March 31, 2021

By Nancy Plum

Operas have been presented in unusual formats over the past year as companies think far outside the opera house, ranging from Zoomed recitals to a presentation of Wagner in a parking garage. Princeton University’s Department of Music joined the inventive performance arena this past month, with a virtual opera performance of 17th-century Italian composer Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto. Most academic years in January, students in the Department of Music fall course on opera performance have presented the fruits of their labor in a public performance at Richardson Auditorium. Princeton University operated remotely the first half of this academic year, but the students enrolled in the fall 2020 virtual class refused to be cheated out of their public performance. With the combination of a conductor, director, videographer, dramaturg, and its own collective imagination, the class created a virtual three-act opera production presented by the Department of Music over three Saturdays this past month.  

The University production of La Calisto began its technological path as University Orchestra conductor Michael Pratt and voice faculty member Martha Elliott recorded the opera’s harpsichord accompaniment on piano. The videotape was then sent to harpsichordist Joyce Chen, who rerecorded the music on harpsichord to Pratt’s conducting. With the cast isolated all over the country, the University sent each singer state-of-the-art recording equipment and software to record their solo parts to Chen’s accompaniment. Students were allowed to submit as many “takes” as they wanted. The opera’s extensive recitatives were replaced with narration written by dramaturg (and Music Department chair) Wendy Heller and opera director Christopher Mattaliano and delivered throughout the opera by the cast members themselves.  

The University Department of Music presented the three-act production act by act beginning in early March, with Act I launched March 6, Act II March 13, and Act III on March 20.  The final broadcast reflected 17 singers and instrumentalists from the University student body using the spaces of their own homes, combined with the best technology the 21st century has to offer, to recreate a story from mythology set to music of the 17th century.   more

FENDING FOR THEMSELVES: The documentary feature “Stray,” directed by Elizabeth Lo, is part of the 2021 Princeton Environmental Film Festival.

The Princeton Environmental Film Festival, a signature Princeton Public Library event, is being presented virtually this year. Opening Tuesday, April 13, and running through Sunday, April 18, the 15th annual festival features a combination of nine short and nine feature-length documentary films with discussion sessions that include some of the filmmakers and other speakers.

The festival is under the direction of Susan Conlon and Kim Dorman, whose focus is to present films with local, regional, and international relevance.  more

MAKING MUSIC: A week of musical instruction for fourth-ninth graders is being planned for August by Westrick Music Academy.

Westrick Music Academy will launch its third year of Camp Westrick, which features voice training and performance with leading children’s choir directors, musical theater class, daily choir rehearsals, development of musicianship, games, and more.

Instructors and counselors create a fun, safe environment offering opportunities for students to develop musical and vocal technique while creating friendships and learning to work together. The week-long camp culminates in a celebratory performance of music and skills learned during the week for family and friends.  more

“STACKING ‘EM UP!”: This photo by Dafydd Jones is featured in this year’s Phillips Mill Photo Exhibition. The juried member show can be viewed online beginning April 3.

The Phillips Mill Photo Committee has announced that its first-ever member show will go live on April 3. “The talented photographic artists who volunteer their time every year to produce the prestigious annual Phillips Mill Photo Exhibition, our juried photo show, are excited to have this chance to share their personal imagery,” says Spencer Saunders, who chairs the Phillips Mill Photo Committee. 

For this year’s show, each of three dozen Phillips Mill Photo Committee members will submit up to eight fine art photographs to display in the show. It is a special opportunity for all to see the body of work these talented photographers create.  more

NEW ONLINE EXHIBIT:  “A Symbol of New Jersey to the World: The Old Barracks at the World’s Fair,” on view beginning Thursday, April 1 at, details the importance of World’s Fairs to the global community and the role of the Old Barracks as a symbol of New Jersey at three fairs.

The Old Barracks Museum in Trenton has announced the opening of a new online exhibit, “A Symbol of New Jersey to the World: The Old Barracks at the World’s Fair,” on view starting Thursday, April 1 at more

SPOILS OF VICTORY: Former Princeton University men’s golf standout Evan Harmeling displays the trophy he earned for winning the Savannah Golf Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour last October. Harmeling ’12 is currently ranked 41st on the Korn Ferry money list with earnings of $146,374 as he looks to crack the top 25 and earn a spot on the PGA Tour next year. (Photo provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

While many of his Princeton University classmates went into business, law, or medicine, Evan Harmeling was driven to pursue a different career path.

