Shaping The Future of Music’ Gala Celebrates Innovation & Achievement

By: Jordan Levin

The Knight Center for Music Innovation had its grand opening last Thursday evening, commemorating a soaring new milestone for the Frost School of Music in a deftly orchestrated, virtuosically rendered celebration of the school's newest leap into the future and its long history of innovation and achievement.

"We did it! We're here," exulted Frost School of Music Dean Shelton "Shelly" Berg, visionary of the decade-long effort to build the Knight Center for Music Innovation. "This brand-new building is a physical manifestation of the promise of an education at one of the nation's top 10 music schools."

The soaring white Knight Center for Music Innovation now stands as a cutting-edge performance and technology innovation hub with two dynamic performance spaces: The Robert and Judi Prokop Newman Recital Hall, a world-class, 200-seat performance theater with superior acoustics, and the Thomas D. Hormel Music Innovation Stage, a high-tech multi-media space for experimenting with virtual reality, surround video and audio, and other new technology transforming the music world. The Knight Center will provide a host of new possibilities for Frost students and further solidify the school's status as one of the top music schools.

"A space where you can not only experience the latest in technology but be creative with it is a phenomenal opportunity for these students and the next generation of music-makers," stated record producer, songwriter, and music executive Matt Scerletic (B.M. '92 and M.M. '94), now Director of Creative Content at Google.

The evening opened with media huddled around the star-studded alumni on a red carpet outside. Frost faculty, high-level donors, advisors, and University of Miami Trustees mingled, sipping cocktails and buzzing with excitement. Dean Berg, beaming with energy and elation, seemed to be everywhere, roving the red carpet, greeting and chatting with guests. So many attendees had name tags with their graduation dates and degrees that the gathering felt like a multi-generational reunion – what Dean Berg called "a worldwide Frost School family night."

"As the school grows, new buildings are built, and they incentivize more innovation," said Rey Sanchez (B.M. '80 and M.M. '82), Frost School's Associate Dean of Strategic Initiatives and Innovation, who was integral to the evening's presentation inside the Thomas D. Hormel Music Innovation Stage. "We see the Knight Center as part of that innovative cycle."

The high point of a week of events launching the $36.5 million music center, the "Shaping the Future of Music" gala was hosted by Gloria Estefan, Miami's first homegrown pop star and a 1978 University of Miami graduate who was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the Frost School in 1993. 

"I walk around campus, and it just blows my mind how things have changed and grown here," said Gloria Estefan. She and her husband Emilio Estefan, producer and architect of the Miami Sound Machine and the careers of myriad Latin pop stars, have become Frost advocates and done multiple musical collaborations with Berg and the school.

Emilio Estefan praised the Knight Center's place in Miami's cultural fabric. "So many people helped build this place," he said. "It's so important. Miami is growing in such an incredible way; it needs good musicians, and we have the talent here."

Inside the towering Hormel stage, guests were immersed in a dazzling multi-media visual and audio history of the Frost School, streamed on three walls. They then headed upstairs to the Newman Recital Hall for performances and remarks by University of Miami President Julio Frenk, Board of Trustees Chair Laurie Silvers, and others.

"I'm so excited at this historic moment for the Frost School of Music and the University of Miami," said Frenk.

Berg celebrated the Knight Center as an achievement for many stakeholders in the University and the community. "There's immense potential in coming together to achieve a common goal," he said. "Especially when the goal is shaping the future of music for our students, our faculty, and us all."


Gloria Estefan, a veteran of countless award ceremonies, was an authoritative and charming emcee. "Innovation and dreams are unlimited among Frost Schools students - past and present," she said proudly. "We know that whatever we stand to achieve will only grow thanks to the support of each of us, the remarkable faculty here, and, yes, the new capabilities available in this brand-new incredible Knight Center for Music Innovation."

Berg was a co-host and constant presence. He gave out the first-ever Frost Centennial Medals to commemorate the Knight Center’s grand opening but also to recognize each alumni performer for their significant contributions to the Frost School, the music industry, and society at large. Also included in the Frost Centennial medalist recipients' list were GRAMMY-award winning producer and Frost School Advisory Board Member Emilio Estefan; composer, pianist, singer-songwriter, and music industry executive Jorge Mejia; and GRAMMY-award winning producer and music executive Julio Bagué, who proudly sat in the audience that night.

"I'm the product of opportunities that Frost gave me," said Jon Secada, who earned two degrees in jazz at Frost in the 1980s before his multi-million-selling pop debut. "I love that I'm here for all these changes."

Other Frost Centennial Medal recipients not in attendance joined the evening virtually to express their gratitude for receiving such honor. The list included acclaimed jazz singer Veronica Swift; GRAMMY-award winning singer-songwriter and pianist Bruce Hornsby; GRAMMY-award jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny; pianist, composer, and bandleader Emmet Cohen; and singer-songwriter Ben Folds.

Throughout the evening, Berg also accompanied many performers on piano, with GRAMMY-award winning producer and engineer Lee Levin on drums, and bassist Steve Bailey, both Frost alumni who've worked with a host of prominent pop, jazz, and Latin stars.

Carmen Lundy, a Miami native, sang a jazzy tribute to her hometown composed for the occasion. Asiya Korepanova, radiant in a silver gown, gave an electrifying rendition of Rachmaninoff's Etudes-Tableaux in D minor, then invited Santiago Rodriguez, veteran Frost Professor and Chair of Keyboard Performance, saying he "changed my life,” onstage for a sweetly playful intergenerational duet. Jon Secada and renowned Cuban jazz pianist and Frost professor Gonzalo Rubalcaba gave a sensitive rendition of jazz standard Stardust from an upcoming album recorded on campus. Dawnn Lewis, GRAMMY-award winning songwriter and actor, took the stage and wowed the audience with a dynamic performance of Fabulous Baby from Sister Act. Meanwhile, Sandra Lopez Neill, a recognized operatic soprano, voice instructor, and Frost School lecturer, sang the beautiful aria Vissi d'arte from Tosca.

The acoustics inside the Newman Recital Hall, thanks to world-renowned designer Russ Todd, were exquisitely warm, textured, and intimate – contrasting dramatically with the soaring wall of windows behind the stage, overlooking the stunning vista of Osceola Lake and the lights of the campus.

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation CEO Alberto Ibarguen said this location was a significant factor in Knight Foundation's decision to award $10 million to the music center, joking that when Berg showed him the site, "I thought 'holy cow, how can I stop myself from just saying yes right now?'"

The opening gala culminated in an onstage recognition of philanthropists Phillip and Patricia Frost that celebrated the 20th anniversary of their $33 million naming donation to the school, with Gloria Estefan singing a playful variation on You Can't Take That Away From Me, with new lyrics like "the way you raise our dreams… the way you changed our town, from bay to shining sea, they can't take that away from me."


But the evening's climax came when Matt Scerletic led an orchestra of Frost students, backing dynamic lead vocalist Tucker Smith ripping through several pop hits, culminating in the Santana/Rob Thomas blues-rocker Smooth. They brought the audience to their feet and Berg onstage. "This is the future of music," he proclaimed proudly. "Right here at Frost."