March 13, 2019

By Nancy Plum

One musical bright spot after every winter in Princeton is the spring concert of the Princeton University Orchestra, when the ensemble presents winners of its annual Concerto Competition for undergraduate students. As evidenced by the audience reaction in this past weekend’s concert at Richardson Auditorium, this year’s winners have not been squirreled away practicing to the expense of everything else, but are fully participating in the Princeton University experience, with armies of friends who came to support them in their solo performances. Four of this year’s winners performed with the University Orchestra Friday night (the concert was repeated Saturday night), demonstrating musical poise, technical dexterity, and the culmination of their enormous capacity for hard work.  more

March 6, 2019

By Nancy Plum

The Princeton Singers continued its long-standing collaboration with the Princeton University Art Museum this past weekend with a performance tied to the Museum’s current “Family Album” exhibit of 18th-century British painter Thomas Gainsborough. Princeton Singers Artistic Director Steven Sametz led the professional chamber vocal ensemble in a program of British a capella choral music spanning more than six centuries. Performing in varied configurations in the Museum’s medieval gallery, The Singers made full use of the unusual space and complementary acoustics in bringing music of “This Sceptered Isle” to life.

The Princeton Singers’ late Saturday afternoon performance (the concert was repeated later Saturday night) was centered on a five-part work by 16th-century English composer William Byrd. Byrd bridged the Protestant and Catholic music traditions while composing several settings of the Catholic liturgical mass at a time when it was politically dangerous to do so. Sametz built Saturday’s concert around Byrd’s late 16th-century Mass for Four Voices, interspersing secular works of British choral music among the mass movements.

With interesting trivia-laden and informative introductions to each selection, Sametz illustrated his programming concept for this eight-work concert. The chorus opened with a “Pastyme with Good Company,” with music and text likely by King Henry VIII, who apparently had time for composing amidst his many wives. The Singers generated a very bright sound in the space of the gallery, with a joyous and chipper choral tone aided by uniform vowel production among all singers. more

February 27, 2019

By Nancy Plum

The giants of the opera world do not have much time to leave their stages and create innovative and cross-cultural programs for smaller audiences, but two such titans came to McCarter Theatre Center this past weekend to perform a bit of opera, American song, and spirituals — with a whole lot of entertainment. The career of bass-baritone Eric Owens has taken him from the Metropolitan Opera to interactive recitals for incarcerated youth to the maximum-security Attica correctional facility. His roles have ranged from Wagnerian to Aristotle Onassis to the delicate Mozart classics. This season, he has turned his attention in a new direction — a multicity vocal collaboration with tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a master of the 19th-century bel canto style of singing and also a leading performer in opera houses worldwide. Owens and Brownlee have teamed up this year for a recital of solo opera arias, duets, American song, and spirituals, and brought their unique partnership to McCarter Theatre this past Sunday afternoon with a program of Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi, and Bizet, as well as a journey through American music. more

February 13, 2019

By Nancy Plum

Continuing Princeton University Concerts’ 125th Anniversary season, Richardson Chamber Players presented an afternoon of mixed chamber works composed during the inaugural season of the Concerts series. In a Sunday concert at Richardson Auditorium entitled Then and Now, six musicians of the Richardson Chamber Players juxtaposed works composed in 1894 and 1895 with music of today, demonstrating connections among pieces written more than 100 years ago. Most of the works on Sunday afternoon’s program paid tribute to the University Concerts’ inaugural year, with the Eric Nathan’s very contemporary Threads for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano making the compositional leap into the 21st century.

The Chamber Players began their journey into Then and Now with a work for solo piano as pianist Geoffrey Burleson performed a paraphrase for solo piano of 19th-century French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Paraphrases were virtuosic solo instrumental works based on popular melodies of the time, in the case of Saint-Saëns’ La mort de Thaïs, music from Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs. Saint-Saëns set the opera’s “Vision” tableau of Act III, as well as the more well-known “Meditation,” and Burleson began the work with clarity in opening octaves punctuated by rolling arpeggios. Burleson played percussively, creating tension which moved the music along. This paraphrase was more driven than dreamy, although Burleson was effective in stretching the lines in a more pensive second section. Burleson finished the Saint-Saëns piece in majestic style, with virtuosic flourishes from the keyboard.

