For the past three years, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has teamed up with Princeton University to present a week-long Composition Institute sponsored by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. Last week, four emerging composers, selected from an international applicant pool of university composition students and composers in the early stages of their careers, worked on the details and refinements of their pieces, aided by the players of the NJSO, Institute conductor David Robertson, and Institute Director and composer Steven Mackey. The week culminated in a performance by the NJSO Saturday night in Richardson Auditorium. more
In musical performance, the term “trio” refers to any combination of three instruments, often two stringed instruments and a keyboard. Prima Trio, which performed last Tuesday night on the Princeton Summer Chamber Concerts series, has put their own twist on this tradition by combining piano and clarinet with either violin or viola. Gulia Gurevich has expanded the range of Prima Trio by playing both violin and viola, joining clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan and pianist Anastasia Dedik. Each of these players comes from a unique part of the world, and brought their multicultural backgrounds and solid training to Richardson Auditorium for last Tuesday night’s performance. The members of Prima Trio honed their craft at Oberlin Conservatory and through 12 years of playing together and touring, their performance moved from traditional to contemporary, with much of the program drawn from the 20th century.
Since its inception 49 years ago, Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts has presented many fine string quartets. All-female quartets have been few and far between, and ensembles which can mesmerize an audience as well as the Aizuri Quartet are even rarer. The Summer Chamber Concerts opening event last Thursday night featuring the Aizuri Quartet brought a nearly full house to Richardson Auditorium to hear excellence in chamber music performance.
This season Princeton Festival has undertaken one of the most complex and challenging operas in the repertory with Benjamin Britten’s dark but poetic Peter Grimes. Like the World War II years in which the opera was composed, Peter Grimes has many levels, reaching back to 19th century morality while drawing on fears and suspicions still prevalent today. The date of the opera’s premiere, in London’s first few post-war months, makes the genesis of this work even more remarkable. more
Princeton Festival has placed a special emphasis on the music of 20th-century British composer Benjamin Britten this year. The cornerstone opera of the Festival’s 2016 season is Britten’s Peter Grimes, and this past Friday night, Concordia Chamber Players offered some of Britten’s more charming works for voice and instruments as the festival concluded its first week. more
Princeton Pro Musica closed its 2015-16 season with a concert of Americana this past weekend. In this election year, Pro Musica Music Director Ryan James Brandau chose to program Sunday afternoon’s performance at Richardson Auditorium in the hope that the spirit of American classical music might effectively ground people amidst the political flurry. With a sampling of 20th and 21st-century choral works, the 100-voice Pro Musica ended their season in uplifting fashion. more
Each year, the Stuart B. Mindlin Memorial Concerts at Princeton University have brought together the University Orchestra with other ensembles and guest soloists. This year, conductor Michael Pratt and the orchestra chose to go it alone, presenting two major symphonic works which not only showed off the ensemble’s collective sound, but also gave many of the student musicians the chance to play elegant solos. more
Johann Sebastian Bach never heard a complete performance of his now classic Mass in B Minor in his lifetime, but over the past 150 years, this five-part work has become a staple of the choral repertory. Loaded with instrumentally-conceived choral coloratura and exacting counterpoint, the Mass in B Minor is considered a pinnacle of choral performance toward which choruses aspire. The Princeton University Glee Club undertook this vocal and instrumental challenge last Sunday evening with a historically informed and clean performance in Richardson Auditorium. Conductor Gabriel Crouch led the 80-voice Glee Club, chamber orchestra, and four vocal soloists in a performance which was lean, sensitive to the text, and strong to the very last note. more
The Richardson Chamber Players closed its 2015-16 season with a concert of French musical bonbons at Richardson Auditorium, featuring a number of Princeton University music department faculty and students. Continuing a mission of presenting music one rarely hears live, Director Michael Pratt programmed a performance of chamber music from the early part of the 20th century which might have been heard in Parisian salons and concert halls. more
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
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
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
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
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
Princeton Symphony Orchestra continued its journey through “significant voices of our time” with a concert of appealing yet complex music Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium. For this concert, in a season dedicated to women’s creativity, PSO Music Director Rossen Milanov chose to explore the topic through guest solo pianist Joyce Yang, an international superstar who mesmerized Sunday afternoon’s audience with demonically virtuosic playing.
