Almost 350 students shuffled into Homestead’s Seminole Theater, eagerly filling the auditorium’s plush red velvet seats. On stage, dressed in white t-shirts and blue jeans, Miami’s Nu Deco Ensemble calmly rehearsed.
The show opened with “Hoe-down,” a classical song by American composer Aaron Copland from the ballet Rodeo. Clapping, stomping and cheering quickly filled the theater as kids from kindergarten to eighth grade danced to the sounds of a classical orchestral symphony.
This is Nu Deco Ensemble’s forté — making the classical sound accessible.
“For lot of people that haven’t been to a classical symphony concert … it’s a wonderful gateway, it’s an entry point,” said co-founder Jacomo Bairos.
The group pairs classical music with pop, rock, and hip hop in an orchestral setting. A typical show includes Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, and Daft Punk, interwoven with Beethoven and other classical composers.
Now, as they wrap up their first official season a year after receiving a grant from the Knight Foundation, Nu Deco is looking back on year one with satisfaction.
“Miami is super ready for classical music, but there’s a certain population that doesn’t have exposure,” Bairos said.
“When Jacomo and I came up with the idea for Nu Deco we thought education was very important, and bringing this music out to areas where people might not have access to it,” said composer and co-founder Sam Hyken.
Ending the season in Homestead, 40 miles from Miami’s urban core, far away from cultural institutions like the Adrienne Arsht Center, drives that point home. It’s also particularly special for Bairos, who grew up in the area.
He went to Avocado Elementary, Homestead Middle, and Homestead Senior High, but when Hurricane Andrew struck, it left the high school in disrepair. He then transferred to Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan.
From there he went on to Julliard, became an orchestral tuba player, and performed all around the world. While performing in Singapore he met composer, trombonist and fellow Julliard alumnus Hyken. The duo talked casually about bringing classical music to Miami.
Years later, when Hyken found himself in the Magic City as a fellow at the New World Symphony, he thought it was finally the time. He spoke with Bairos, who then was working as a conductor of the Amarillo Symphony Orchestra in Texas, and the pair decided to bring something to Miami that the city was missing — a permanent contemporary ensemble.
Together, and with the help of businessman Dan Baltzegar, they endeavored to start one. After securing funding, Bairos moved back home to conduct for the Nu Deco Ensemble and Hyken began composing the music.
“You have the Florida Philharmonic and other local orchestras but … we felt like we were really filling a void,” Bairos said.
Their intuition was correct. As word got out about Nu Deco, requests for performances began pouring in. Since then the group has been booked back to back, performing everywhere from The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse to the North Beach Bandshell to the New World Symphony.
“One of our biggest challenges has been maintaining the energy and focus to capitalize on [the opportunity],” Bairos said. “Everything happened so fast and rolled out of the gate so quickly that it consumed us.”
That was another thing they learned: the power of “no.”
With so many impressive institutions knocking on their door, the group had to prioritize performances. They did that by remembering their mission, according to Hyken — to create shared musical experiences and build community through art and culture.
They managed to do that by not only bringing something new to the Miami music scene, but also by embracing local artists too, collaborating with beloved musicians like Afrobeta, the Spam Allstars, and Raquel Sofia.
“People hear it in this new context and they’re like ‘Oh my god, I didn’t know classical music could sound like that,’” Bairos said.
He recalled one performance during a collaboration with the Spam Allstars at the North Beach Bandshell. Bairos had his back turned to the audience, conducting pieces composed by Hyken that blended the Cuban funk sound with the classical.
And when he finally turned around, he saw the entire audience “dancing and going crazy. It was wild … what an energy! This was a classical symphony orchestra but people were up and dancing.”
Now, with the season coming to a close the group plans to reflect, revise, and ultimately return to Miami for a second, longer season this October. While the pieces are still being composed, expect more experimentation with blending genres and collaborations with local artists in the season to come.
“There is a population in Miami that adores and is completely connected to classical music but that demographic doesn’t encompass all of Miami … we’re going to be the hook that brings them in,” Bairos said with a confident smile.