German composer Richard Strauss composed a generation later than Saint-Saëns, which can be heard in his boundary-pushing harmonics and emotional setting of text. Strauss composed more than 200 songs, and soprano Rochelle Ellis, accompanied by Burleson, presented four of them in thoughtful and unhurried fashion. The four songs performed by Ellis set poetry of varied text and mood, and Ellis well demonstrated Strauss’ picturesque writing with solid control of the vocal lines and animated storytelling. The third song in particular, “Heimliche Aufforderung,” showed an especially free-flowing accompaniment from Burleson and a sensitive ending to the text from Ellis. more

February 6, 2019

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 10-year relationship with Music Director Rossen Milanov this past weekend, with concerts paying tribute to the musical leadership which resulted from Milanov’s first concert with the Orchestra. Saturday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) featured Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 — the work which Milanov conducted in his debut with Princeton Symphony — as well as a Brahms piano concerto within the classical framework.

Johannes Brahms’ 1858 Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor reflected the composer’s homage to Robert Schumann, who served as a mentor to Brahms, and was originally intended as a sonata for two pianists — Brahms and Schumann’s wife Clara. Featured in this weekend’s performances by the Princeton Symphony was pianist Dominic Cheli, who received his training both at Yale University and Manhattan School of Music and is currently pursuing an artist diploma at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles.   

Like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 which followed in the program, Brahms’ Concerto stated the music ferocity from the outset, with an extended orchestral introduction to the piano solo marked by both subdued strings and effective dynamic swells from timpanist Jeremy Levine. In his opening piano solo line, Cheli emerged from the orchestral texture seamlessly with thoughtful and sensitive playing, positioning the piano as a fellow instrument in the orchestra, rather than set off with its own part.    more

January 23, 2019

By Nancy Plum

Since late November, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has been presenting a Winter Festival throughout New Jersey, with performances depicting how “Music Speaks.” The Orchestra brought the Festival to Richardson Auditorium last Friday night with both a performance of contemporary poetry set to music and a towering 19th-century symphony featuring text drawn from an early 19th-century anthology. In this concert, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Music Director Xian Zhang conducted a lean first half of chamber instrumental textures and a second half of lush Romantic orchestration tempered with Viennese buoyancy.  

Composer and Minnesota native Maria Schneider has been credited with revitalizing the big band sound in the 21st century, as well as fusing the jazz and classical worlds. Schneider’s 2013 Winter Morning Walks, a setting of nine poems by Iowa poet Ted Kooser, has received a Grammy for Best Classical Composition, and has been championed by soprano Dawn Upshaw, for whom it was composed.  In Friday night’s performance of this work, Schneider combined three musicians from her own jazz orchestra with strings from the NJSO to accompany Upshaw in conveying Kooser’s descriptive Americana poems. Upshaw and some of the instrumentalists were amplified, which took away a bit from the soprano’s acoustic resonance, but Upshaw used the amplification well to convey the text through the hall. more

January 16, 2019

By Nancy Plum

In the second installment of his year-long residency through Princeton University Concerts, Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel returned to Princeton last week for several days of music-making, panel discussions, and educational activities focusing on the theme “Music and Faith.” Bracketed by a master class with the El Sistema-inspired Trenton Music Makers Orchestra and panel discussions on music education and music’s role in social change, the keynote concert last Monday night in Richardson Auditorium featured musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Violinists Bing Wang and Rebecca Reale, violist Teng Li, cellist Ben Hong, and clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan, joined by Princeton University pianist and faculty member Juri Seo, presented a concert featuring music of 20th-century Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, a world premiere of a piece by Seo, and a solid gold standard from the master of chamber music — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.   more

December 19, 2018

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra returned to Richardson Auditorium last Friday night for its annual presentation of George Frideric Handel’s immortal holiday classic Messiah. Led by conductor Patrick Dupré Quigley, 35 members of New Jersey Symphony, along with four vocal soloists and the Montclair State University Singers, presented an interpretation of Handel’s complex work which, although numbers were cut here and there, still conveyed the story well.   

