June 20, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Festival opened its mainstage opera production this past weekend with an audience favorite in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Now one of the most popular Italian operas in the repertory, Puccini’s 1904 Butterfly was an unexpected disaster on its premiere night in Milan, leading the composer to revise the opera into the blockbuster it is today. Princeton Festival’s presentation Saturday night at McCarter Theatre Center’s Matthews Theatre was every bit the crowd-pleaser it should be, showcasing several stand-out singers in the process. Some operas lend themselves to restaging in other time periods, but Madama Butterfly is best left in its original timeframe of late 19th-early 20th-century Japan. Set in the harbor town of Nagasaki, Butterfly combined Puccini’s lush orchestrations and melodies with an exotic seaside locale to tug at audience heartstrings. Princeton Festival’s production, sung in Italian with English supertitles, took every advantage of Puccini’s rich melodic writing to convey a poignant storyline.  more

June 13, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Summer brings many traditions to the Princeton area: the P-rade, fireworks on Reunions weekend, and other signs that three months of summer days stretch out ahead. One musical tradition which has become a staple of audience calendars is the Concordia Chamber Players concert which opens the Princeton Festival each year. Concordia Artistic Director Michelle Djokic annually brings an ensemble of refined chamber music players to Miller Chapel, and this year in particular set the tone for the festival with a performance of dramatic late 19th and early 20th-century music. more

May 23, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Like a successful garden, it takes a long time to develop and nourish a performing ensemble. Princeton Singers began 35 years ago as a volunteer chorus singing English cathedral music, madrigals, and folksongs, and has grown like a weed under the direction of only two conductors: Founding Director John Bertalot and current Artistic Director Steven Sametz. The ensemble is celebrating its 35th anniversary this season, paying credit to its past and present, while looking ahead to the future. The Singers is especially proud of its emergence as a leading professional vocal ensemble performing a wide range of repertoire with a commitment to contemporary music, and its closing concert of this season demonstrated why the chorus is justifiably proud of its musical heritage. more

May 2, 2018

By Nancy Plum

In a true “town and gown” collaboration, the Princeton University Orchestra presented one of its most substantial Stuart B. Mindlin Memorial Concerts ever this past weekend at Richardson Auditorium. Joined by the University Glee Club, Princeton Pro Musica, Princeton High School Women’s Choir, and three international vocal soloists, the orchestra put the crowning stroke on conductor Michael Pratt’s 40th anniversary season leading the ensemble. In performances Friday and Saturday night, more than 300 musicians took the stage for Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, requiring an extension to the stage at Richardson. Friday night’s opening performance showed this piece to be a work just as timely now as at its premiere in 1962, and proved to be music that musically pulls two world conflicts into contemporary times. In another achievement for the University Orchestra, the concert was broadcast live on local radio, and was to be rebroadcasted at a later date.  more

April 25, 2018

By Nancy Plum

One-act operas present unusual challenges to directors in how to combine them into an evening’s entertainment and the possibility of double casting. Two short operas often linked in one production are Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, creating an evening of 19th-century human drama. These two operas represent the school of verismo, in which composers portrayed the ugly realities of life, with ordinary people doing ordinary things — such as stealing each other spouses and killing one another off. Boheme Opera NJ presented Cavalleria and Pagliacci in a double bill this past weekend at The College of New Jersey’s Kendall Main Stage Theater, with a cast of nine principals who demonstrated that this regional opera company wastes no expense in seeking the highest level of talent. With a nod to its home base, Boheme Opera NJ set both of these productions in a late 1940s Italian-American community in northeastern United States, similar to what the Chambersburg section of Trenton might have been like in the years after World War II.  more

April 18, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Richardson Chamber Players journeyed into a new comfort zone this past weekend with a concert celebrating chamber pieces by African-American composers. The 11 members of the Chamber Players performing Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium presented works ranging from the familiar Duke Ellington to a world premiere by one of the University’s own graduate students. A rare collaboration among Princeton University’s jazz and classical faculty, this concert not only showed the versatility of the Chamber Players musicians but also how far outside the box these individuals have traveled in their musical careers. more

March 28, 2018

By Nancy Plum

The island of Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida and just about the size of Pennsylvania, packs a wallop in performing arts and culture. Latin America and the Caribbean are known for indigenous dance forms and music full of percussion and brass, but Cuba also has strong roots in the Western European classical tradition. Cuba’s orchestral ancestry dates back to the 18th century, when the country’s major cathedrals paralleled their counterparts in Europe by establishing instrumental ensembles. Cuba joined the evolution of the symphony orchestra in the 19th century, and by the 1930s, Havana boasted two full symphonic ensembles. In 1959, one National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba emerged, and has been well representing the country worldwide since.  more

