Finding Miami Beach’s “Pulse”

Mercury Soul
Knight Arts

by Neil de la Flor

If you haven’t been to “Pulse” at the New World Symphony, you haven’t experienced one of the most exhilarating and energetic fusions of live electronica with classical music anywhere. For four hours last Friday night, the famed New World Center turned into a mega nightclub, a new age spacecraft, where a nebulae of lights and pulsating beats transformed the Center into an alternative universe — a universe where movers-and-shakers, classical music connoisseurs and club-goers met.

Pulse,” created by Mercury Soul’s Benjamin Shwartz, DJ Masonic and Anne Patterson, succeeds by presenting classical music to a generation more accustomed to house music than contemporary classical music. It’s where the Music Winter Conference meets Heinrich von Biber, the 17th century Bohemian-Austrian born composer and violinist.

Biber’s “Battalia” uses strings “like battle drums” creating the impression of modern day cinematic sound effects. However, most of the sound effects were drowned out by the sound effects of the audience it was intended to reach. Shwartz did what he could to lure the audience in with his gorgeous hand gestures and intense, radiant glare. When watching Shwartz conduct, one immediately recognizes he is one with the musicians, not an extension. “This guy is amazing,” an audience member shouted. And he was.

I simply could not hear Nigel Westlake’s “Omphalo Centric Lecture.” The marimba and drum musicians were drowned out by the background noise. The musicians, strategically located around the upper level of the Center, gave a dazzling, yet inaudible, performance. The set seemed to end early as the musicians quietly left their respective platforms. Then, seven minutes into the final set of “Slonimsky’s Earbox” by John Adams, a lone audience member — surrounded by multiple converstaions and camera flashes —said it best, “Shhh!”

Despite all of the above, nothing else comes close to “Pulse” or the New World Symphony. For just $20, it is one of the most inspiring listening experiences in South Florida. With a few tweaks, maybe the organizers can find a stern, yet subtle way to re-engage the audience before each set — to create balance inside this pulsating universe — without cooling the vibe. Otherwise, just pack a little extra patience.