This season, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra and its Music Director, Rossen Milanov, have dedicated programming to the creativity of women, and this past Sunday afternoon’s performance at Richardson Auditorium featured one of the more creative artists on the music scene today. Composer Caroline Shaw, who doubled as violinist soloist in her own Lo for Violin and Orchestra, crossed many genres of music as both composer and performer. These multiple genres of music thoroughly permeated her three-movement work, which was effectively played by the Princeton Symphony. With movements delineated by tempo markings rather than titles, Lo seemed to be semi-autobiographical, showing bits and pieces of many composers whom Ms. Shaw has credited with influencing her own creativity. more
The first African-American expedition to climb Denali, North America’s highest peak, is the subject of An American Ascent. The film is being screened Saturday, April 2, as part of the Princeton Environmental Film Festival at Princeton Public Library. Now in its tenth year, the festival features a line-up of more than 25 acclaimed films with filmmakers and other speakers presented over the course of 7 days. For a complete list of festival films, and updates on speakers, see princetonlibrary.org.
Each year, the Princeton University Orchestra holds a concerto competition, allowing student performers to select their own repertoire and challenge themselves for a chance to perform with the orchestra. Some students might play it safe and choose music of the old masters, but not this year’s winners. Soprano Solène Le Van, violinist Jessie Chen, and pianist Evan Chow selected works of the 20th and 21st centuries, showing musical diversity and a deep range of curiosity. Led by conductor Michael Pratt, the University Orchestra presented these three winners this past weekend in Richardson Auditorium. more
Grammy-nominated mandolinist Avi Avital presents an adventurous program at McCarter Theatre on Sunday, March 13 at 3 p.m. Accompanied by accordionist Ksenija Sidorov and percussionist Itama Doari, Avital will perform works spanning from Bach concertos to Bulgarian and Turkish folk tunes. To purchase tickets, call the box office at (609) 258-2787 or visit www.mccarter.org. (Photo by Harald Hoffmann/Deutsche Grammophon)
Les Noces de Jeannette (Jeannette’s Wedding Day) is a two-person opéra-comique composed by Victor Massé in 1853 to a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. The opera, which some consider to be Massé’s best work, revolves around the wedding ceremony of Jean and Jeannette, two villagers in 19th-century France, that goes horribly wrong when Jean runs from the altar, leaving Jeannette as the laughing stock of the village. more
When Mary Pat Robertson and her husband Michael came from New York City to Princeton in 1980, she thought she’d be retiring from her dance career. But the town, where the Robertsons moved so that he could pursue his doctorate at Princeton University, turned out to have a lot more dance to offer than she expected.
It wasn’t long before Ms. Robertson began teaching at Princeton Ballet School. Six years later, she was named the school’s director. In June, she will step down after 35 years teaching and administrating hundreds of students, some of whom have gone on to professional careers.
“I’ll miss the kids,” she said during a telephone interview last week. “But it’s time. I’ll probably do a little private coaching, and I look forward to getting back to choreography. I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking and I hope to expand that. I’m even contemplating writing a book for parents about what to look for in a ballet school.”
While ballet has played a major role in Ms. Robertson’s long career, contemporary dance has also been a focus. Before becoming the ballet school’s director, she co-founded the company Teamwork Dance and did a lot of freelance dancing and choreography. In New York, she studied the techniques of José Limón, Merce Cunningham, and Martha Graham. more
Princeton Theological Seminary’s (PTS) annual Joe R. Engle Organ Concert will be held on Saturday, February 27 at 7 p.m. in Miller Chapel, located on PTS’s Princeton campus. The concert is open to the public and free of charge.