After an up-and-down career with the Princeton University men’s golf program, Harmeling ’12 decided to take a shot at the pro game.

“The interesting thing about golf is that it is all about what you shoot,” said Harmeling.

“There is no draft, there is no you have a lot of potential so we are going to take a shot on you and give you a chance. Everyone, except for the very few guys at the top of the college game who are getting some match sponsor exemptions, is starting from scratch. From that standpoint, college careers are not as important in terms of establishing your professional career.”

Over the last eight years, Harmeling, now 32, has scratched and clawed his way up to the Korn Ferry Tour, the development circuit that is one step below the PGA Tour.

Having won the Savannah Golf Championship last October, Harmeling is looking to work his way into the top 25 of the Korn Ferry money list and thereby earn PGA Tour status for next season. He currently ranks 41st on the Korn Ferry money list with earnings of $146,374.

Harmeling’s journey to the pro ranks began nearly 30 years ago, getting into the game at age 2 when his dad cut down some clubs for him.

As a grade schooler, Harmeling made his debut into competitive golf and enjoyed it right away.

“I played my first tournament when I was 10 or 11,” recalled Harmeling.

“It was on a par 3 course, Firefly, in Rhode Island. I remember that day, that first tournament, it is exciting. It is a different animal when you get a scorecard and you have got to post a score next to your name.”

Going to Phillips Academy for high school, Harmeling, a native of North Reading, Mass., started taking the game more seriously. He was named the Massachusetts Golf Association Junior Golfer of the Year in 2005 and was part of a twosome that won the Massachusetts Four-Ball Championship in 2007. After graduating from Phillips, where he also played squash, Harmeling qualified for the 2007 U.S. Amateur Championship. more

TWO-FISTED: Princeton High girls’ volleyball player Yani Ince returns the ball in recent action. Senior star and co-captain Ince is stepping up in her final campaign, piling up kills at the net. In upcoming action, PHS, now 1-6, plays at Rancocas Valley on March 31, at Princeton Day School on April 1, and at WW/P-North on April 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After having lost its first three matches of the 2021 season by 2-0 scores, the Princeton High girls’ volleyball team got off to a promising start as it hosted Hopewell Valley last Thursday.

Hustling after balls and playing aggressively at the net, PHS won the first set 25-15.

“We decided that we were losing on our own mistakes and today we tried to be a little bit more on our toes,” said Tiger senior co-captain Yani Ince. “We played really, really well in the first set.”

The Tigers, though, got on their heels as they dropped the next two sets, 25-23 and 25-17, to fall 2-1 to HoVal.

“I think we relaxed a little bit in the second set,” said Ince, who ended up with a team-high 11 kills in the defeat. “In the third set, I think we were a little too slow.”

In reflecting on the setback, Ince believed PHS can take a valuable lesson from the experience.

“We need to work on maintaining a high level of energy throughout the entire game,” said Ince. “We need to work on that in our practices.”

A day later, Ince and the Tigers reached a higher level, breaking through with a 2-0 win (25-23, 25-19) over Northern Burlington as they split a doubleheader with the Greyhounds, losing 2-1 (25-20,17-25, 20-25) in the other match on the day.

“This is a game to see who makes the least mistakes,” said Ince.

“So when we are making mistakes, it is saying let’s shake it off, let’s move on to the next play, it is a new play. It is maintaining positive energy on the court.” more

DEVINE INSPIRATION: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Nora Devine puts up a shot in a game this season. Junior forward Devine’s superb play in the paint this winter helped PHS go 7-3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Deciding to speed things up on the court, the Princeton High girls’ basketball team enjoyed a good run this winter.

Bolstered by an infusion of talented freshmen, PHS employed an uptempo style to end the campaign with a final record of 7-3, a marked improvement on the 5-20 mark the program posted in the 2019-20 season.

