On Saturday, April 17, the Symphony of the Americas will once again take the stage at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, their first live concert since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered performance venues more than a year ago.
The performances, April 17 – 18 and 22 – 23, will feature a smaller chamber orchestra and will take place outdoors on the center’s Backlot Live stage. The audience will be socially distanced, seated in “pods,” and masks will be required. But, those aren’t the only changes audiences may notice.
As the pandemic was declared, the symphony was concluding a year-long international search for retiring Artistic Director James Brooks-Bruzzese, who founded the ensemble more than three decades ago. The board tapped Spanish Conductor Pablo Mielgo to lead the symphony forward and, not long after, appointed Steven P. Haines as the new executive director.
Mielgo served as chief conductor of Orquestra Simfònica De Les Illes Balears since 2014. He has also been the musical and artistic director of the SaludArte Foundation, and collaborated with Teatro Real Madrid, Miami’s New World Symphony, Gustavo Dudamel’s El Sistema in Venezuela and the Florida Grand Opera.
Haines has nearly 30 years of arts management experience and started his career with the Boca Pops, Palm Beach Pops and Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. He went on to lead the Philly Pops, Philadelphia Orchestra, Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco and, most recently, the Tucson Symphony.
While Mielgo remains in Spain under a pandemic travel ban and hopes to move later this year, Haines has already relocated to Wilton Manors, a “homecoming of sorts,” he says, and has taken the helm of the symphony’s operations. Thanks to Zoom, they were able to get started and their first priority was to put the musicians back to work.
“To say [the musicians] are excited is an understatement,” Haines said. “Our key priority is to create more and more work for these musicians, period. Not just because they’ve been without for 14 months, but because there’s an incredible pool of talent.”
Without a conductor, for the first pair of programs, Mielgo selected works that could be led on stage by the orchestra’s concertmaster, the principal violinist. The first program includes Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” Suite, along with colorful works by Engelbert Humperdinck, Antonín Dvořák and Johann Strauss II, titled a “Trip Through Europe” in promotional materials.
The second program, “Classical Soundtracks,” celebrates the music of the cinema, including Mozart’s often-used “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” and selections from “Cinema Paradiso,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “West Side Story” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
The pandemic may offer challenges for the symphony and other performing arts organizations, but Mielgo and Haines agree there are opportunities, also.
“We’re looking at this as a pure opportunity for the organization to take full advantage of developing new audiences and a new vision, with full respect and admiration to the history and traditions of the Symphony of the Americas. With change comes progress,” Haines said.
After a short pause, he optimistically added, “There’s no rulebook for any of this.”
The Symphony of the Americas presents “A Classical Return – A Trip Through Europe,” April 17 – 18 and “Cinematic Classics – Classical Soundtracks,” April 22 – 23, at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. All performances begin at 7 p.m. Masks are required and all seating is socially distanced. Tickets start at $10 at BrowardCenter.org.