In an era when the musical greats of classical music seem to be on the cusp of being irrelevant or forgotten, Nu Deco Ensemble is dedicated to a revival.
At the helm of the Wynwood-based Nu Deco are co-founders and artistic directors Sam Hyken, 35, and Jacomo Bairos, 40. Friends for more than a decade, they thrive off the sounds of vivacious violins and booming brass. As Bairos, the conductor, leads the orchestra in a recent rehearsal, his body moves in time with the music arranged by Hyken.
They are preparing for a trio of April concerts at The Light Box in Wynwood, followed by a collaboration with a Brooklyn hip-hop dance company on Miami’s biggest stage: The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
“We try to bring relevancy to classical music, bring more connections to the popular world,” Bairos said.
COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT MUSIC
Hyken and Bairos are fortunate that their talents as musicians were discovered early, and that their teachers and families encouraged them to pursue their passions.
Hyken, who plays trumpet, took a master class by trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis in middle school. During a performance, Marsalis told the whole school and audience that Hyken should be a professional musician.
For Bairos, it was also a middle-school musical experience that changed the course of his life. He decided to take up tuba, to be different, and his teacher took him to see a Canadian Brass performance. “I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘My God, this tuba player has the audience in the palm of his hand!’ That is the moment I knew I couldn’t live without music.”
Hyken and Bairos both went on to study music at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. But the two didn’t meet until they happened to be halfway around the world together, auditioning for spots in the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. They became friends immediately.
“We both just won the job the same week, the same night, and we ended up being roommates,” Hyken said. “It was a very bonding experience for both of us, and that’s when the seeds of all the ideas of Nu Deco sprouted.”
FORMULATING A PLAN
While part of the symphony, Hyken began to gravitate toward creating musical arrangements, and Bairos told his friend that he wanted to try conducting. The two pushed each other to go for it, with the goal of eventually starting their own ensemble. But they knew they had to first establish themselves as musicians.
“We waited for the right moment to make sure we not only had our ducks in a row financially,” Bairos said, “but also we knew we had to build our careers a bit.”
Hyken accepted a position at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, while Bairos stayed behind in Singapore. Bairos asked the orchestra’s management if he could put together a Latin pop ensemble. They said yes, and the famed conductor Gustav Meier, who died last year, was so impressed by Bairos, he invited Bairos to study under him at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Bairos later joined the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra as he continued his path toward Miami.
Hyken and Bairos reunited in Miami in 2013. They began to apply for grants to make the nonprofit Nu Deco a reality. The ensemble’s first show was two years ago — April 2015 — at The Light Box.
A NEW RELEVANCY
“One of the things we say is we’re a genre-bending, 21st-century chamber orchestra,” Bairos said. “We are an orchestra made for today, made for this society. We try to bring relevancy to classical music.”
Hyken has a particular knack for marrying symphonic arrangements with rock, electronica and other musical genres from the likes of Kraftwerk, LCD Soundsystem and Massive Attack. Nu Deco’s past performances at The Light Box included Hyken’s “Prince Symphonic Suite.” The ensemble’s season-finale Arsht Center show on April 28 is a collaboration with Brooklyn-based theatrical hip-hop company Decadancetheatre. Hyken and Decadancetheatre artistic director Jennifer Weber worked together to create “4,” a reimagined take on Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” that features the music of Nu Deco and the moves of Decadancetheatre.
Hyken and Bairos also make it a mission of Nu Deco’s to reach out to young people, recognizing how critical music was to them as children. The ensemble performs free shows for kids at Homestead’s Seminole Theatre and routinely does educational outreach.
Whether it’s kids or adults in the audience, Hyken and Bairos say the goal is to have them leave with a new appreciation for music.
“We value the idea of transformation,” Hyken said. “Sometimes people come into our concert with no expectations — or big expectations — but they walk out transformed.”
Nu Deco Concerts:
This content originally appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of INDULGE.