“The fact that more players were able to play bodes well for the future as far as that exciting brand of basketball,” said Tiger head coach Dave Kosa. 

“We had our end of season meetings; we went uptempo in practice and a lot of the girls said it was just fun to go to practice.”

PHS had a lot of fun in its season finale, defeating New Egypt 39-29 on March 6.

“New Egypt is always strong, it was a good last game,” said Kosa, who got 11 points and six assists from freshman star Casey Serxner in the win with Sofia Aguayo chipping in eight points and five rebounds and Nora Devine contributing six points, eight rebounds, and five blocked shots.

“It was nice to finish unbeaten at home. We didn’t have that many home games but of the home games that we did have, I think we were 4-0. We played well, we led from beginning to end and we played great defense.”

The squad’s quintet of freshmen Serxner, Leah Rose-Seiden, Delaney Keegan, Riley Devlin, and Gabby Bannett, proved to be a nice addition to the program. more

ON POINT: Princeton Day School boys’ hockey player Gibson Linnehan controls the puck in recent action. Senior standout forward Linehan’s solid play helped PDS go 4-1-1 this winter. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While Scott Bertoli was happy to see his Princeton Day School boys’ hockey team post a 4-1-1 mark this winter, a winning record isn’t what will stand out when he looks back on the 2021 campaign.

“The results aside, it was the way we ended up getting through it,” said PDS head coach Bertoli, referring to the manner in which his players dealt with the COVID-19 protocols this winter.

“We were on the ice all nine weeks. We weren’t shut down at any point. Our kids did a good job. The school’s mask policy was effective and our kids showed a willingness to buy into that. I understand it is challenging. Even when I would hop on the ice for drills fully masked, it was hard to get adjusted to.”

PDS played hard to the end, topping St Augustine 4-0 on March 4 to avenge its only defeat of the season and then defeated crosstown rival Princeton High 6-0 a day later in its season finale.

Bertoli was proud of how his squad performed at both ends of the ice in the win over St. Augustine as it evened the score in the rivalry after having lost 3-2 to the Hermits in mid-February.

“I think the kids just naturally got excited; we always took the approach that you didn’t know what tomorrow was going to bring,” said Bertoli, who got two goals and two assists from senior star Drew McConaughy in the win with junior goalie Tim Miller making 25 saves in earning the shutout. more

HAIL STORM: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey star Hailey Wexler, left, races up the ice in a game this season. Senior forward Wexler’s offensive production helped PDS go 5-0-1 this season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

John Ritchie was expecting big things from his Princeton Day School girls’ hockey this winter.

Looking ahead to the season, PDS head coach Ritchie asserted that his squad possessed the depth and talent to post one of the best records in program history.

Ritchie’s confidence proved to be well-founded as the Panthers ended up going 5-0-1.

While Ritchie was proud of his team’s undefeated season, he was disappointed that COVID concerns and inclement weather led to the cancellation of scheduled clashes against some of the elite teams in the state.

“We will take it, we finished it on a good note for the seniors by not losing,” said Ritchie, whose team skated to a 2-2 tie against Trinity Hall in its season finale on February 22.

“It is one of those situations where you don’t have much control. I would have loved to play some of those other teams. We scrimmaged Summit but we didn’t get to play them in a real game. We didn’t get to play Mo-Beard, we didn’t get to play Pingry. We count those teams as the top of the state and they showed that again this year. Unfortunately with this group we didn’t get a chance to test them this year.”

The PDS group had a good time on a daily basis as it got plenty of ice time at McGraw Rink. more

NICK OF TIME: Hun School boys’ hockey player Nick Dimatos controls the puck in a game during the 2019-20 season. Senior defenseman and team captain Dimatos didn’t get many games during his final campaign as the Raiders went 0-3 in a season abbreviated by COVID-19 concerns. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Hun School boys’ hockey team, the theme of the 2021 season turned out to be what might have been.

Boasting a squad with seven seniors and some talented younger players, Hun featured depth throughout the lineup.

But paused by COVID-19 concerns and having opponents cancel games due to similar issues, the Raiders only played three games this winter, the last one coming on February 17.

