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