Frost School Enters a New Era of Supreme Sound

Frost School Enters a New Era of Supreme Sound

With its crystalline acoustics, superlative technologies, and breathtaking view, the Frost School’s new Knight Center for Music Innovation heralds a magnificent future for music performance and instruction on campus and for the community.
With its crystalline acoustics, superlative technologies, and breathtaking view, the Frost School’s new Knight Center for Music Innovation heralds a magnificent future for music performance and instruction on campus and for the community.
Frost School Dean Shelton Berg accompanies jazz artist and Frost
alumna Carmen Lundy during the opening gala for the Knight Center.
Photo courtesy of Versatile Light


The Frost Symphony Orchestra, Studio Jazz Band, and Musical Theater, as well as Stamps Scholars, American Ensembles, and other acts sampled the sparkling new space, providing a weeklong repertoire of gala events and performances that gave audiences a thrilling intro to the center’s future—and to the future of music.

“Universities were founded to be centers of research and experimentation, and the Knight Center for Music Innovation is an essential, physical hub for innovation at the Frost School of Music,” says Shelton Berg, dean of the Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music.

“Musicians will continue to perform music spanning centuries of creativity, but more and more, technology and cultural diversity will figure prominently in our work,” the dean adds. “Our students and graduates will need to master technology along with musical artistry. They will need to be comfortable with a more interactive relationship with audiences that technology empowers and able to leverage musical relationships that cross traditional borders of genre and culture.”

Reynaldo Sanchez, B.M. ’80, M.M. ’82, music professor and associate dean for strategic initiatives and innovation, was among the chorus of visionaries who years ago began to shape the conceptualization and the construction of the new performance and technology center.

“This new center is the kind of asset that can push the school to the next level,” Sanchez says. “It’s more than a performance space—this is something else altogether. This really gives us a blank canvas to do so many things. I really believe that a space helps create the music,” Sanchez adds. “A space is not just to put music in, it’s to get music out. And these spaces we created are going to incentivize lots of new creativity.”

Technology to Engage

The $36.5 million, 25,000-square-foot performance and technology space is located in the heart of the Coral Gables Campus, and its design and technology features aim to engage audiences inside as well as outside—and even passersby.

The center houses two primary venues. The Robert and Judi Prokop Newman Recital Hall is a classically fixed acoustically sensitive room with seating for 200. The Thomas D. Hormel Music Innovation Stage is a fully flexible innovation stage, with an open floor and a grid above in the ceiling to allow for variable sound and lighting configurations.

“As a state-of-the-art musical venue, the hall serves to prepare students for professional life, so there is that inward focus, but simultaneously it is leveraging technology and a building in a way that makes music more accessible to the entire campus,” says Ariel Fausto, design principal for H3, the architectural firm that designed the center.

“The visual transparency of the recital hall—created by the large window that faces the lake—allows for passersby to see at any moment when a performance is happening and telegraphs the energy from within the building,” Fausto explains.

The massive west-facing 20-by-40-foot window, made of “smart glass” that can be switched from clear to opaque and allows for vision to be directed inward or outward, will be utilized for “Windowcasts” onto the outdoor plaza.

The innovation stage, named in honor of Thomas D. Hormel, a renowned innovator in both music and art, is essentially a black box—albeit a very high-tech, hybrid one—and defined by its versatility, Sanchez explains.

“It’s a blank canvas. The curtains can be opened, so the space can be very lively, such as for an opera, or closed for a rock concert. And it’ll all sound fabulous,” Sanchez says.

The floors are black, yet the walls white and outfitted with acoustical panels that can be used for “projection mapping,” a technique of visually creating 3D dimensionality.

“And because there’s no permanent seating, we can build stages and orient them in different ways. We’re not stuck with one stage in one space,” Sanchez adds.

In Harmony With Its Surroundings

Jessica Brumley, vice president for facilities operations and planning, emphasizes that the new center aligns strategically within the University landscape.

“The Knight Center is an extraordinary facility that incorporates the latest technologies and innovations, and its construction continues the University’s commitment to green initiatives and LEED certification with a focus on sustainable design,” Brumley says.

“The proximity to Lake Osceola adds to the aesthetic and community togetherness that was started by the opening of the Shalala Student Center a decade ago and continued with the amazing student housing additions of Lakeside Village and Centennial Village,” she adds.