“It was tough to not think about an unfortunate waste, more so than any other year, this was when we could have been good,” said Hun head coach Ian McNally.

“It is so unfortunate that this is the year that it happened. It was almost like we never got started, that it wasn’t a season.”

The Raiders ended up losing all three contests they did have, falling 6-1 to Morristown-Beard on February 12, 5-4 to Bergen Catholic on February 15, and 4-2 to Don Bosco on February 17.

“We did as well as we could, unfortunately, the three games that we were able to get in were no slouches,” said McNally.

“We played Mo Beard, we were pretty rusty and they smoked us. We played Bergen Catholic, we played hard and we fought back. We played Don Bosco and we played hard. We were never able to have the full team because of quarantines. It was whoever was available, played. We tried our best and then we went home.” more

March 30, 2021

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March 29, 2021

There will be a funeral procession for Phyllis Marchand, former mayor of Princeton Township, on Tuesday, March 30 between 10 and 10:20 a.m. Marchand died on Thursday, March 25. She was 81 years old.

Participants are invited to gather on the sidewalk of the four corners of the intersection of Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson/Wiggins Street as the procession passes by to Marchand’s final resting place in Princeton Cemetery.

The service at the cemetery will be private, with immediate family only.

Free parking has been offered by the YMCA/YWCA, Community Park Lot, Witherspoon Municipal Lot, and by Palmer Square, with free parking at the Hulfish Garage and Chambers Street Garage from 9 to 11 a.m.

March 26, 2021

Phyllis Marchand, who served 22 years of elected office including 14 as mayor of the former Princeton Township, died at home on Thursday morning, March 25. She was 81 years old. A native New Yorker who moved to Princeton with her husband, Sy, in 1966, Marchand was active in numerous causes and organizations, locally and beyond. A full story will appear in the next issue of Town Topics on March 31.

March 24, 2021

Princeton Youth Climate Week, organized by Princeton High School junior Harmonie Ramsden, featured a rally in downtown Princeton on Friday afternoon. Participants share their greatest concerns for the environment in this week’s Town Talk on page 6. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton community, town and University, along with many other voices and demonstrators from across the country, has responded strongly to the March 16 mass shooting in Atlanta, where a white male shot and killed eight people, six of whom were Asian American women.

Several local organizations, led by the Princeton Chinese Community group, will be holding a Stop Asian Hate Rally and Vigil  on Saturday, March 27 at Hinds Plaza outside the Princeton Public Library at 1 p.m. to mourn the shooting victims and speak out against the rise in racism against Asian Americans.

Calling for solidarity with Asian American communities, the Princeton Chinese Community and 12 other local organizations issued a statement expressing outrage at the “racially targeted killings in Atlanta as well as the blatant racism and misogynistic dehumanization demonstrated toward the victims.”

Their statement emphasized, “We ask for solidarity from all our brothers and sisters as we demand action and change. We ask our community leaders and elected representatives to respond to this violence with policies that support and protect our most vulnerable
community members.”

The statement went on to point out longtime American stereotypes and systemic prejudices that have contributed to the rise of hate crimes. “We understand that the fundamental root of anti-Asian hate crimes is systemic racism and xenophobia in America,” they wrote. “The model minority myth is a stereotype that obscures the long history of racism, and hides the diversity within our communities. Asian Americans have ancestral roots in more than 20 different countries. We are U.S.-born, naturalized citizens, and undocumented immigrants. We are working class and we are executives. Our differences are what make us Americans.” more

By Donald Gilpin

COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in New Jersey, which is leading the country in new positive tests. But along with fears of yet another wave, there are high hopes of a dramatic increase in vaccine doses coming next month.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has described the current situation as “a balancing moment,” and “a foot race.” According to Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser, “The results will be based on people’s behavior,” and, along with continuing attention to masking and social distancing, he recommends “thinking long and hard about any travel plans unless you have been vaccinated.”

The Princeton Health Department on Monday, March 22, reported eight new cases in Princeton in the previous seven days and 16 cases in the previous 14 days, well below the totals at their peak in December. “We’re still seeing consistently one or two cases per day,” said Grosser. “We want to get that lower. We’re seeing random spread within households.”

