “electronic descarga,” is still a carefully crafted sound. Anyone who’s been dancing in Calle Ocho recognizes their blend of hip hop, dub, and Latin beats, with a small horn section and Afro-inspired calls and responses. The decision to send these guys on last was a smart one; Miamians can’t be asked to sit still even in a traditional black-box format when there’s dancing music on… and dance they did. Though the venue is more reserved than Spam’s usual haunts, they had audience members salsa-dancing in the aisles within the first couple songs of their set.
The program itself demonstrated an awesome evolution of new music composition techniques and the relationships of old and new: from the opening traditionalism of a chamber orchestra breaking boundaries with repertoire, to the amplified contemporary sextet defying performance traditions, to the fusion of improvisational jazz and electronic DJ arrangements, the Miami Light Project put on a concert last night that maintained interest the entire time.
The Light Box is constantly hosting events across all performance platforms, and we’re not going to miss anymore now that we know how special its offerings are.
For more information about the Miami Light Project and Light Box, visit:
The Light Box is located at
404 NW 26th St
Miami, FL 33127
For more information about the ensembles who performed last night, check out their websites below:
Bang on a Can All-Stars
Nu Deco Ensemble