March 7, 2018

By Nancy Plum

In its annual tribute to long-time conductor Walter L. Nollner this year, the Princeton University Glee Club showed how much the ensemble has grown under the leadership of current music director Gabriel Crouch, as well as how multi-national choral music has become since Nollner’s time. Not content to merely present a masterpiece of the repertory, the Glee Club stretched its performance wings well into the 21st century with a work by one of its own members. more

February 28, 2018

By Nancy Plum

The Westminster Conservatory “Showcase” at Richardson Auditorium demonstrated that Westminster Choir College has a “town and gown” impact at all ages and in all genres, with performances of the Westminster Community Orchestra, Children’s Choir, Choir College Opera Workshop, and several winners of the Choir College’s Concerto Competition. Sunday’s concert showed the range of Choir College vocal students, a sampling of the next generation of performers, and community residents who just love to make music. more

January 31, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Sunday afternoon centered on guest pianist Simone Dinnerstein, but another subtler theme also ran through the performance. PSO Music Director Rossen Milanov programmed a concert with a narrative covering three hundred years of music history, featuring innovation and new musical ideas within well-known frameworks. The addition of dynamic and technically dazzling American pianist Simone Dinnerstein made the afternoon that much more exciting.  more

January 24, 2018

By Nancy Plum

At first glance, the title of New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s concert this past Friday night would seem to have little connection to the pieces performed. As it turned out, the works by Bohuslav Martinu°, Maurice Ravel, and Sergei Rachmaninoff were all linked to “America, Inspiring,” with each piece rooted in the composer’s association with the United States. Led by guest conductor Andrew Constantine, the orchestra’s performance at Richardson Auditorium showed a little-known side of how America in the first half of the 20th century affected European composers from all regions. more

January 17, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Students at Princeton University have an incredibly diverse range of choices for musical experiences on campus. One of the most challenging this year was the opera class Music 219, in which music majors and non-majors joined together to explore a single theme or production. As described by Humanities Council Visiting Lecture Thomas Guthrie, co-teacher of Music 219, this year’s class was “all about exploring what it’s like to be in an opera.” The 30 students who participated in the class performed the resulting operatic project this past weekend at Richardson Auditorium. Guthrie and University Director of Choral Activities Gabriel Crouch (also co-teacher of Music 219) led the students through a staged production in Italian (with English super-titles) of what is considered the first fully-developed opera — Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 L’Orfeo. Friday night’s performance (the opera was repeated Saturday night) showed both the depth of the class and how even those who are not studying music extensively can rise to a challenge.  more

January 3, 2018

By Nancy Plum

The holiday season means many things in Princeton — a brightly-decorated tree in Palmer Square, busy post office lines, and in musical terms, the annual performance of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Presented by McCarter Theatre, this performance in Richardson Auditorium has always given audiences a respite from breakneck December activities, and this year was no exception. Last Monday night, 21 instrumentalists joined together in a variety of combinations to perform Bach’s six concertos which are considered the epitome of the Baroque form. Each concerto featured a different blend of soloists, and the members of the Chamber Music Society demonstrated both solid ensemble and refined solo playing.  more

December 20, 2017

“All good things come to those who wait,” so goes the saying. The audience for New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s Friday night concert at Richardson Auditorium had to wait a bit for the orchestra to arrive through the snow, but following the late start, orchestra, chorus, and soloists presented a well-informed performance of George Frideric Handel’s perennial Christmas holiday favorite, Messiah. NJSO Music Director Xian Zhang took a unique and creative journey through a work which is enjoyable in any form, but so much more fun with an imaginative approach to performance practice. more

November 22, 2017

By Nancy Plum

The Richardson Chamber Players showcase several aspects of Princeton University’s music department; it is a premiere instrumental ensemble focusing on rarely-performed repertoire, and allows University performance faculty to perform alongside their students. Seven members of the Chamber Players presented a concert Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium, exploring the music of Bohemia. Subtitled “Echoes of Vltava,” the concert of works by Bohemian composers referenced the River Vltava, which originates in the Bohemian Forest and flows through the western Czech Republic. It was a fitting title for a late fall afternoon performance in which six instrumentalists and one singer presented smoothly-flowing music of the highest technical demands. more

November 15, 2017

By Nancy Plum

Westminster Choir College has experienced its share of uncertainty in the last couple of years, but one constant has been the quality of the choral education and ensembles on campus. The premiere chorus, the Westminster Choir, draws together the most select Choir College students to tackle intricate and complex music for concerts both locally and on tour worldwide. Conducted by Westminster Director of Choral Activities Joe Miller, the Westminster Choir presented a very challenging program of a cappella choral music this past Sunday afternoon in the Choir College’s Bristol Chapel. Entitled “Listen,” Sunday’s performance invited the sold-out audience to “find the voice within us” through some very contemporary music.  more