Grosser noted that Princeton is not facing spikes at this point like those in some other parts of the country, but he added that spring break is still ahead for most of New Jersey and that Princeton’s statistics often lag behind those of north and central New Jersey, where there have been recent outbreaks.

Grosser expressed optimism about accelerating vaccine distributions. “We’re expecting a mass increase in vaccine doses in April,” he said. “It sounds like help is on the way. The vaccines will be available. It may depend on where the state distributes them, but most people should be vaccinated by the end of April.” more

By Anne Levin

At a meeting Monday night, Princeton Council voted to introduce a budget of $66.6 million, up approximately $2.3 million from last year. That translates into a tax increase of 2.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

The ongoing pandemic has resulted in a decrease in revenue from such sources as court costs, permit applications, and parking meters.  As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the stimulus package recently passed by Congress, Princeton could possibly qualify for a portion of $3 million in federal aid.

“That will be the only way to cover our deficit without raising taxes,” said Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros, a member of the town’s Finance Committee. “But we can’t count on this until we have more clarity on the requirements for what will be covered, and how it will be covered.”

Now that the budget has been introduced, the town’s Finance Director Sandy Webb said staff will work with the Finance Committee to look for ways to make further cuts. The goal is get back to a zero tax increase by the end of April, and then
amend the budget.

The budget includes approximately $2 million of surplus funding. Interim Administrator Robert Bruschi said that because of sound fiscal policies initiated in past years, the town is in better shape than it could have been. “It’s not a great place to be,” he said of the need for some $2 million from surplus. “But it’s a lot better place to be.”

Princeton Public Library Director Jennifer Podolsky and Finance Director Susan Chernik delivered a report on the state of the library, which has suffered some losses in revenue from the bookstore, café, rentals, and other sources due to the pandemic. Chernik said an effort has been made to minimize the impact on funding from the municipality. more

CELEBRITY CHEF: Nick Liberato, a culinary television personality who is soon to open a Jewish deli in Stockton, will host a free virtual tutorial for the Arts Council of Princeton on April 6.

By Anne Levin

Nick Liberato’s roots are strictly Italian. His grandmother on one side was a great cook. His grandparents on the other had three stands in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, where he spent many summer weekends as a boy, weighing fruits and vegetables and learning the trade.

But growing up in Yardley, Pa., Liberato — familiar to fans of television cooking shows such as Bar Rescue and Restaurants on the Edge — had mostly Jewish friends. He went to their bar and bat mitzvahs. He attended their holiday celebrations. At a young age, he became a fan of the culture, especially related to food.

Despite this affinity, opening up a Jewish delicatessen is not something that Liberato envisioned as part of his career path. But his latest venture, the Borscht Belt Delicatessen, is just that. An homage to Jewish culture and cuisine, the deli is targeted for a mid-April debut at the Stockton Market.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, April 6 at 7-8:30 p.m., Liberato will host “Your Cutting Board, Your Palette: The Art of Presenting Sunday Brunch” for the Arts Council of Princeton.

“Never, in my mind, would I have imagined I’d be opening up a Jewish deli,” Liberato said. “But I now really understand the cuisine and the culture. I realized that people can be close-minded about Jewish food. You have to think about all the different cultures and all the different countries that these wonderful foods come from. That’s part of it. Then you also have this beautiful deli scene, which has been dying out. I wanted to revive that.”

Once they settled on the deli idea, Liberato and his two partners in the 618 Hospitality Group decided to take their inspiration from the once popular hotels in the Catskill Mountains area known as the borscht belt. “The hotels aren’t there anymore,” he said. “But we love the stories behind them,” he said.  more

By Anne Levin

With the deadline to file taxes only a few weeks away, scam season is about to go into full swing. Don’t be surprised by telephone calls from people who claim to be with the Internal Revenue Service, demanding immediate payment “or else.”

These tax-related calls are only one form of fraudulent activity of which citizens – particularly the elderly – should be aware. Local police have reported a number of startling scams in recent weeks. The most egregious was recorded last month, when a local resident was convinced to give computer access to someone who stole nearly $300,000 from their bank account.