Concerts featuring guest stars often ‘warm up’ the audience with a familiar work before the star attraction. PSO put a great deal of faith in its audience on Sunday afternoon by beginning the concert with a full-length symphony by Princeton composer Edward T. Cone. Cone’s 1953 Symphony showed the musical influence on Cone of the early 20th-century Second Viennese School in its use of small melodic fragments passed around among the players of the orchestra. In the opening Sostenuto random pitches seemed to come from throughout the stage, as conductor Mr. Milanov maintained steady control over the building intensity. The texture continually changed as different instruments came to the forefront during the course of the work. more
Felix Mendelssohn did very little in the field of opera, however, his sacred oratorios are as theatrical as any 19th-century operatic work. In particular, the oratorio Elijah, premiered in 1846, musically depicts a dramatic Biblical story through arias, recitatives, and choruses, infused with the composer’s gift for melodic writing. The more than 100-voice Princeton Pro Musica, conducted by Ryan James Brandau, presented a well-informed performance of this work to a very appreciative audience on Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium, showing off the capabilities of the chorus as well as four seasoned vocal soloists. more
The Princeton University Orchestra launched its 2015-16 season this past weekend with both old and new, challenging this year’s roster of musicians to draw on their highest level of playing. Conductor Michael Pratt paired the newest in performance imagination with a masterwork rooted in orchestral tradition, at the same time showing off one of the orchestra’s more talented members.
This year the University Department of Music has established a collaboration with the innovative So Percussion group as Edward T. Cone Performers-in-Residence. In its residency, So Percussion has been deeply entrenched in bringing their unique approach to the percussion around us to the students at the University, and Friday night’s concert at Richardson Auditorium was one more example of this creative and inventive combination of ensembles. Composer David Lang’s concerto man made, for percussion quartet and orchestra, made full use of the unique performance techniques and instruments of the So ensemble, complemented by the backdrop of a full orchestra. Lang’s man made began with the members of So Percussion supplying a rhythmic base with twigs snapped in various timings. No part of the twig was wasted — even dropping the pieces on the floor became part of the rhythmic pattern. The four percussionists were gradually joined by the orchestra in varying degrees of instrumentation. more
A great deal of music came out of World War II, including patriotic songs and battle-inspired orchestral works from leading composers of the time, but none was more poignant than the music composed in Theresienstadt, the ghetto established in the city of Terezin, outside of Prague, in which 140,000 individuals were imprisoned by the Nazis between June 1940 and the end of the war. This European wartime center of music-making was one of its most productive but also one of its most horrific locales — a walled “Main Fortress” used both as a transport center and artistic “model settlement” for German propaganda.
Theresienstadt was a city unto itself, with a cultural life rivaling any European major city. The collective art and music of Terezin has been the subject of books and films, and pieces by imprisoned composers are heard on concert programs, sandwiched among secure and comforting war horses. It is a brave ensemble that presents an entire program on the works originating from such a devastating creative environment. The Richardson Chamber Players became one such ensemble this past Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium, with “Voices out of the Storm,” a program of five rarely-heard chamber pieces composed by composers of Theresienstadt. More poignant than the music itself was the fact that four of the composers died in 1944, with the fifth in early 1945, characterizing the program as a concert of talent unrealized. more
Performing arts organizations have long been exploring ways to better connect with audiences, and listeners often wonder what is really going on with performers onstage during a concert. Princeton University Concerts has taken a step toward answering all these questions with a newly-created “Performances Up Close” series bringing musicians and audiences together in an intimate space. This past Sunday afternoon saw the renowned vocal ensemble Gallicantus performing within a circle of 150 of their closest friends in Richardson Auditorium. In this unique concert arena, the audience could hear every nuance from both singers and music, and the members of Gallicantus could easily gauge the impact of their performance. The only thing wrong with this concept was that despite two performances on Sunday afternoon, only 300 or so people could fit onstage and hear the finely-polished vocal precision of these five singers. more
If orchestras nationwide are struggling financially, those who create for these orchestras are surely further behind. Just as musicians are compelled to play, composers must write, and often opportunities to present the fruits of their labor are few and far between. New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) provided such an opportunity last week with a Composition Institute held at Princeton University that culminated in a concert Thursday night at Richardson Auditorium.
