At one time panned by critics near and far — its music called “amateurish”, “constricted”, and “a horror” by our own Miami Herald — the Miami Symphony Orchestra (MISO) has quietly become a hidden gem of the city. As the orchestra’s 26th season winds down, we sat with conductor and music director Eduardo Marturet to talk about MISO’s evolution and its impact on Miami.
Marturet was born in Caracas and dedicated a significant part of his early career to Venezuela, serving as conductor of the Caracas Philharmonic Orchestra, artistic director of the Venezuelan Symphonic Orchestra, and music director of the Teatro Teresa Carreño, the country’s preeminent theatre. He spent years traveling the world, including a significant stint at the Berlin Symphony, and conducting in countries as far-flung from Miami as Norway and South Korea.
Despite all that, he considers himself a proud Miamian, having kept a home here for over three decades.
At 61, Marturet eschews the stereotype of a stuffy, rigid conductor. In person and on stage, he exudes a magnetic personality and an electric connection to his musicians that comes across in the beauty of the pieces they perform. Recalling a saying from the Romantic composer and conductor, Marturet cites Gustav Mahler’s belief that “there are no good or bad orchestras, only good or bad conductors”.
Asked how a conductor connects with his musicians and impassions an audience, he recognizes the importance of his position:
“The conductor is very helpful, very visual. When I have talked to people coming to a concert for the first time, they only watch the conductor. Because the conductor is like the map. You immediately realize that through their hands and expressions, things happen.
And when the conductor is really connected, you have the illusion that the music is coming out of the gesture. You have that perception of “Wow! This feels like magic!”
And magic is indeed what it feels like as one watches Marturet single out musicians in his employ – beseeching them for stronger sounds or more dulcet tones, sounds to make an impact or add a poignant touch to a given piece. Marturet plays his musicians as they play their instruments, with great care and extreme precision.
He is passionate not just about the orchestra, but about making an impact in Miami. He asserts that the role of the orchestra is to enrich the lives of the people it serves.
“Our audience needs to be challenged — entertained and challenged in a way that their quality of life is enriched. And basically we come to the real purpose of a cultural institution like an orchestra. The purpose of an orchestra, the real mission of an orchestra, is to enhance the quality of life of its community. Without that element in the equation, we would be wasting our time. Often people miss that point.”
But he acknowledges that Miami presents unique challenges for a symphony orchestra. With so many options for entertainment — beaches, night-life, theatre, sports — Miamians are hard-pressed to choose a night out at the concert hall.
That’s why Marturet concocts programs to appeal to the diverse audiences that make up Miami.
The Golden Sounds from Hollywood programs feature themes from your favorite classic movies — E.T., Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean. One season the program was entirely Disney-themed. Ocean Drive in Vienna seeks to answer the question “What classical pieces would represent Miami if played in Vienna?”
He is adamant about directing the orchestra to reflect Miami as a community:
“You have Ocean Drive, but also a total Beethoven program that does the same for another audience, and for example now our next concert in April is Moz-Art. With Moz-Art, with the playing of words, I am trying to suggest that it is an aesthetic in itself – the art of Mozart.
Programming music by Salieri, Mozart of course, music by a contemporary composer who wrote in the classical style — that is pretty intellectual. Because I do believe that contrary to the normal belief, Miami can be an intellectual city.”
And he shares a sentiment many Miamians joke about.
“Miami is the closest city to the United States. And people laugh and giggle, and I believe that more than that, it is a very true statement. Not being quite a part of the United States is a part of the charm that it has. I hope and believe it’s going to continue to carry on being like that.”
The Maestro is at once classic, professional, energetic, and irreverent, both in his role behind the scenes and in his “persona” (as he called it) as a conductor on stage. At the end of Ocean Drive in Vienna, Marturet walks back on stage holding parrots for the audience.
He’s become particularly known for his style of footwear. Famed shoe designer Donald Pliner once asked him to wear his shoes on stage, and they struck a chord with Miami audiences.
Miamians familiar with the conductor have grown accustomed to several shoe changes per show, which include royal blue loafers and others in flashy gold; a custom he insists is “something that would only work in Miami”
As Marturet prepares for the end of his eighth season at the institution, the Miami Symphony Orchestra is quietly preparing for a new chapter in its history. When the orchestra comes back in the fall, it will do so in the heart of Miami’s vibrant artistic community, moving into the production space at Mana Wynwood, which will be transformed to suit the orchestra and new and old audiences alike.
The Miami Symphony Orchestra has three programs remaining in its 2014-2015 season, including Moz-Art, Steinway and Sons Piano Extravaganza, and a program dedicated to celebrating the anniversary of The Beatles’ arrival in Miami — a production so popular earlier in the season, that he decided to close 2015 with an encore.
Abel Iraola is a communications professional with a passion for food, politics, the arts, and everything Miami. Follow him on Twitter, @abeliraola.