Review: Miami has the contemporary music festival it deserves with New Music Miami ISCM Festival

Written By Nevena Stanić Kovačević
January 29, 2020 at 3:05 PM

Mari-Liis Pakk (violin), Jason Calloway (cello) and Jacob Sudol (composer) at the first in a series of concerts presented as part of the New Music Miami ISCM Festival (NMMF). (Photo courtesy of Orlando Jacinto Garcia)

Is music really a universal language? Can it really communicate with everybody? Would most musicians in your surroundings agree with your opinion? These questions have been the subject of much discussion in media, academia – and in concert halls.

On Jan. 15, in a small-but-well-visited hall of Florida International University’s Miami Beach Urban Studios, Bolivian guest composer Edgar Alandia led a discussion on the universality of music and the different meanings it can evoke in its listeners.

His conclusion: Music does not communicate, but rather it provokes.

The lecture was an introduction to the first in a series of concerts presented as part of the New Music Miami ISCM Festival (NMMF).

In its third decade of existence, the festival has featured the latest contemporary works to diverse audiences, and it has migrated from the Wertheim Performing Arts Center in FIU’s downtown Miami campus to much smaller spaces. One would think the festival’s turn to alternative venues and galleries happened in reference to American mid-century experimental music that cultivated selected audiences. In any respect, this festival specifically nurtures new music with versatile dynamic nuances that require special acoustic conditions.

The first in the series of concerts presented chamber and solo music from North and South America in collaboration with FIU’s NODUS Ensemble. The concert opener was “Anton” by Chilean composer Boris Alvarado. NODUS violinists Mari-Liis Pakk, Avi Nagin and Misha Vitenson intently performed this piece with sordined dynamics, a warm timbre and a delicate, one-motif conversation between the performers.

“Still Remains” by Alandia followed, with a similar character and the concept of a soft-yet-engaged sound. Jason Calloway on cello emphasized all the important elements of the hidden counterpoint in this piece. Nothing musically provocative about this piece stood out, but it communicated with the audience through diverse intervals and dynamics. As Alandia stated, the title should not suggest any meaning or interpretation. So, let us leave it there.

Florida International University composer-in-residence Orlando Jacinto Garcia is also director of the New Music Miami ISCM Festival. (Photo courtesy of FIU School of Music)

Pakk joined Calloway on stage for the performance of “wind in the desert” by FIU’s own, Jacob Sudol. The connections between the lower-case title and the music are, unlike in the previous piece, tightly related. There were no melodic ups and downs but rather steady and long sounds in slow crescendos and decrescendos.

Born and raised in Arizona, Sudol intended to present the communication between wind, space, and the listener. Musicians credibly depicted wind by masterfully controlling their bows on overtones – at first individually, and later in a distinct mutual play of intervals.

With a little less enthusiasm, Calloway performed the next piece, “Pour VC” by Alvarado. Despite its fragmented structure, folk themes and energetic interpretation in the high register, this composition perfectly blended in a meditative atmosphere.

“Multiple Voices” brought a new clarinet timbre but led the audience even deeper into a meditative and fully concentrated state of attention of each tone. With the high focus on the execution of every multiphonic in the piece, clarinetist Jesse Gilday conveyed an excellent command over the many notes of FIU composer-in-residence Orlando Garcia’s collage. In a hall full of incidental sounds and quiet noise, every tone had a sense of exclusiveness.

After the dramaturgical and dynamical decrescendo, Emily Bedard Dierickx’s enticing performance of Mario Lavista’s “Nocturno,” for solo alto flute, engaged the attention of the audience. Every repetitive motif in the Mexican composer’s piece was delivered by Dierickx with accuracy and invention. Along with the seductiveness of alto flute timbre without a twinge of asperity, the audience emerged into a repetitiveness that eventually brought folk elements and familiar harmonies.

The event concluded with Chen-Hui Jen’s piano interpretation of part three of the second volume of “Makrokosmos.” This part consists of four pieces inspired by horoscope. Jen effectively presented these works with high agency and involvement in the meaning of each section. American composer George Crumb completed this volume in 1973, inspired by Bela Bartók’sMikrokosmos.” The presented segment of “Makrokosmos” reflects extended piano and vocal techniques and diverse timbres, which are some of the musical elements that inspired Crumb.

In the last 23 years, Miami has grown richer for new music experiences from around the world.

With the institutional support from FIU’s School of Music and government institutions, this festival will have a chance to continue cherishing contemporary, often-provocative sounds, possibly by attracting more audiences.

Miami has the contemporary music festival it deserves.

Future shows

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, go to

Feb. 5: FIU Alumni Composers Concert, featuring NODUS Ensemble

Feb. 26: Music for Piano and Electronics, featuring Misty Shore Duo

March 4: Music for Solo Percussion, featuring Steve Schick

March 18: Music for Chamber and Solo Works, featuring NODUS Ensemble

April 1: Music for Trumpet and Electronics, featuring Jeff Kaiser

April 8: Music for Solo Violin, featuring Miranda Cuckson

April 15: Music for String Quartet and Piano Quintets, featuring Amernet String Quartet and Michael Linville, with guest composer Chen Yi is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story. 

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