The Music Men

Frank Gehry and Michael Tilson Thomas dream up a concert hall for the 21st century

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Rui Dias-Aidos

Large plaster panels do double duty: as acoustic reflectors to enhance the orchestra's sound and as video screens for performances that call for projected images to accompany the music

Architects sometimes like to talk about breaking out of the box. Classical musicians, it turns out, have the same idea. Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, wanted a new home for his other passion, the New World Symphony--a Miami-based orchestra and academy that provides up to three years of seasoning for young musicians. Frank Gehry was the perfect candidate for the job, and not just because he used to babysit Tilson Thomas many years ago when the conductor was growing up in Los Angeles. No one has broken out of the box more spectacularly than Gehry, creator of the mighty Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; his Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is one of the most inviting symphony spaces in the world. Now, at a time when symphony orchestras are suffering from declining audiences and revenues, what both men wanted was a building that would take classical music and launch it powerfully into the world.

To bring the audience closer to the musicians, Gehry configured the 756 seats in the New World Center's main auditorium around the stage. During performances, nine high-definition video cameras feed images to an editing booth, which transmits an edited feed to a vast 7,000-sq.-ft. (650 sq m) projection wall on an exterior wall of the building, allowing audiences in the adjoining park to enjoy the music outdoors. Back inside, rehearsal rooms are Web-connected to allow the young musicians in Miami to take video-conference-style master classes from instructors anywhere in the world. If it all works, this won't be just a concert hall you go to. It will be a concert hall that goes to you.