Featuring Jonathan Dimmock, the organist for the San Francisco Symphony, and organist and choir director at St. Ignatius Church and Congregation Sherith Israel (both in San Francisco), as well as the Princeton Seminary Singers and the Nassau Presbyterian Church Adult Choir, the concert will include psalm-based works by J.P. Sweelinck, Felix Mendelssohn, Herbert Howells, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Albert de Kierk, Bert Batter, Cary Ratcliff, and Robert Nicholls. more
Choral music can be a tough sell, and sometimes it takes a star to bring new audiences into the fold. The Princeton University Glee Club has been a “star” in its own right, and the “Glee Club Presents” series, begun in 2013, has packed venues on and around campus with audiences eager to hear the chorus collaborate with international performers. The University Glee Club presented the fifth concert in this series this past weekend, filling Richardson Auditorium for a joint performance with the renowned vocal ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Fresh on the heels of the Glee Club’s tour to South Africa, Saturday night’s concert showed the chorus reaching well into its own diversity, as well as the international performing arena. more
In recent years, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra has expanded its offerings to include both a Chamber and Pops series, among others. The Pops series has been in place for more than a decade, attracting new audience members and giving the musicians a chance to explore a different genre of repertoire. This past Saturday night, the Princeton Symphony treated the audience at Richardson Auditorium to some of the “greatest hits” from the movies — just in time for Academy Awards month. more
EXPLORING ISLAMIST EXTREMISM: (left to right) Playwright Emily Mann, scholars Dr. Stuart Gottlieb, and Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi and moderator Paula Alekson discuss with the audience the issues raised at Sunday’s performance of Ms. Mann’s new play “Hoodwinked.” (Photo Courtesy of McCarter Theatre Center)
“It’s about the 21st century’s responses to Islamist extremism,” Emily Mann explained in describing her documentary drama Hoodwinked, performed as a reading in the McCarter Theatre Center Lab last weekend, “but it’s also very much about asking questions and sharing information.” The drama was a springboard for a lively discussion. more
Since his arrival as conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra six years ago, Jacques Lacombe has sought out unique partnerships, including two previous collaborations with The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. On the Princeton leg of his “farewell tour” before leaving the NJSO to take the helm of the Bonn Opera Company in Germany, Mr. Lacombe and the NJSO presented a concert with many levels of collaboration — among ensembles, artists, and artistic disciplines.
Friday night’s concert in Richardson Auditorium brought together the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO), Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and Montclair State University Prima Voce women’s chorus for a semi-staged production of Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although labeled “incidental music,” which the composer provided for an 1843 performance of Shakespeare’s play, Mendelssohn’s score has long stood on its own as a crowd-pleaser and as accompaniment to dance productions. more
A BLOODY TALE FROM ANCIENT GREECE: Evelyn Giovine. a senior in Princeton’s Program in Theater, will perform the title role in Sophocles’ “Elektra,” opening February 5 at the Lewis Center for the Arts. (Photo Credit: Hawa Sako)
The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Elektra by Sophocles, the classic, dark, bloody tale of familial vengeance from ancient Greece, is explored anew by guest director Alexandru Mihail and senior Evelyn Giovine in the title role. Performances will take place on February 5, 6, 11, 12, and 13 at 8 p.m. in the Marie and Edward Matthews ’53 Acting Studio located at 185 Nassau Street. more
WATCH AND LEARN: Teaching a recent master class at Princeton Dance and Theater Studio, New York City Ballet principal dancer Ashley Bouder urged students to stand behind more experienced dancers in their classes and learn by copying what they do. She is nearly six months pregnant with her first baby, due at the end of April.
At nearly six months into her pregnancy, Ashley Bouder’s ballerina silhouette is interrupted by a small, round bump. But the acclaimed New York City Ballet principal dancer, who taught a recent master class at Princeton Dance and Theater Studio, remains as lithe as ever. more
HUMOR AND HUMANITY: (L to R) Lymon (David Pegram), Wining Boy (Cleavant Derricks), Doaker (John Earl Jelks), and Boy Willie (Stephen Tyrone Williams) share stories and memories of the past in McCarter Theatre’s production of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Piano Lesson” at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre through February 7. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
Twenty-eight years after its original creation, 90 years distant from its Depression-era setting in the Pittsburgh Hill District, August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Piano Lesson (1987) speaks powerfully, lyrically, and eloquently of an African-American family in conflict and of their past, which they must confront, embrace, and overcome in order to move forward. more
Metuchen-based Raconteur Radio presents a staged radio play of Gaslight Sunday, January 24, at 3 p.m. in the Community Room at Princeton Public Library. The production is adapted from the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play about an opera singer whose husband attempts to drive her insane and the Scotland Yard detective who intervenes on her behalf.