With so few instrumentalists, expertly supported by harpsichordist Aya Hamada and portatif organist John Miller as continuo players, the performance was consistently light and precise. A vocal quartet comprised of soprano Margot Rood, countertenor Reginald Mobley, tenor Steven Soph, and bass Charles Wesley Evans provided much of the work’s drama through arias and recitatives, with Quigley’s tempi moving the music along quickly.  more

December 5, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Venezuela-born conducting wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel is known to audiences in the United States primarily as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a position he has held for 10 years. However, Dudamel’s reach and effect on musical performance and education worldwide has been much more, and Princeton is now part of this impact through an artist-in-residency collaboration between Dudamel and Princeton University Concerts, as part of the University Concerts’ 125th Anniversary year-long celebration. In a three-part residency entitled “Uniting Our World Through Music,” beginning this past weekend and continuing into the spring of 2019, Dudamel will be in residency at the University, coaching both campus and off-campus ensembles, conducting the University Orchestra and Glee Cub, and participating in panel discussions on the impact of music on social change. The first of these concerts took place this past Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium. more

November 21, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra explored three unique composers this past weekend in a Sunday afternoon concert in Richardson Auditorium. Bookending Niccolò Paganini’s monumental Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 6 were two 20th-century works written only two years apart. In a concert featuring musical surprises and ear-catching effects, Princeton Symphony Orchestra, together with an exciting and very contemporary violin soloist, performed to a spellbound audience in Richardson.  

Leoš Janáček’s 1926 Sinfonietta, as arranged by Erwin Stein, reflected the composer’s fascination with military bands and showed Janáček’s imagination in scoring each of the five movements for a different group of instruments. Led by Music Director Rossen Milanov, the musicians of Princeton Symphony played Janáček’s largest purely orchestral work cleanly and precisely. An effective pair of horns opened the first movement fanfare, together with exacting timpani and a quartet of trumpets. A Gypsy feel marked the second movement, which recalled Janáček’s hometown of Brno in what is now the Czech Republic, and elegant solos were heard form flutist Niles Watson, oboist Lillian Copeland, and later English horn player Lauren Williams. Throughout the five-movement work, Milanov kept the five musical vignettes flowing seamlessly, well capturing an atmosphere of Eastern Europe in the early part of the 20th century. more

November 14, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Anyone who came to the Richardson Chamber Players performance on Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium learned a great deal about unusual instruments and composers. The ensemble took the audience on a musical journey from throughout the Americas to Brooklyn, New York Sunday afternoon with a concert of 20th-century works of composers both known and unknown from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Paraguay, and Mexico, and of course, Brooklyn.  The concert, which included a large number of players, was designed to explore music from South and Central America and the Caribbean from composers who in some cases had huge repertories of pieces which were largely unknown. more

November 7, 2018

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra opened its 2018-19 Princeton concert series this past Friday night at Richardson Auditorium. Led by guest conductor Christoph König, the Orchestra launched a season focused on the theme Music Speaks! — performances inspired by poetry, stories, and fantasy. Friday night’s concert in particular presented an outstanding violin soloist in a work not often heard. more

October 31, 2018

By Nancy Plum

The Princeton University Music Department prides itself on training solid vocal and instrumental musicians. Both the University Orchestra and Glee Club tour overseas periodically, no doubt connecting with similar musical organizations internationally, and one of the most foremost European musical training institutions paid a visit to Princeton last week at the invitation of the University Orchestra. Based in Milan, Italy, the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala offers a full range of performing art onstage and backstage training, including an orchestra, which has been on tour this month in the United States. Last Tuesday night, the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala Orchestra presented a concert in Richardson Auditorium focused on a “Dialogue through Music” between Italy and the United States. Featuring music of 19th-century Italian composers or those connected to Italy, last Tuesday night’s performance enthralled the Richardson audience with fresh and youthful instrumental playing.   more

October 24, 2018

By Nancy Plum

The Princeton University Orchestra, never an ensemble to sneak quietly into the concert season, announced its arrival in the new academic year this past weekend with flair and a strong musical statement. In concerts presented Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium, the Orchestra joined the ongoing tribute celebration to American composer Leonard Bernstein, and also started the year off with one of the most challenging works of the Romantic symphonic repertory. Conducted by Ruth Ochs (filling in this past weekend for Orchestra Music Director Michael Pratt), the University Orchestra showed itself more than up to its demanding season ahead. more

