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MeTube: How Museums Influenced Concept for Gehry’s/Tilson Thomas’ Symphony Campus

Michael Tilson Thomas, left, and Frank Gehry, speaking at a recent New York press lunch

Those of you who are not just art-lings but also sport-lings are riveted today by a Miami basketball story. But let’s take a look at a another major Miami match-up: conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, architect Frank Gehry and the New World Symphony—an educational and performance organization that provides professional training for top graduates from music programs throughout the country.

Seeing two photos of the conductor in today’s NY Times “Weekend
Arts” section (speaking of sports, MTT is one of the Pinch
Hitters at Tanglewood
), I decided it was time for me to share with you a video clip I shot of Tilson Thomas and Gehry when they converged in New York early last month to let the scribe tribe know about their plan for a new 100,641-square-foot, high-tech home for the New World Symphony’s diverse activities. The facility, now in its final phase of construction, will open Jan. 25 with six days of world premieres and “new concert formats designed to engage and broaden audiences.”

One of the Gehry design’s most distinctive features is the concert hall’s “large acoustically reflective ‘sails’ that will surround the audience with sound and also serve as projection surfaces for visual presentations.” One of the uses of these screens will be to present closeups of individual musicians in performance—a regular feature of public television broadcasts (not to mention arena rock concerts):

Courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP

Although I frequently write about architecture, my main focus has been museum design. Still, I do occasionally give my take on performance venues. At it happens, this project does have strong a museum connection: Tilson Thomas, an avid collector, was greatly influenced by his museum-going experiences in conceiving this project, as you will hear in the video below.

He speaks about how he liked to stop in at New York museums, look at one picture and “be on my way.” He wants to encourage that kind of spontaneous grazing for concert-going. He also mentioned the flexible use of the new Miami space, but Gehry countered that “there have been theaters built with infinite flexibility, but no one ever uses it….The best example is CalArts which has these infinitely changeable things that never change.” Gehry later told me that the chief flexibility of his Miami concert hall involves changing the floorplans, not the acoustics:

Courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP

Because I was seated towards the rear at the press lunch, the audio on this video clip is a little fuzzy. But you’ll be able to catch the key moments:

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