Featuring Laurence Mintz, Jason Jackson, and Danielle Illario, the 55-minute production includes theatrical lighting, period costumes, Golden Age radio equipment, sound effects, and vintage commercials. more
THE POWER OF MUSIC: After only a few months of study, young participants in the El Sistema music education program in Trenton were invited to play at a festival held last June at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The Trenton program is the focus of a Martin Luther King Day event at the Arts Council of Princeton, at which a documentary by Jamie Bernstein, daughter of composer Leonard Bernstein, will be screened.
One day eight years ago, Jamie Bernstein was casually scrolling through Facebook when she came upon a YouTube video titled Mambo: the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. Since “Mambo” is one of the most famous compositions from the musical West Side Story, written by her late father, Leonard Bernstein, it caught her eye.
“I thought, okay, I’ll watch this for a second,” Ms. Bernstein recalls. “And I just about fell into my screen. I had never seen anything like it. The joy these kids had! I thought, who are they? And where is my Dad?” more
Alumni of the Westminster Choir College CoOPERAtive Program will perform Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel on Friday, January 15 and Saturday, January 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, January 17 at 2:30 p.m. in the Robert L. Annis Playhouse on the Westminster campus in Princeton. The semi-staged production will be performed with piano accompaniment and sung in English. Tickets are $25. On Sunday, January 17, children under 12 will be admitted for free when accompanied by an adult.
Originally composed for a children’s Christmas celebration, Hansel and Gretel is a setting of the classic Brothers Grimm tale, and it has found its place as a family favorite complete with enchanting fairies and an evil witch. It has long been a staple of German operatic tradition and is considered an ideal way to introduce children to the theater. Ted Taylor is music director and David Paul is stage director. The cast is composed of alumni of Westminster’s CoOPERAtive summer opera training program. more
Mummenschanz is back to celebrate its 43rd anniversary with a new show at McCarter Theatre on Wednesday, January 27 at 7:30 p.m. The ordinary becomes extraordinary in the wordless universe of Mummenschanz when common materials, everyday objects (like toilet paper) and colorful abstract shapes and forms like the famous “Clay Masks,” “Slinky Man,” and “Giant Hands” spring to life. more
There might be as many ways to perform Handel’s oratorio Messiah as there are to cook a holiday turkey — how many “sides” and “dressings” there are to the performance is at the discretion of the conductor from a myriad of choices in historical versions, soloists, phrasing, tempi, and ornamentation. December Messiah performances in Princeton are usually the domain of local choruses, but last weekend conductor Jacques Lacombe brought the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra NJSO) to Richardson Auditorium for a presentation of Handel’s immortal choral/orchestral work.
It was clear from the outset of the performance that Mr. Lacombe was very familiar with the work, exploring unique ideas in instrumentation and selection of arias. For Friday night’s concert, Mr. Lacombe looked back to the 1743 London performances of the piece, with an orchestra resembling Handel’s original ensemble. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra onstage included chamber-sized contingents of strings, as well as a pair of trumpets and oboes, a single bassoon, timpani, and both harpsichord and portative organ. Conducting without a baton, Mr. Lacombe began the opening “Overture” with decisive double-dotted rhythms, yet found grace and elegance with small sweeps in the lean string playing. more
The Princeton University Orchestra sent its members home for the holidays with a concert of music ranging from chipper and lively to toweringly rich. Friday night’s performance of the University Orchestra at Richardson Auditorium (the concert was also presented Thursday night) combined the vibrant brass of 16th-century Giovanni Gabrieli with the melodic lyricism of Franz Schubert, topped off with the symphonic complexity of Gustav Mahler.
Conductor Michael Pratt began the concert Friday night with a nod to the season with a selection from Gabrieli’s extensive antiphonal brass choir repertory. Three brass quartets stood around the Richardson balcony, while Mr. Pratt directed traffic from the stage. Each choir was scored slightly differently, with the opening center choir showing off crisp trumpets on the rhythms of Gabrieli’s Canzon a 12. The horns, trombones, and tubas of the other two brass choirs supported the sound well as the antiphonal music soared around the hall. more
For its annual Thanksgiving weekend concert this year, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) looked back through music history. NJSO concertmaster Eric Wyrick served as both conductor and violin soloist for three works harking back to the days before conductors formally stood in front of orchestras. Friday night’s NJSO performance in Richardson Auditorium showed the nearly full house how an instrumental ensemble can work within itself to create music rooted in solid communication and musical trust.
