New World Symphony receives $10 million from Knight Foundation to develop digital projects

By Amanda Rosa for the MIAMI HERALD

New World Symphony, Miami’s premier classical music institution, opened its season with energetic performances, standing ovations and a surprise $10 million donation.

The Knight Foundation, an organization that supports arts and culture groups, announced the grant Saturday night at New World Center in Miami Beach. The money will go toward the symphony’s digital projects that combine classical music with modern technology, said Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen.

Howard Herring, Kristin Podack, and Alberto Ibarguen at the New World Symphony 34th Anniversary Gala

“In our increasingly digital world, nobody has done more than New World Symphony toward that goal of an engaged community,” Ibargüen said on stage as he announced the grant alongside Michael Tilson Thomas, the symphony’s co-founder.

Tilson Thomas was greeted with a standing ovation as he joined Ibargüen and former New World Symphony board chair Edward Manno Shumsky on stage.

Tilson Thomas, who is considered to be one of the world’s greatest conductors, co-founded the symphony with philanthropists Ted and Lin Arison 35 years ago and had been the artistic director ever since.

Earlier this year, Tilson Thomas announced he would step down from the role to focus on his health. He had received treatment for glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive brain cancer.

The $10 million Knight Foundation grant follows a $30 million gift the symphony received from the Arison Arts Foundation in May during Tilson Thomas’ final performances at the New World Center as artistic director.

During his speech on opening night, Tilson Thomas reflected on the symphony’s technological advancements and thanked Ibargüen and Shumsky for their support for innovative projects that he thought would never fly.

“Not only did it fly, but they said, ‘Fly higher! Fly higher!’ ” Tilson Thomas said.

Michael Tilson Thomas and Sarah Arison at the New World Symphony's 30th Anniversary Gala

In September, New World announced that acclaimed French conductor Stéphane Denève will succeed Tilson Thomas as artistic director. This past summer, Tilson Thomas assumed the less strenuous role of artistic director laureate, a position he said he’s still trying to define.

“My gosh, $10 million from the Knight Foundation, just at this point when I’m trying to imagine what does it really mean to be a laureate?” he said as the audience laughed. “Initially, I thought, it’s where I get to do anything that I want and have no administrative or fundraising responsibilities. That was my dream, my crazy dream.”

Tilson Thomas founded the symphony in 1987 as an ensemble and intensive three-year fellowship program for music school graduates. The symphony was originally housed in the Lincoln Theatre on Lincoln Road, but later moved into the state-of-the-art New World Center in 2011.

Since the beginning, the symphony has used technology to not just promote its orchestra but to also make classical music more accessible.The New World Center is known for its free “Wallcast” concerts, a monthly livestream broadcast of its indoor concert that is projected onto the building’s outside wall.

But thanks to the Knight Foundation, he said he’s still thinking about what’s next for the symphony, its fellows and their presence online.

“I think classical music has become a kind of preserve for endangered emotions,” he said. “And we’re doing great things in that direction.”

This story was produced with financial support from The Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The Miami Herald maintains full editorial control of this work.

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