GardenMusic Festival at Fairchild is a chance to enjoy music in nature

New York has Central Park, Colorado has Red Rocks Amphitheater and Washington, D.C., has the Mall.

Picturesque, renowned settings for concerts and cultural arts festivals.

But none of these landmarks can compete with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden for a “summer concert festival” in the dead of winter. That’s the idea behind the Second GardenMusic Festival, a two-week series of concerts on the 83-acre Fairchild in Coral Gables. The event serves as a showcase of music amid the garden’s natural resources.

“Music festivals are most popular now and institutions,” said GardenMusic producer and Sixth Floor Trio musician Teddy Abrams. “We are in a unique position in which we can do a summer music festival in January when no one else really can in this country. There is tremendous support and interest in making this happen. This can give us the opportunity to capitalize on how Miami is willing to experiment.”

The festival will include jazz and classical, traditional folk and Latin jazz, along with Broadway and bluegrass in the fields. The GardenMusic Festival also will offer a children’s concert.

The genesis for the festival came about two years ago when Fairchild teamed with Sixth Floor Trio, a chamber music ensemble led by Abrams, a former New World Symphony conductor. The two applied and received a grant of $150,000 from the 2012 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge Miami. The grant was used to begin the program.

Sixth Floor Trio takes up residence at the garden through the festival, which begins from Monday and runs through to Jan. 19.

Cutting edge

One of the signature events, The Edge: Music that Pushed the Boundaries of its Time on Jan. 14, features collaborations with Miami Beach visual artist Michele Oka-Doner and a premiere performance by GardenMusic resident composer Sebastian Chang. The aim is to shed insight on music from ancient African drumming to cutting-edge pieces by Bach and Beethoven.

Bassist Paul Kowert, fresh from his role with the Punch Brothers, who performed music for the acclaimed folk music film, Inside Llewyn Davis, plans to premiere a piece written for violin and bass at GardenMusic.

The festival’s breadth is a draw for the musicians as well as concertgoers, he believes.

“Having a broad spectrum of music to present is part of their goal and something that is really appealing to me as well,” Kowert, 27, said from his home in Brooklyn. “The greatest feeling in music is discovery. Getting to hear these different musicians from different walks of life do their thing in an environment rich in discovery for everybody, that’s something.”

The first GardenMusic Festival was held in April 2012. The event began with 50 to 75 people attending the initial concerts to some 500 at the last concert, said Jennifer Buttrick, a vice president of Fairchild’s Board of Trustees. Buttrick hopes for 400 to 500 people will attend the Thursday night opening concert. The concert will feature GardenMusic artists venturing from traditional folk to classical favorites like Schubert’s Death and the Maiden and Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1.

Ideal weather

The festival skipped a year because the organizers couldn’t get everyone on board for a preferred January date. April already becomes a bit too steamy in Miami, Buttrick said.

“I thought that was a smart move, what’s beautiful about South Florida is the January and February weather. We can be outside when no one else in the country can do it,” she said.

“Fairchild has really become a renaissance garden where we have art and music and science all coming together. Some will come for the music and discover horticulture and others will come for the horticulture and discover art and music.’’

So Miami

Abrams, a former conducting fellow for the New World Symphony, has kept busy since that first GardenMusic endeavor by conducting orchestras in Budapest and Detroit. He will conduct the Louisville Orchestra later this year. But returning to South Florida, Fairchild in particular, is a treat, he says.

“When I was finishing up my tenure at New World Symphony I got so excited about the possibilities there [at Fairchild]. It’s an amazing place and they had music events and really wanted to expand and have their own festival. The artistic initiative going on there is extraordinary. The vision they have for their art program is so successful it seemed natural that they moved it into music. To have something significant with something like that is so very Miami.”