The four composers who participated in the 2015 NJSO Edward T. Cone Composition Institute not only were mentored through the process of creating a work for the orchestra, but were also counseled on the business side of classical music. Institute Director Steven Mackey programmed the concert at Richardson Auditorium with four works from these very diverse composers. more
It can be hard for a European music ensemble to compete with American independence. The Vienna Piano Trio, a well established and refined ensemble of musicians originally based in Austria, came to Princeton last Thursday night on the cusp of the 4th of July holiday weekend to present a concert of wide-ranging chamber music. Accompanied at times by the sound of nearby fireworks, the Trio nevertheless captivated a full house at Richardson Auditorium, and demonstrated a diverse performance skill set in music which crossed nearly a century and a half.
The Vienna Piano Trio was founded in 1988, and has made a worldwide name for itself playing music of composers closely associated with Austria. The program last Thursday night expanded that range into early 20th-century Spain and late 19th-century France. In keeping with the initial concept of the ensemble, violinist Bogdan Božovic´, cellist Matthias Gredler, and pianist Stefan Mendl began the concert with an elegant performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Trio in C Major, K. 548. Composed late in Mozart’s life, this work was both playful and complex, and the Vienna Trio showed immediate command of this three movement intimate conversation among three instruments. Pianist Mendl led the first movement with sharp dotted rhythms and a very even right hand in the flowing passages, showing an ability to switch musical gears easily. Mr. Gredler accompanied piano and violin subtly in a lighthearted second exposition of the first movement.
Both Mr. Gredler and Mr. Božovic´ played instruments of Mozart’s time, with Mr. Božovic´ playing a 1685 Stradivari violin, and Mr. Gredler playing a 1752 Guadagnini cello. These instruments did not generate overwhelming sound, although they were well up to the task of the late 19th century music heard later in the program. Mr. Gredler was particularly able to play both decisively and delicately, and Mr. Božovic´ provided a consistently sweet sound throughout the concert.
Early 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquín Turina was overshadowed by the more towering Spanish composers of his time, but as his 1926 Piano Trio No. 1 in D Major showed, Turina’s music is fresh and melodic, reflecting his cosmopolitan musical life in Paris and Madrid. Turina named the three movements of this work with titles drawn from music history, but the traditional forms were infused with the outdoor feel of a Paris café and the jazz flavor sweeping France during the early 20th century.
In the opening “Prélude et Fugue,” Mr. Gredler’s cello accompaniment was much more dramatic than in the Mozart work, and Mr. Božovic´ played a violin melody recalling a stroll along Parisian streets. The Vienna Trio was able to pick up speed and intensity uniformly, communicating well with one another. In both the second and third movements, Mr. Gredler provided cello melodies which were exceptionally rich, from an 18th-century instrument. Throughout this impressionistic and somewhat jazzy work, Mr. Mendl played with a great deal of flow.
The closing five-movement Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns offered a much richer piano part than the previous two works, accompanied by a much darker cello line. A duet between violin and cello was almost Russian in its opulence, with steady chords provided by the keyboard. Using significant pedal, Mr. Mendl played with nonstop Romantic flow and particular fierceness in the upper octaves of the keyboard. Mr. Božovic´ played contrasting chipper melodic fragments and motives, also participating in a lyrical conversation between cello and violin in the third movement. One could easily hear Bach’s structure and musical construction in this work, with a touch of Beethoven as an exacting coda brought the piece to a glorious close.