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The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Weathers Traffic Dilemma, Displays Versatility in Ensemble

Nancy Plum

One of the advantages of live concerts over listening to pre-recorded music is the ability to improvise in an imperfect world. When the New Jersey Symphony orchestra, presenting its first concert in its Richardson Auditorium Series, had not arrived onstage at 7:55, the nearly full house knew that something was up. With the winds and brass sections of the orchestra stranded on the New Jersey Turnpike, wheels turned backstage and conductor Jane Glover did some quick thinking to change the programming in the first half of the concert. Rather than open with Benjamin Britten's Suite on English Folk Tunes, leading to Garrick Ohlsson's performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, the string sections of the orchestra performed the fourth movement of Mozart's Divertimento, K. 136, followed by a solo Mozart piano piece played by Mr. Ohlsson.

Although obviously unexpected and unrehearsed, the Divertimento movement was nonetheless clean and relatively precise, marred only by some scratching from the back of the violin section. Ms. Glover is clearly a conductor with attention to detail, and there was a marked difference between the lyrical and more marcato phrases.

For an impromptu piano solo, Mr. Ohlsson chose Mozart's Piano Sonata in C, K. 330, whose contrasting three movements gave Mr. Ohlsson ample opportunity to demonstrate his finesse at the keyboard. Mr. Ohlsson has obviously played this work a great deal, and had the piece's nuances and phrasing well in hand. Repeated motives and phrases were played with different dynamic effects, and all was played with clarity. Especially through the second movement Andante Cantabile, Mr. Ohlsson held notes until the last possible moment before moving through the phrase. Mr. Ohlsson's enjoyment of the work was quite apparent, and he seemed to be playing as much for his own entertainment as that of the audience.

One piece on the original program actually did not require winds. Local composer Frances White seeks to combine classical music with the sounds of everyday life – in the case of Centre Bridge (Dark River), the Sounds of the Delaware River. Scored for strings and electronic sound, this work was inspired by the Delaware crossing bridge in Stockton, New Jersey. Ms. White recorded daily sounds from the bridge and then constructed a piece that captures the transformation of crossing the river at this point. The electronic sound of the water was constant, with the strings harmoniously moving around by half steps. In conducting the work, Ms. Glover built the sound carefully, demonstrating again her attention to detail.

Mr. Ohlsson was finally able to perform the keynote piano concerto on the program, with the winds providing precise answers to the soloist's phrases. In the first movement, the ensemble's lyrical phrases seemed to sound more effective than the broader and more expansive lines, which could have used a bit more bite. Throughout the piece, soloist and ensemble articulated well together. Mr. Ohlsson maintained a lyrical and light keyboard touch, and his cadenza to the first movement was a miniature piano piece unto itself.

To open the 2003-2004 Princeton Series, the New Jersey Symphony orchestra had conceived a concert of Britten, Mozart, and Haydn, with a venture into the contemporary with the White piece. The modern day inconvenience of traffic interfered with 18th century music, and instead the audience was treated to the Britten and White pieces, a touch of Haydn (the first movement of his "Hornsignal" Symphony) and a lot of Mozart – always a crowd-pleaser. Fortunately, Mr. Ohlsson's musical charm and style, combined with the ensembles refined playing, kept the partially improved concert on a steady course.

New Jersey Symphony orchestra's next performance in Richardson Auditorium will be Friday, November 28 at 8 p.m. Conducted by Carlos Kalmar, this concert will feature soloists Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg on violin and Sergio and Odair Assad on guitar in music of John Harbison, Sergio Assad, and Mozart. Ticket information can be obtained by calling 1-800-ALLEGRO.

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