South Beach Chamber Ensemble: New Season, Same Unexpected Venues
South Beach may have a worldwide reputation for its beaches and party scene; the seasonal events like Art Basel and the Wine and Food Festival; or for its high profile music events like Ultra and the Winter Music Conference. But the locals know we also have a rich arts and performance life year round with well established, respected and — more importantly — cherished institutions such as the South Beach Chamber Ensemble (SBCE), which kicks off its season on Nov. 3. In 1997, SBCE performed an inaugural free concert of Haydn and Dvorak Piano Trios at the Bass Museum of Art. Since then they have played an expansive repertory of works from classical to contemporary composers, at many community, municipal, and cultural institutions such as the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, the Jewish Museum of Florida, and Wolfsonian Museum. The ensemble has collaborated worldwide and has created its own new traditions with “Music in Beautiful Places” performed at the Botanical Garden; “Music In Motion,” a shared creation between musicians in Miami and cities such as Rio de Janeiro in 2005 and Buenos Aires in 2007; “South Beach Up North,” a summer chamber music festival in Wausau, Wisc.; and most recently “Mozart on the Move,” which was a Knight Arts Challenge Miami 2011 finalist and a highlight of that year’s Sleepless Nights. A driving force behind the organization’s prolific and culturally diverse programming is founder and Executive Director Michael Andrews. The company’s mission can be attributed to a few of Andrews’ unique traits. He’s an artist’s artist who appreciates art, dance, and world music. He also has a profound belief of the transcendence of music and its ability to elevate the human spirit. And not satisfied to perform for a select few, the ensemble is one of the rare arts organizations to offer affordable chamber music programs locally to new audiences while showcasing local musical talent. Q: The mission statement for the SBCE envisions “a world where music inspires and energizes all people, creating peace, harmony, joy and unprecedented satisfaction in being alive.” What is the root and inspiration for this mission? How does music celebrate being alive? Michael Andrews: I was inspired to create the SBCE when I participated in the Wisdom course, a nine-month course offered by Landmark Education, back in 1996. By the time the course ended in the summer of 1997 I had started creating the SBCE with support from friends and the arts community in Miami Beach. My friend Mimi Pink, who had worked for the Seattle Symphony and the New World Symphony, guided me in developing the mission statement. Having played many years in a symphony orchestra, I felt that chamber music performance gives listeners a different, more intimate experience. Music celebrates being alive by its very nature of deliberate, focused harmonic vibrations in the universe. All living forms are expressions of vibration. People that attend our performances come away with a sense of well-being and contentment that is palpable. Q: How do you pursue this mission within the construct of a chamber ensemble that plays both classical and modern compositions? We love to create dialogues in our performances, whether between the composers in a concert, or between the players and audience. Last year when we performed the Shostakovich Piano Quintet after the Dvorak Piano Quintet, the aural experience was enhanced by the diversity of the harmonic language used by two very different composers separated by geography and time. Q: What inspired your “Music in Beautiful Spaces” and what other non-traditional spaces do you envision for SBCE? This is the 17th year of “Music in Beautiful Spaces,” our signature series of chamber music concerts in the Miami Beach Botanical Garden and the Coral Gables Museum. When we started we wanted to bring chamber music to people that might not necessarily be drawn to it. Giving listeners an easy way to experience chamber music was key. Once people hear our performances they are usually become fans. We play in venues that enhance our music. At the same time we bring something new and unexpected to those institutions. For “Mozart on the Move,” 20-minute pop-up concerts in unexpected venues, we played at Whole Foods South Beach, the Bass Museum, Macy’s and Score, a gay bar on Lincoln Road. Q: SBCE has a history of collaboration with not just musicians and vocalists, but also with poets, visual and theatrical artists, and just last spring with Dance Now (an association SBCE will revisit next spring for the dance company’s now yearly collaboration with the Bass Museum.) What has that experience been like over the years? I grew up around art. Both my mother and aunt were art teachers. When I lived in New York City I loved going to the museums, dance performances, and the vast array of diverse cultural events happening around the city. In creating programs in South Florida I am inspired by the rich cultural diversity available. When we combined a hip-hop artist, a Nigerian dancer-drummer, a drum machine guy and a Cuban poet with our string quartet for Sleepless Night several years ago, magic happened. The crowds on the beach went wild. It was something new and different, and quintessentially Miami. When we were looking for a Cuban poet to collaborate on a commissioned piano quintet, little did we know that a fabulous poet, Carlos Pintado, lived just two blocks away. Our collaboration with Dance Now this past year was such a joy. Working with Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini was fun and easy and truly inspiring. To see Diego’s choreography to a Bach Cello Suite and be able to perform along with the dancers was memorable. Bach based his suites on dances of the time. The Bach Suite came full circle with a 21st-century dance based on a 17th-century piece of music. The South Beach Chamber Ensemble begins its season on Nov. 3 at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden at 4:00p.m.; and on Nov. 7 at the Coral Gables Museum at 7:30 p.m. with their program Picante, with music from or inspired by Cuba, Brazil, and Venezuela. Tickets $25. The season also includes a reunion next year in February with Anna Hersey, a Miami soprano and recent Fulbright scholar, who returns to sing with the ensemble after last year’s “Scandinavia Explored.” Hersey will demonstrate her expertise with “From Russia, with Love.” In May the ensemble performs with Miami composer Andrew Logan and then with the Dance Now! Miami in their fifth annual Ekphrasis collaboration with the Bass Museum; www.sobechamberensemble.org.