“It is definitely a problem,” said Princeton Police Sergeant Tom Lagomarsino, who has been handling reports of the thefts. “One of the things we’re trying to get out on social media and otherwise is that people should be aware. Because most of the time, they come through the phone.”

Among frequent offenders are those who claim to be with PSE&G, claiming power will be cut off if payment isn’t made within an hour. “If they give you any type of immediate deadline, that’s a clue,” Lagomarsino said. “The power company is not going to cut off your power if you don’t pay in the next few hours.”

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received some 1.25 million fraud complaints in 2020 in which a contact method was identified. The average loss from a successful phone scam in 2020 was $1,170, nearly four times the average loss across all fraud types. more

ABEL PRIZE WINNER: Avi Wigderson, mathematician and computer scientist at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), will receive the 2021 Abel Prize jointly with Hungarian mathematician Laszlo Lovasz, a former visiting professor at IAS, “for their foundational contributions to theoretical computer science and discrete mathematics, and their leading role in shaping them into central fields of modern mathematics.”  (Dan Komoda/Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, USA)

By Donald Gilpin

Avi Wigderson, a mathematician at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton since 1999 and leader of their computer science and discrete mathematics program, has been awarded the 2021 Abel Prize, widely regarded as equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

“I am thrilled that the mathematics community has recognized with this prize the entire field of the theory of computation, which has been my academic and social home for the past four decades,” said Wigderson, who shares the 2021 Abel Prize with Hungarian mathematician Laszlo Lovasz, a former visiting professor at IAS.

The two pioneers in bringing applications of mathematics theory to the world of computer science were cited by the Abel committee “for their foundational contributions to theoretical computer science and discrete mathematics, and their leading role in shaping them into central fields of modern mathematics.”

Wigderson, who received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1983, added, “I feel lucky to be part of this extremely dynamic community, whose fundamental goals have at the same time deep conceptual and intellectual meaning, scientific and practical motivations, with pure fun problems and brilliant collaborators to pursue them with.” more

By Stuart Mitchner

Earth, you darling, I will! Oh, believe me, you need
your Springs no longer to win me: a single one,
just one, is already more than my blood can endure!

—from Duino Elegies

I walked into Labyrinth Books last week looking for nothing in particular and walked out with Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies (Norton Library 1963). Later the same day I read the first four of the 10 elegies aloud to myself, softly, just above a whisper, with the rain gently falling in the background.

In an essay from his 2012 collection In Time, C.K. Williams agrees with “the many readers” who consider Duino Elegies “the greatest single poem of the twentieth century.” Rilke named the work for Duino Castle, near Trieste, where he began the first elegy in 1912 after a stormy walk along the bastions with the Adriatic Sea “raging two hundred feet below.” According to J.B. Leishman’s introduction, Rilke heard the first line in the wind: “Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?” In the translation by Leishman and Stephen Spender: “Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic orders?”

Something like the unsettling pleasure of reading Rilke soft and low in rainy day serenity is in the music of the first stanza: “For Beauty’s nothing / but beginning of Terror we’re still just able to bear, / and why we adore it so is because it serenely / disdains to destroy us.”

In his essay, Williams finds Duino Elegies “simply gigantic: inexhaustible.” If he were alive again and sitting across from me at this moment celebrating the poem’s “superabundant being,” he’d be smiling, leaning forward, delighting in a poet who could write “Earth, you darling, I will,” as if the Earth had just proposed marriage. The pleasure of this imagined moment is the feeling that two poets are face to face with you saying, “Look, I am living.” And so they are. more

By Nancy Plum

One of the last musical events to take place in Princeton last March before the coronavirus shutdown was a performance by the Dryden Ensemble of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion. The Baroque specialty orchestra had planned to present Bach’s monumental choral/orchestral work at Princeton’s All Saints’ Church on Saturday, March 14, 2020 to celebrate the organization’s 25thanniversary. With a state shutdown called for that day, the organization hurriedly turned its dress rehearsal the night before into an open performance to a limited audience. For those who missed the concert, the Dryden honored what would have been Bach’s 336th birthday this past Sunday with an online broadcast of the performance from last March. Conducted by Scott Metcalfe, musical and artistic director of the Boston-based vocal ensemble Blue Heron, this performance featured eight vocal soloists and an orchestra of 20 period instrumentalists to present a concert just as relevant and worthwhile now as it was a year ago.