Deborah Hunley, assistant vice president for the design and construction department, has been part of the team overseeing construction since she joined the University a year ago.

“The building design is very unique in its curvature and placement on our campus,” Hunley notes. “The prime focus of the recital hall’s large picture window is to direct the view onto the lake, and that view is definitely the first thing that everyone talks about—it’s absolutely gorgeous.”

The center houses two primary venues.
Left photo courtesy of Kikor; right photo courtesy of João Felipe da Fraga

The prime focus of the recital hall’s large picture window is to direct the view onto the lake.


A Space to Create and Innovate

In advance of the opening, Sanchez researched to craft a 10-minute immersive experience that documented the story of innovation at the Frost School from 1965 to the present. The presentation was broadcast through a 12:1 immersive video and audio system as part of Frost Tech Day, one of nine Knight Center opening events that took place in late October and early November.

“The history is amazing—it could have been a Hollywood script,” Sanchez says of his findings. He credits the late William F. Lee III, jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and third dean of the school from 1964-82, with setting the innovation tempo.

“Bill Lee was so far ahead of his time and helped create a culture that’s been here for a long time. It seems like with every new step of innovation a new building is built, and then that new building spurs more new creativity,” Sanchez says.

The Frost School today is the number one music school in Florida and among the top 10 in the country.

Jeffrey Buchman, associate professor and stage director for opera, participated in the early conversations to conceptualize a Frost School space that would shape the future of music.

“Ultimately, spaces like this are meant to bring talents together in collaborative ways and also to bring audiences together in more interactive ways,” says Buchman, who will be producing an opera this spring in the new center.

“It’s not that in our other spaces we couldn’t do this kind of innovative work, but this is a new environment that holds even greater possibilities,” he says. “We’re not dealing with a proscenium stage or an audience with only one perspective to the stage. Now we can put the audience wherever we want, including giving them the freedom to walk around the stage during the performance.”

William F. Lee III
William F. Lee III

a 360-degree musical experience
Photo courtesy of Edin Studios

You need flexibility above all else in order to have a venue that adapts with technology.

Photo courtesy of KIKOR
Photo courtesy of KIKOR

Buchman, who has extensively researched mixed and augmented reality and has a long history of using multimedia in his operatic productions, celebrates the sophisticated technology that the center offers and that its directors will continue to explore. He emphasizes, though, not to confuse “technology” with “innovation.”

“All these types of technology that we’re exploring and playing with and utilizing are not in and of themselves innovation—they’re just tools that these wonderful creative minds, whether they be students or the faculty, are now able to employ to further innovation,” Buchman points out.

In the early design conversations, Sanchez and others urged that permanent technology installations be minimized in favor of flexible, open space to accommodate an infinite range of configurations. They likewise recommended that questions of technology become part of the center’s ongoing experimentation.

“Whatever we might have decided in 2018 in terms of technology was going to be moot by the time we opened,” Sanchez notes. “You need flexibility above all else in order to have a venue that adapts with technology.”

Weeklong celebration to inaugurate the Knight Center for Music Innovation
The Frost School of Music presented a weeklong celebration to inaugurate the Knight Center for Music Innovation. Events ranged from family-friendly concerts to an immersive 360-degree musical experience.
Photos courtesy of 1. Versatile Light 2. Edin Studios 3. Matt Rice Photography 4. Versatile Light 5. João Felipe da Fraga

While both rooms are outfitted with state-of-the-art cameras, lights, and recording and broadcasting equipment, Sanchez believes the decision to forego excessive investment in technology and instead install a grid system that allows crews to hang whatever is needed proved to be a sound one.

The innovation stage particularly will incubate experimentation with augmented and mixed reality, artificial intelligence, volumetric video capture, surround audio, and technologies yet to be identified, according to Berg.

The new Knight Center for Music Innovation is also fully designed to be cross genre and not just to spotlight one kind of music.

“That was the whole thing, because we don’t know what music is going to sound like in 20 years,” Sanchez says.

Beyond its ability to accommodate future innovations and yet-unknown advances in music, the new center is designed to promote engagement.

“Music at its core is all about engagement with others,” Sanchez says. “If there’s no engagement between the performers and the music, the performers with each other, and the performers and the audience, then we don’t have anything. So that’s what the technology is helping us achieve.”