Friday, April 30, 2010

Michael Tilson Thomas and his New World Symphony resurrect vanished Echoes of Eastern Europe

by Dwight Casimere

In his lifetime, Franz Liszt was known as Europe’s greatest living pianist, celebrated in the concert halls of Vienna, Paris and Weimar for this symphonic tone poems and piano adaptations of opera’s greatest arias. Bela Bartok, another piano virtuoso and composer, is remembered as perhaps the twentieth centuries greatest composer and the founder of ethnomusicology, who spent his final years in the United States, a reluctant émigré following the outbreak of World War II and the rise of Nazism. He died in New York. Antonin Dvorak, another brilliant composer and visitor to American shores, is most famous for his New World Symphony, a symphonic celebration of the Native American and African American spirituals he encountered. Yet, as New World Symphony Founder and Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas remarked in his pre-performance remarks from the stage of the Lincoln Theatre in South Beach, Miami, Florida, all three shared a commonality; they are all from Eastern Europe from countries that, sadly he noted, “no longer exist.” Maestro Thomas and the New World Symphony resurrected the spirit of their vanished ethnic spirit in a comprehensive concert exploration entitled “Echoes of Eastern Europe.” It was a most satisfying experience

Beginning with Maestro Thomas’s own re-imagining and orchestration of Liszt’s piano setting of his famous composition, Mephisto Waltz No. 1 through a brilliant reading of Bartok’s technically stupefying Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra with dazzling 22 year old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, the concert concluded with a probative reading of Dvorak’s signature masterpiece.

The Bartok was the centerpiece, with Wang effortlessly articulating the composition’s most difficult passages. Thomas explained in his earlier remarks that the piece was “a toccata, an exercise in how many times the pianist’s fingers touch the keys. It is a test of the artist’s endurance and precision because of the length and difficulty of the passages. We stopped counting the notes after we hit 700 thousand!” he quipped. Wang played every one of them with relish.

Thomas took a contemplative approach to the Dvorak Symphony No. 8, allowing the cellos and violins to caress the beautiful melodies inherent in the Adagio theme, then allowing the tension to build in restrained ascension in the Allegretto grazioso-Molto vivace. The cello section in particular, elevated the theme to lofty heights. The final moments of the symphony were absolutely elating. Maestro Thomas urged the orchestra into a frenzy that made the hall literally vibrate. His finale had the pacing of an Olympic runner bursting the tape at the finish line, chest heaving with exertion. It was exhilarating!

This weekend, Michael Tilson Thomas and his New World Symphony embark upon Reflections of Claude Debussy with performances of Jeux, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and La Mer, through May 1. For tickets and information, visit

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Miami Beach Polo sets summer trend for 2010

by Dwight Casimere

Spectacular sun-drenched weather, spirited thoroughbred ‘ponies’, top-rated luxury sponsors, the world’s premiere athletes and a well-heeled crowd of enthusiasts made for a perfect weekend marking the AMG Miami Beach Polo World Cup 2010.

Played on the white sand beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean behind the Setai luxury hotel in South Beach, Miami, Florida, the event was the biggest and best party in town.

“This is truly and event on another stratosphere,” said Bruce Orosz, President of Miami Beach Polo and Founder of the event.

Now in its sixth year, the event is now going global, moving on to Australia and, on September 10-12, to Chicago’s North Avenue Beach for the Chicago Beach Polo 2010 World Cup.

The recession and global banking crisis may have ravaged markets for high-end luxury items, but it was nowhere in evidence at the polo event in South Beach. “We just learned from our sponsors that they’ve sold a record number of products here. Hublot, the luxury jeweler, for example, says their high-end watches, selling for thousands of dollars, have been flying out of their display at their hospitality tent. AMG Mercedes, our title sponsors, sold six of their luxurious, high-performance cars today alone.”

Orosz admits that the gloomy economic picture going into this year’s events left he and his team with doubts as to whether they should go forward. “That’s when AMG signed on as our title sponsor. That put us into a whole other universe. That shot us into the stratosphere!”

The famous AMG logo flew above the VIP Pavilion as the high-performance arm of Mercedes-Benz unveiled the 2011 AMG SLS. The crown jewel of the AMG line, the supercar attracted gawkers and the paparazzi with its iconic gullwing designed doors. “AMG’s association with polo is a natural,” Orosz explained. “In one single afternoon, you can experience one of the world’s most aesthetically beautiful and physically demanding games and test-drive the most exclusive, high-performance car in the world.”

Over in the hospitality tents, VIP guests were able to experience the gourmet coffee line and streamlined coffee preparation systems of Nespresso. The opening of the Nespresso Boutique on Miami’s posh Lincoln Road coincided with the Kick-Off for the Women’s Polo Cup and the national rollout of the concept. The Chicago Nespresso Boutique is located in Bloomingdale’s Home at 600 N. Wabash.

The size of the crowd in the VIP gallery, complete with luxury designed hospitality suites and lounges orchestrated by club designer Laura Weinstein attested to the success of the event.

