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Thursday, January 31, 2013

2013-2014 Preview: The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra

The Garden State's oldest orchestra announces its schedule.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jacques Lacombe conducts the NJSO.
Photo by Fred Stucker © 2013 The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
When one thinks of large scale symphonic programs in the New York area, first thoughts are of the New York Philharmonic or perhaps the yearly visits from great orchestras at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. But just across the Hudson River, following a short ride on NJ Transit or the PATH train is the New Jersey Performing Arts Center's Prudential Hall, a comfortable, acoustically splendid venue that is the regular home of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

The NJSO has offered concerts since 1922 (though its roots go back to the founding of the Eintracht Singing and Orchestra Society in Newark in 1846. Like its home city of Newark, the NJSO has experienced something of a resurgence in recent years under music director Jacques Lacombe.

For the coming year, Mr. Lacombe has planned  an innovative season-long schedule that combines bold programming with familiar classics. Each subscription concert is presented at NJPAC's Prudential Hall, a state-of-the-art facility that is only a short walk from Newark's Penn Station. (And yes, the streets are well-lit.)

This year's schedule includes a fourth series in the orchestra's popular Winter Festival and a celebration of the 150th birthday of German composer Richard Strauss.

Here's some highlights in 2013-2014:

Sept. 27-29, 2013: Opening Night
The season starts with two works by Duke Ellington, alongside with a new composition premiered by jazz pianist Geri Allen. The second half features Dvorak's New World Symphony, with its four movements separated by gospel spirituals, performed by the Howard University vocal ensemble Afro Blue.

Nov. 29-31, 2014: New Music
A world premiere from composer Lowell Liebermann kicks off this concert celebrating concertos by 20th century masters Ravel and Bartók. The latter's Concerto for Orchestra allows every voice to be heard.

Jan. 17-26, 2014: Winter Festival
Concluding a four year initiative of concerts inspired by the classical elements, this year's January schedule focuses on the idea of "earth." Planned works include the U.S. premiere of Tan Dun's Earth Concerto, Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and Richard Strauss' Ein Alpensinfonie.

April 3-6, 2014: Verdi Requiem
Giuseppe Verdi's setting of the Latin death Mass is a perfect cross-breed: an exploration of the world beyond with the musical power of one of the great composer's operas. This Requiem is a marathon for orchestra and chorus, with four vocal soloists carrying out the composer's epic vision.

May 30-June 1, 2014: The Strauss Sesquicentennial
Celebrate the great composer's birthday with this performance of Strauss' tone poem Ein Heldenleben. One of his most popular orchestral works, Heldenleben (the title means "A Hero's Life" is Strauss the autobiographer. It is a sardonic, occasionally comic look at the peccadilloes of the music business--from conductors all the way down to lowly critics. It appears here with the Beethoven Violin concerto performed by soloist James Ehnes.

The NJSO also offers its programs in different venues around the Garden State:
  • the Mayo Center in Morristown,
  • Richardson Auditorium in Princeton, 
  • the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank,
  • the State Theater in New Brunswick. 
Check the schedule at NJSymphony.org for details and concert times.

The ensemble is also exploring a possible concert program in South Jersey, particularly following the damage caused to the Jersey Shore by Hurricane Sandy. With a full slate of children's programming and family concerts planned for the coming season (including a screening of The Wizard of Oz with a full orchestra playing Howard Arlen's score this should be a banner year for New Jersey's oldest orchestra.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.