October 17, 2018

“DETROIT ‘67”: Performances are underway for “Detroit ‘67.” Directed by Jade King Carroll, the play runs through October 28 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Chelle (Myxolydia Tyler, left) is upset by a series of risky choices made by her younger brother Lank (Johnny Ramey). Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The music of Motown underscores Detroit ’67, a drama whose action begins just before the Detroit Riot, or Great Rebellion. It focuses on an African American woman’s determination to provide security for her family; and her passionate younger brother’s wish to start a new life, and blur racial boundaries.  more

October 10, 2018

Organist Stephen Buzard will lead a master class on Tuesday, October 16 at 2:30 p.m. and participate in the Sacred Music Lab at 6:30 p.m., in Bristol Chapel on the campus of Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton. Sacred Music Lab is a worship service led by Westminster’s Sacred Music students and is open to the public. Admission is free. He will also present a recital in the Princeton University Chapel on Monday, October 15 at 8 p.m. more

October 3, 2018

By Nancy Plum

There is a lot of Leonard Bernstein in concert halls these days; in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the iconic composer’s birth, performers worldwide are participating in Bernstein at 100, a two-year global celebration. Princeton Symphony Orchestra joined the party this past weekend at Richardson Auditorium by devoting the opening concert of the 2018-19 season to music of the American legend. A clear sign of growth and success, Princeton Symphony Orchestra has expanded its classical series to two performances of several of the classical concerts this season. Saturday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) brought several of Bernstein’s more popular works to life, featuring two stellar solo performers. more

September 26, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Bobby McFerrin is a vocal visionary, stretching the capabilities of the human voice to new heights and palettes of sound. Through his recordings, live improvisational concerts, conducting engagements, and his innovative professional ensemble Voicestra, McFerrin has shown that he is so much more than his signature musical command “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” As part of Princeton University Concerts’ 2018-19 season, McFerrin brought his unique brand of musical performance to Richardson Auditorium last Friday night in a joint concert with the Princeton University Glee Cub and the vocal ensemble Gimme5. The informality of the evening was set when the members of the Glee Club took the stage dressed in everyday collegiate attire, however the quality of this concert was anything but casual.

The musicians performed less than 10 musical selections within the 90-minute concert, but each was a creative unfolding of sound and vocal color, undulating in dynamics and timbre as singers were added and subtracted from the musical palette. Princeton University Concerts wisely chose to begin its 125th anniversary season with singing, as more people participate in singing than any other performance medium, and the crowd-unifying elements of Bobby McFerrin will no doubt pique the interest of new attendees for later events. more

PRAISE THE LORD, I’VE BEEN SAVED: Louis Zamperini was persuaded by his wife to attend a revival meeting led by Billy Graham, where the preacher’s message transformed Louis’s life and alleviated his PTSD.

By Kam Williams

The movie Unbroken (2014) portrayed the ordeals undergone by the Olympian athlete and Air Force bombardier Louis Zamperini in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. Directed by Angelina Jolie, the biopic was adapted  by the Coen brothers from Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller of the same name.

The sequel, Unbroken: Path to Redemption, is also based on Hillenbrand’s book, but unfortunately the creative team is not as outstanding as that of the earlier film. The cast has also been changed, with Samuel Hunt now starring as Louis.

Unbroken 2 picks up where the first film left off. The original closed with Louis kissing the ground upon landing back in the states after he was liberated from the POW camp, thereby implying that he lived “happily ever after.”

True, he did meet and marry Cynthia Applewhite (Merritt Patterson) and the happy couple moved to California to start a family. However, Louis becomes haunted by flashbacks to the torture he underwent during World War II at the hands of Corporal Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (David Sakurai), a sadistic guard at Sugamo prison.

Unfortunately, Louis is suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and he has become angry, abusive, and an alcoholic. In desperation his wife persuades him to attend a Billy Graham Christian revival meeting (in which Billy Graham is portrayed by his grandson, Reverend Will Graham).

The charismatic Baptist preacher’s plea to “just reach out and take the hand of Jesus, and every problem will be washed away,” resonates with Louis. When Louis falls to his knees, it is clear that he has been saved. The closing credits show scenes of Louis being featured at subsequent evangelical revival meetings.

Very Good (HH½). Rated PG-13 for mature themes and disturbing images. Running time: 98 minutes. Production Studio: Universal 1440 Entertainment/Matt Baer Films.Studio: Pure Flix Entertainment.

