Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 5
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
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New Jersey Symphony Presents Evening of Folk-Based Music From America, Beyond

Nancy Plum

The wind instruments of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO), especially acting principal oboist Robert Ingliss, had a very busy evening on Friday night as the orchestra presented an evening of music based in the folk tradition. Guest conductor Joann Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and Virginia Symphony Orchestra, led the NJSO in two works of American origin and two with Bohemian roots, all of which were based on folk tunes. These four works all relied heavily on the winds, and it was a pleasure on an icy evening to hear the smooth playing of the wind instrumentalists.

Zoltan Kodaly and Antonin Dvorak both extensively incorporated folk tunes of their native countries into their music. Kodaly adapted Dances of Marosszek from a previously composed piano work drawn from his notebook of folk songs collected from throughout the Marosszek region (now part of Romania). As NJSO principal flutist Bart Feller explained in his introductory remarks to the audience, incorporating previously written tunes enabled composers to write more innovatively, and this was very apparent in Kodaly’s writing for the winds.

Ms. Falletta began Dances of Marosszek with broad conducting strokes as the folk theme in the lower strings contrasted with the flute and oboe solos, played by Mr. Feller and Mr. Ingliss, respectively. Second flutist Kathleen Nester presented the folk melody well on the piccolo, and as Kodaly’s music explored the depth of the orchestral ensemble, the players moved well between peasant-like and lighter musical styles.

New Jersey Symphony’s next Princeton concert, on Friday, March 20, will feature works of Smetana, Beethoven, and Dvorak, with pianist Arnaldo Cohen performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. For information call (609) 258-5000.

Almost no orchestral composer is more identified with American tunes than Aaron Copland, and almost no piece of Copland’s is more recognizable than his Suite from Appalachian Spring, incorporating the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts” into its fabric. Ms. Falletta took a very different approach to this piece, allowing the music to unfold with subtle horn and very even clarinet thirds and triads. Mr. Ingliss again brought out lines richly on the oboe and the cross-rhythms in the music were well accentuated in the trumpet and piano.

Ms. Falletta is a no-nonsense conductor who handled the tempo shifts of this suite decisively and maintained a steady rhythmic base around which syncopation revolved. She took the final presentation of the familiar tune very broadly, aided by a very crisp brass section of trumpets and trombones.

Brittany Sklar is no stranger to the NJSO stage; the young violinist was a 2007 winner of the orchestra’s Young Artists Auditions, and Friday night’s concert was her second appearance with the ensemble. Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra was tailor-made to show Ms. Sklar’s intent and self-contained playing style as she opened the concerto’s first movement with a sweet melody on the violin. Playing in the middle part of the instrument’s register, Ms. Sklar brought a sensitivity to the vocally-conceived line. Barber’s spacious writing for the winds also created a good contrast to the long lines of the violin.

Mr. Ingliss brought a melodic oboe solo to the concerto’s second movement, aided by a rich melody in the cello and much understated horns. Ms. Sklar, often seeming like she was playing for herself, demonstrated very impressive double stops before launching into the intense and continuous fury of the third movement Presto. Her fiery playing fit right into the orchestral palette as the ensemble closed the concerto with clarity and assuredness.

The orchestra closed Friday night’s concert with Dvorak’s Czech Suite in D Major for Orchestra, a five movement work which had an immediately folky feel. Ms. Falletta built the dynamics well throughout each of the movements, especially giving a very clear life to the second movement Polka. Notable winds in the fourth movement Romanze included flutist Mr. Feller and English horn player Tuck Lee.

Ms. Falletta has a very well established career as one of the far-too-few significant women conductors in this country, and her collaboration with Ms. Sklar showed both the inroads Ms. Falletta has made into the classical music field and the best of the next generation coming behind her.

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