In his career, Mr. Wyrick has had extensive experience as both a follower and a leader in an ensemble; in conjunction with his position as concertmaster of NJSO, he regularly appears as soloist with orchestras worldwide and has recorded an extensive repertory. Friday night’s concert was centered on Antonio Vivaldi’s early 18th-century concerto set The Four Seasons, for which Mr. Wyrick served as violin soloist. In the four concerti selected, a chamber-sized NJSO demonstrated the true orchestral intricacy of 18th-century music with themes passed among players and complex musical conversations. Mr. Wyrick brought The Four Seasons into the 21st century by playing off an iPad, and added a wealth of 19th and 20th-century interpretive style to music which is sometimes considered repetitive. In this performance, nothing was boring, and there was tremendous variety in dynamics, contrast, and melodic lines. more
Music in response to great tragedy over the centuries has covered the spectrum of war songs, to orchestral works inspired by current events, to popular music. Perhaps as a sign of the time, musical works addressing man-made tragedies have become more common in the past two decades, such as John Adam’s On the Transmigration of Souls, commissioned shortly after 9/11. In 2014, composer and Princeton Singers Artistic Director Steven Sametz found himself compelled to compose a work in memory of those killed in the 2012 Sandy Hooks Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, believing that “as artists, we are hopeful that what we create may offer healing to those who mourn.” Perhaps also as a sign of the times, Sametz’s A Child’s Requiem is a multi-media work, incorporating artwork from elementary school-age children into a supertitled performance featuring two choirs, soloists, and orchestra. For Saturday night’s concert at Princeton Meadows Church and Event Center, The Princeton Singers were joined by the Ensemble and Cantores choirs of the Princeton Girlchoir, as well as three vocal soloists and a highly-polished orchestra.
The tributes to the victims of Sandy Hook began Saturday night in the entryway to Princeton Meadow Church with portraits of the children. In this work, Sametz also paid tribute to several musical traditions of the past, beginning with a musical anagram of letters from the words “Sandy Hook.” The four pitches derived formed a musical cell which Sametz wove into an orchestral “Prologue” marked by a poignant cello solo and visually accompanied by a child’s drawing of a broken heart. more
Trenton children beginning music study will have their own instruments to take home for practicing, and neglected instruments will find a whole new life, as Princeton University’s Office of Public Affairs and WWFM The Classical Network host “Instruments of Change,” benefitting the Trenton Community Music School. From November 30 through December 4, the Office of Public Affairs will open its doors for members of the community whose musical instruments are in need of a good home. Families whose children have outgrown their small instruments, shifted their interests away from playing, or developed into the need for a finer instrument, will find grateful recipients for their ½-size violins, novice-level flutes, or instruments that are no longer played. The Office of Public Affairs is located at 22 Chambers Street in Princeton, and will be open for donations from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
McCarter Theatre has produced “A Christmas Carol” every year since 1980, when then Artistic Director Nagle Jackson brought his adaptation to the theater. The current adaptation by David Thompson remains faithful to much of the language and spirit of Dickens’s original story, capturing both the struggles of Victorian life, and the joy and redemption of the holiday season. 2015 performance dates run from December 4 through 27. Seen here (l-r) are Graeme Malcolm, Michele Tauber, Sari Weinerman, Madeline Fox, and Bradley Mott. (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)
GO, TIGER!: The Tiger (Victoria Davidjohn, center), who serves as narrator, aggressor, victim, and philosopher; is guarded by two U.S. Marines, Kev (Max Feldman, left) and Tom (Matt Chuckran) in war-torn Baghdad in Theatre Intime’s production of Rajiv Joseph’s dark surrealistic comedy “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” (2009), playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through November 21.
The legacy of Saddam Hussein and the repercussions of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq continue to haunt us. Playwright Rajiv Joseph, who understands the power of ghosts and the inexorable reverberations of violence and corruption, would not be surprised.
Mr. Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (2009) is a war story, a dark comedy, with much more darkness than humor. Set in Baghdad in 2003, the first days of the Iraq War, the play is strikingly, shockingly realistic in its depictions of the brutalities of war and its effects on all parties involved. But it is also disturbingly surrealistic, with ghosts gradually taking over the stage from live characters, and an eloquent, acerbic, philosophical tiger presiding over the proceedings. more