November 8, 2017

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Pro Musica began its Princeton area concert series on the later side this year, with the first performance of the ensemble’s 39th season on Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium. However, the concert date and piece performed went together perfectly. The 100-voice chorus presented Johannes Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem on All Saints’ Day, combining liturgical remembrance with Brahms’s German texts of comfort and ultimate joy. As further acknowledgment of the day, Pro Musica included an “In Remembrance” page from members of the chorus in the written program to Sunday afternoon’s concert, commemorating friends and family. more

November 1, 2017

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s concert this past Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium was both one of collaboration and also paying tribute to the music of the past. The keynote work on the program was Felix Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony, an appropriate musical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s presentation of his world-shattering 95 Theses, but all three works presented by the orchestra looked back to previous eras.  more

October 25, 2017

By Nancy Plum

With the opening of Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, there has been a new buzz of musical excitement in the community. One of the core University ensembles settling into the new state-of-the-art facility is the Princeton University Orchestra, which opened its 2017-18 season this past Friday and Saturday nights at Richardson Auditorium. Also celebrating conductor Michael Pratt’s 40th year leading the ensemble, the University Orchestra presented music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Mahler — works Pratt called “three sonic columns of sound” to usher in a “new era of music” at the University. more

October 4, 2017

By Nancy Plum 

Princeton University Concerts has innovatively combined different forms of media in the past, most notably a concert a few years ago featuring actress Meryl Streep and the Takács String Quartet fusing literature and music in one performance. To open the 124th season of Princeton University Concerts, The Emerson String Quartet joined forces with seven well-established actors for a “multimedia theatrical realization” of Anton Chekhov’s story The Black Monk in a fantasy also exploring the lives of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and Russian leader Josef Stalin.  more

September 20, 2017

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) has never been an ensemble to sneak into the new concert season, but especially this year, when the orchestra is riding a wave of high attendance, Music Director Rossen Milanov chose to open the year with a musical tour de force. Joined by the Westminster Symphonic Choir (of Westminster Choir College) and four up-and-coming vocal soloists, Princeton Symphony filled both the stage and seats  this past weekend with a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s towering Symphony No. 9, a work not often heard in Princeton for the understandable reasons of expense and musical demands. The expense portion of Saturday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) received a helping hand from the Edward T. Cone Foundation, and the musical difficulties of this work were well met by all involved. more

July 26, 2017

The repertory for orchestral trio includes music for almost every combination of instruments imaginable, but especially for piano, violin and cello.  The Lysander Piano Trio, formed at the Juilliard School, is less than ten years old, but is nevertheless a major ensemble player on the chamber music scene.  The Lysander Trio came to Princeton last Tuesday night for a concert at Richardson Auditorium which showed that the appeal of these three instruments together has never faded, from the time of Mozart to the present day.   more

July 19, 2017

In its ongoing commitment to contemporary music, every summer for the past four years New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has created a “laboratory experience” for four emerging composers to develop their craft and produce a unique work of music, subsequently presented to the public in Richardson Auditorium. Guided by Institute Director and Princeton University Professor of Music Steven Mackey, the four composers who participated in this year’s NJSO Edward T. Cone Composition Institute created pieces reflecting diverse backgrounds and talents. Led by conductor JoAnn Falletta, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra presented a more casual concert atmosphere last Saturday night than during the regular season, but were no less serious about the music, executing well the sophisticated scores of these promising composers.  more

July 12, 2017

Summer is not always for the outdoors, as a full house at Richardson Auditorium proved Sunday at a concert of the Brentano String Quartet. In an unusual Sunday afternoon concert time, the Brentano Quartet showed that good chamber music is welcome at any time of day. As part of Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts’ 50th Season Celebration, the Brentano String Quartet returned to Richardson and presented music ranging from the 16th to the 21st centuries. more

June 21, 2017

WORK AND RIGHTS: As the opera “Fidelio” opens with the Overture, we see how the nobleman Florestan (Noah Baetge, second from left holding the banner) was imprisoned for demonstrating with the workers for “trabajo y derechos.” (Photo by Jessi Franko Designs LLC, Courtesy of The Princeton Festival)

The last two times Ludwig van Beethoven’s opera Fidelio was performed in Princeton, the productions were plagued with blizzards. In the early 1980s, Princeton University mounted a production, only to have a performance besieged by a monster snowstorm. In January 2016, a visiting opera company came to Richardson Auditorium to present the same work, with blizzard conditions predicted for most of the performance weekend and the schedule adjusted accordingly. Hopefully, Princeton Festival had no thoughts about the “Princeton Fidelio snow curse” in opening its production of Beethoven’s only opera this past weekend at McCarter Theatre Center. Festival Artistic Director Richard Tang Yuk led the cast members of Sunday afternoon’s performance at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre on a moving journey through the work Beethoven himself described as “the one most dear to him” of all his compositional “children.” more