Sipping imaginative cocktails specially created for the event by co-sponsors Bombay Sapphire and Grey Goose Vodka.

The first day of competition featured the AMG South Brach Women’s Polo Cup. AMG scored consecutive wins over Merchant Hub (6-2) and Morgan Stanley (4-1), to capture the 2010 AMG South Beach Women’s Polo World Cup. Sunny Hale was named Most Valuable Player while Ashley Van Netre’s horse, Pampiano, was honored as Best Playing Pony. In the consolation Hublot scored 5-1 win over Merchant Hub with Tiffany Busch and Valerie Biehl scoring two goals apiece in the effort.

Play continued with the AMG Miami Beach Polo World Cup and Argentine polo player Nacho Figueras, perhaps the most recognized face in the game because of his role as Ralph Lauren model. He scored 7 of his team’s 10 goals to lead the AMG team into a 10-9 win over Morgan Stanley. The Hublot team won the coveted Miami Beach Polo World Cup title. For more information, visit A new thunder rolls the sands of Lake Michigan, September 10-12 with Chicago Beach Polo 2010 World Cup. Visit for more information.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Michael Tilson Thomas re-envisions Mahler/Copland with his New World Symphony-

by Dwight Casimere

Miami Beach, Florida-Michael Tilson Thomas is one of the treasures of the modern music world. As Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy, he is placing his indelible stamp on future generations of musicians who will leave his groundbreaking orchestra in Miami to assume important positions in orchestras around the country.

In a concert of Aaron Copland’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra with American virtuoso Jeremy Denk and Gustav Maher’s commanding Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor, Thomas re-envisioned the work of these two master composers of the last century with a probing vitality that is the hallmark of his stellar career as long-running Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony. The concert was held in the architecturally stunning Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht on Miami’s sweeping waterfront. The New World Symphony will move into its own gem of a new concert hall, designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry (The Guggenheim, New York) in the heart of Miami Beach in January 2011.

There is almost a direct line of genius between Maestro Thomas and composer Aaron Copland, who, more than any other composer, defined the American musical persona. Copland was a long-time teacher at Tanglewood and it is there that he wrote many of his most inspired compositions at his self-proclaimed “Appalachian performing arts center.” His most famous student was the great Leonard Bernstein.

It is at Tanglewood where another budding conducting and composing genius came to prominence in the person of Michael Tilson Thomas, who won the Koussevitzky Prize in 1969 and was then appointed Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That same year, he made his New York debut with the BSO by replacing then-Music Director William Steinberg in mid-concert, thus gaining international recognition. The rest, as they say, is musical history.

Thomas approached the Copland like a master painter applying his palette to a wide canvass. He allowed Copland’s colorful depictions to unfold with remarkable control of tempo and tonality. Denk’s deft articulation of Copland’s tricky passages, especially in the percussive Allegro assai, was a marvel to behold. His masterful fingering, especially in the thundering arpeggios, made for a stunning display of his compelling artistry. The piece hovers between jazz and over-the-top sentimentality. He seemed to revel in both worlds with equal relish. Denk has performed often with Thomas at the latter’s home orchestra in San Francisco and the rapport between the two was evident.

Denk capped his ovation-drawing performance with an encore of Charles Ives scherzo from the composer’s Piano Sonata No. 1. “There are four scherzo’s,” Denk proclaimed from the stage,” each more maddening than the last. This is the fourth one!” Diving into the intricate, dizzying maze of notes and rhythmic configurations, Denk quickly proved why with a flourish.

Four of Thomas’s eight Grammy Awards are for his explosive interpretations of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler. From the moment Thomas lifted his baton, it was apparent that the audience was in for a rare performance. Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 opens with a Funeral March that contains the notation “Stormy, with greatest vehemence. That, as a grandiose as it sounds, is an understatement. As realized by Thomas and his New World Symphony, forces of nature are unleashed with the fury of a Prometheus.

Thomas is a master of rhythmic control, able to scale the heights of ecstasy in Mahler’s lofty themes then plunging into the full artillery fire of his brass and percussion explosions. Part III, the Adagietto, was a masterpiece of restraint, in which Thomas executed a de-crescendo that was as gripping in its hushed power and majesty as anything he’d achieved in the stormy, earlier passages. It was a landmark performance.

Mahler’s compositions are tricky to perform. He seems to go out of his way to mess with your mind. Just when you think the melody is going one way, he injects a string of surprises. Its obvious that Thomas and the orchestra worked long and hard to realize this masterpiece. Mission accomplished in every way!

I have heard Maestro Thomas conduct on numerous occasions. I wrote about him extensively in his early years as music director of the San Francisco Symphony and reviewed his recent appearances during his annual visits to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Never have I experienced him with the vitality and expansive genius he displayed at this concert with his protégé’ orchestra in Miami. If you haven’t made travel plans to Miami, you should definitely do so and make a visit to the New World Symphony a must on your agenda. For future concert dates, visit