The Wynwood-based Nu Deco Ensemble is cultivating a new audience for symphonic orchestra music.
Members of the Nu Deco Ensemble— (from left) Chauncey Patterson, Aaron Merritt, Yael Kleinman Hyken, Sam Hyken, Karen Lord-Powell, Jacomo Bairos, Aleksandr Zhuk, Daniel Velasco, and Gabriel Beavers—in Wynwood.
When longtime friends Jacomo Bairos and Sam Hyken paid a visit to the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District in 2014, all they had was an idea jotted on a scrap of paper. But the two musicians wanted to see if this place might be a good home for the ambitious plan they had in mind: a chamber orchestra that would speak to the moment—to the city they love and the century in which they’re practicing their art.
“There are a lot of people now—especially, I think, under-40s, millennials— who really gravitate to all kinds of styles and [have] very eclectic tastes,” says Bairos, 39, a Portuguese-born tuba player and conductor who grew up in Homestead. “It doesn’t mean they don’t like Beethoven, but it does mean they like Mumford & Sons just as much.” He and Hyken had similarly diverse musical interests, “and we just felt that orchestras weren’t diving into that realm.”
Thus was born the Nu Deco Ensemble, a “21st-century orchestra” of 22 players. It debuted last September with two heavily attended, enthusiastically reviewed concerts at the Light Box that were unlike any previous orchestral performances in South Florida.
In addition to the pounding preshow house music, the intimate performance space, the two happily crowded open bars, and the audience of Miami’s artiest and most beautiful young people, the music also represented a distinct break from standard orchestral fare: four pieces by contemporary composers still in their 30s and 40s, a four-song set by the rising Miami pop singer Brika (aka Briana Martinez, 21), and Hyken’s symphonic arrangements of four songs (including “All My Friends” and “Dance Yrself Clean”) by LCD Soundsystem, the much-admired electronica band. And the encore was another Hyken arrangement, of “Around the World” by the enigmatic French house duo Daft Punk, which prompted multiple curtain calls.
“Every orchestra is searching for how to bring in new audiences and how to cultivate new listeners for live performances of classical music,” says Hyken, 34, a trumpeter who hails from Morristown, New Jersey. Nu Deco’s answer: the music of living composers “who need a voice,” as Bairos puts it, along with acoustic orchestral arrangements of songs by popular artists.
The combination has earned Nu Deco a two-year, $75,000 grant from the Knight Foundation and support from the Miami-Dade County government, as well as a considerable number of $1,000 audience memberships. In its first fiscal year, the group’s budget is already more than $200,000, Hyken says.
Nu Deco has also won fans among musicians, most of them veterans of the Interstate 95 freelance circuit, in which they drop in to play with various orchestras, chamber music groups, opera companies, and jazz bands across South Florida. Chauncey Patterson, one of two Nu Deco violists (the other is Hyken’s wife, Yael Kleinman Hyken), had been looking for an opportunity like this, particularly as similar contemporary-music organizations, such as New York’s Alarm Will Sound and Chicago’s Eighth Blackbird, have received national recognition in the past decade.
“This is just such a gift to be involved with,” says Patterson, a former principal violist with the Denver Symphony and the Buffalo Philharmonic and a founder of the Miami String Quartet. “And it’s much better than I even thought it would be. It’s much more rewarding, the music is really challenging, and the interaction—you can feel it with the audience so much more intently than you can in a big orchestra.
“Anybody can relate to classical music,” Patterson adds, “but there are a lot of stigmas that go along with traditional classical music in the way it’s presented. And Nu Deco is such a fresh approach. It’s still serious music—it’s not watered-down pop, like a pops concert would be…. This is real music.”
In addition to flourishing careers—as a conductor and a composer/arranger, respectively—Bairos and Hyken have impressive educational pedigrees. Bairos, who conducts the Amarillo Symphony in northern Texas when he isn’t in South Florida, studied at the Juilliard School in New York and was mentored by Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conductor Robert Spano and the Peabody Conservatory’s Gustav Meier. Hyken, a faculty member at the University of Miami, also studied at Juilliard and holds degrees from UM and the Royal Academy of Music in London.
“With Miami, Sam was right when we started thinking about this and putting it all together,” says Bairos. “There was no contemporary-music ensemble down here. We knew that there was space for it.”
Nu Deco recently performed at the Deering Estate and outdoors at the North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach, where it was joined by Miami’s seasoned Afro-Cuban nonet Spam Allstars. Next up are two concerts at the Light Box, March 3 and 4, featuring Brooklyn’s Project Trio, music by contemporary composers Nicholas Omiccioli and Ricardo Romaneiro, Paul Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 1, and Radiohead Suite, Hyken’s arrangements of songs by the moody English band. Those shows will be followed by an appearance at Miami Beach’s New World Center on March 5 for the Anti-Defamation League’s ADL in Concert Against Hate.
Trying to describe exactly what the Nu Deco Ensemble is has led Hyken and Bairos to this evocative elevator pitch: “a genre-bending collective of classical musicians who collaborate with artists of all media.” But Hyken may have something even pithier:
“I was with someone who was trying to describe Nu Deco, and she had a great line: ‘It’s an orchestra for us.’”
The Nu Deco Ensemble performs Thursday, March 3, and Friday, March 4, at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St., Miami. Visit nu-deco.org or miamilightproject.com for tickets. On Saturday, March 5, Nu Deco will provide music for ADL in Concert Against Hate at the New World Center, 500 17th St., Miami Beach; call 561-988-2919 for more information.
Photography by: photography by Vanessa rogers