September 19, 2018

Papa Leroux (George Agalias, right) proposes to Rubenesque heiress Daisy Tillou (actually “dead” artist Jean-Francois Millet disguised as his own sister — both played by Nick Pecht) in “Is He Dead?,” a “new comedy” by Mark Twain, adapted by David Ives. The production by ActorsNET performs weekends September 28 through October 14 at The Heritage Center Theatre, 635 North Delmorr Avenue, Morrisville, Pa. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for seniors 62 and up, $15 for WHYY members and students, and $10 for children age 12 and under. To reserve, call (215) 295 3694, email actorsnet@aol.com, or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.

George Street Playhouse’s Educational Touring Theatre, courtesy of support from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health, will premiere a new musical about the opioid crisis and its impact on teens and families. Developed in response to the devastating impact prescription opioid misuse, heroin, and fentanyl have had on communities throughout New Jersey, Anytown will premiere on September 25 at George Street Playhouse as part of a special Spotlight Conference on Opioid Abuse. 

The Spotlight Conference will feature a keynote address from New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal along with workshops for educators, school administrators, and public health professionals conducted by experts in the field from RWJBarnabas Health’s Institute for Prevention and Recovery.  more

September 12, 2018

BACK ON THE AIR: John Weingart returns to WPRB radio on September 16 to begin his 45th year of the unique folk music program “Music You Can’t Hear on the Radio.”

John Weingart’s Sunday evening show on WRPB radio begins its 45th year on Sunday, September 16, from 7 to 10 p.m. Music You Can’t Hear on the Radio is broadcast live from Princeton on 103.3 FM and streamed worldwide at WPRB.com.

The program is notable for the well of often little-known music from which Weingart draws and the sets he creates around varied themes that may be topical, humorous, poignant, beautiful, or just great music. The show generally includes old and new country blues and string band music, bluegrass, singer-songwriters, and other music loosely classified as folk or Americana that was recorded as long ago as the 1920s, and as recently as this month.

Weingart, a former assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and chair of the New Jersey Highlands Council, is currently associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers. He started Music You Can’t Hear on the Radio in February 1974 while a graduate student at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.

CUBAN ROOTS: Aydmara Cabrera, shown here in “Swan Lake,” hopes to bring her experience at National Ballet of Cuba into the curriculum of Princeton Ballet School.

Former National Ballet of Cuba principal dancer Aydmara Cabrera has been named school director of Princeton Ballet School (PBS), the official school of American Repertory Ballet (ARB).

According to Julie Diana Hench, executive director of American Repertory Ballet and Princeton Ballet School, “Ms. Cabrera is already a beloved teacher and ballet master at PBS, and will be an incredible member of the leadership team. She has impressive professional experience and an inspiring vision for the School that will provide students even greater opportunities. Ms. Cabrera’s passion for the art form is infectious and we are thrilled to have her lead Princeton Ballet School into an exciting new era.” more

September 5, 2018

FROM PAGE TO STAGE: Helen Cespedes and Andrew Veenstra star in Douglas McGrath’s play adapted from Edith Wharton’s classic novel “The Age of Innocence,” at McCarter Theatre Center starting Friday. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Anne Levin

Fans of Edith Wharton find plenty to love in The Age of Innocence, her novel about a New York love triangle in the stultifying high society of the Gilded Age. But when they were younger, playwright Douglas McGrath, who wrote the theatrical adaptation that opens at McCarter Theatre Center on September 7, and Doug Hughes, who directed the production, did not count themselves among those fans. more

August 15, 2018

From September 7 to October 7 in the Berlind Theatre, McCarter Theatre is hosting the world premiere production of “The Age of Innocence,” a tale of star-crossed lovers forced to choose between love and honor. The play is adapted by Oscar and Tony nominee (and Princeton University alumnus) Douglas McGrath and directed by Tony Award-winner Doug Hughes. About the production, McCarter Artistic Director Emily Mann said: “What I love most about Douglas McGrath’s brilliant adaptation is how all of us — regardless of age, background, or varied experiences — look back on our past decisions and wonder ‘did I make the right choice?’ This production shows the universal truth behind the struggle of choosing one path over another.” Tickets start at $25 –­­­­­  to purchase, visit mccarter.org or call (609) 258-2787.