By Nancy Plum
New Jersey Symphony Orchestra launched the second of its online fall performances last Wednesday night with a multi-media presentation of 19th-century music. Recorded last May at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and led by NJSO Music Director Xian Zhang, this concert focused on “A Woman’s Voice” in programmatic music, performance, and poetry. Although the Orchestra presented only three works, last Wednesday night’s performance was dense with text and backstories to the music, accompanied by poetry of local writers. Joining the Orchestra was one of opera’s great legends, soprano Renée Fleming.
French composer Georges Bizet’s four-movement suite L’Arlésienne (The Girl from Arles) originated as incidental music to a failed theatrical play. New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performed the third movement “Adagietto,” scored for strings alone. Under Zhang’s direction, the strings of the Orchestra began the movement introspectively; with a smaller than usual ensemble of strings, the violins reached the heights of phrases well, with an especially lean melody from the first violins. The performance of this piece was preceded by a reading of the poem “Elizabeth, NJ” by New Jersey poet and artist Michelle Moncayo.
New Jersey Symphony Orchestra introduced Richard Wagner’s romantic Siegfried Idyll with the poem “Convergence” by New Jersey native, poet and educator Jane Wong. Wagner, one of the towering composers of the 19th century, composed the one-movement Idyll as a “Symphonic Birthday Greeting” to his wife at the time. Zhang and the Orchestra began the piece with the same light touch heard in the Bizet work, with more strings and the addition of winds and brass. A solo line from flutist Bart Feller soared above the orchestral palette, complemented by pastoral solo playing from oboist Alexandra Knoll. Clarinetist Pascal Archer also provided expressive solo passages as the strings gracefully maneuvered repeated melodies and rhythmic patterns. A quartet of principal string players presented melodic lines well punctuated by solo horn player Christopher Komer, and conductor Zhang and concertmaster Eric Wyrick added a playful character to the music. Zhang brought the Idyll to a joyous close, aided by rich orchestration and playing of the German trumpets for which Wagner’s music is known. more