Presenting the Passion narrative from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John during Holy Week had been a liturgical tradition for centuries by the Baroque era. Initially read in church, the Biblical narrative was subsequently chanted and eventually set polyphonically as choral music evolved. By the 18thcentury, Passion settings were elaborate works with instruments and choruses, with vocal soloists taking on character parts. Bach may have composed as many as five Passion settings, with only two surviving in performable form. At the time Bach composed this work, he was in the early years of his position as cantor to four major Lutheran churches in Leipzig. It is hard to believe in these days of Bach reverence that he was somewhat down the list of choices for this position — following his hiring, one of the local council members complained that they would now have to “make do with mediocrity.”  Bach composed the multi-movement piece to be performed in two parts, separated by the Good Friday sermon.

Bach’s setting of the Passion as described in the Gospel of John is interspersed with commentary on the story in the form of arias or Lutheran chorales setting religious poems and other texts written specifically for this piece. Major choruses bookend the series of arias, recitatives, and chorales, with the drama conveyed by an Evangelist, Jesus, and Pilate. Two sopranos, two altos, and one tenor fill out the storyline, which begins at the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and ends at the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea. In this performance, presented in German with English subtitles, the Ensemble recreated the piece with just eight singers handling all of the vocal material, bringing together an octet well-experienced in 18th-century performance practice. Leading the cast as the Evangelist was tenor Jason McStoots, who has a long history of specializing in Baroque opera. William Sharp, singing the role of Jesus, is no stranger to opera and choral works on Princeton stages; and baritone Brian Ming Chu, singing the role of Pilate, has made his professional career in the Philadelphia area. Although these three singers carried much of the dramatic action, the other five vocalists were no less busy.   more

TOASTING SPRING: The Arts Council of Princeton presents the ninth annual Cabernet Cabaret performance featuring Sarah Donner on Friday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m. This virtual cabaret will usher in spring with hope, sequins, and jazz hands.

The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) presents the ninth annual Cabernet Cabaret featuring Sarah Donner & Friends, a virtual cabernet-infused evening on Friday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m. This year’s theme, “Emerge from the Dark: Songs to Spring Forth!” will include showtunes and witty banter. Selections include songs from Frozen, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Into The Woods, and Ragtime.

“We have been hunkered down for what has been the darkest winter for many of us. Cabernet Cabaret 2020 was the last live show that I performed prior to the pandemic lockdown,” said Donner. “Let’s raise a glass to a virtual evening of showtunes celebrating new beginnings and the light at the end of these dark days.”

New for 2021, Cabernet Cabaret ticket buyers are entitled to a 15 percent discount on select bottles of wine at Princeton Corkscrew Wine Shop. Attendees will receive a code to use on the Corkscrew website, active from April 9-16. Tickets are $25 and available at All proceeds benefit the Arts Council of Princeton, helping to close the gap created by COVID.

“A Past Becomes a Heritage: The Negro Units of the Federal Theatre Project” is a program being presented March 30 at 7:30 p.m., on Zoom, by the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater. It will feature recorded readings by professional actors of excerpts of plays written by Black playwrights in the New Deal-era Federal Theatre Project’s Negro Units, as the units were titled then.

The readings will serve as a springboard for a live panel-led conversation on this particular moment in Black and theatrical history. The event kicks off a new partnership between Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts and New York City-based collective CLASSIX, an organization dedicated to expanding the classical theater canon through an exploration of dramatic works by Black writers. This event is a Princeton Humanities Council Magic Project.

Artists and scholars of CLASSIX including theatrical directors Christina Franklin, Kimille Howard, and Dominique Rider are involved, in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater. Panelists include Princeton professors Autumn Womack and Kinohi Nishikawa, CLASSIX member Arminda Thomas, moderated by NYU professor Michael Dinwiddie. 

The event is free to the public. Visit to register.