June 7, 2023

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Closes Princeton Season with Fiery Soloist

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) introduced a new violin star to Princeton audiences this past weekend in a performance also including a world premiere. Led by Music Director Xian Zhang, the Orchestra presented a concert in Richardson Auditorium Friday night featuring music commissioned for the Orchestra’s Centennial celebration, well as a beloved violin concerto performed by an up-and-coming superstar.

As part of its Centennial Anniversary, NJSO commissioned an orchestral piece from Chinese-American composer Chen Yi. Yi’s compositions are rooted in her upbringing during China’s Cultural Revolution, and she describes her works as a fusion of Chinese lore and Western form and techniques. The one-movement Landscape Impression, commissioned by NJSO and premiered in this past weekend’s concert, was inspired by two poems by the 11th-century writer Su Dong-Po.

Yi has set these poems before as choral pieces, and her orchestral treatment sought to capture the beauty of the mountain and lake landscapes by interpreting the poetic imagery with contemporary compositional devices and effects. Zhang and the orchestral players began the work emphasizing its dense texture, with key melodic fragments heard from flutes and trombones. Swirling and trilling winds supported the violin lines, with sharp percussion and an ever-present harp. Winds effectively provided “raindrops” on the West Lake of Dong-Po’s poem, as the Orchestra conveyed a musical portrait of a far-away panorama in a time long ago.

Igor Stravinsky’s 1920 ballet Pulcinella also recalled an era gone by, as Stravinsky turned to the 18th century for inspiration. Stravinsky himself created an instrumental “Suite” from the full ballet, with eight movements for chamber-sized orchestra and particular emphasis on the wind instruments. New Jersey Symphony Orchestra began Stravinsky’s “Suite” from Pulcinella in a joyous tempo, with the full string sound contrasting with crisp wind solos. Stravinsky scored the “Suite” for five string soloists supported by an ensemble of 18 string players, and violinists Eric Wyrick and Francine Storck, violist Frank Foerster, cellist Jonathan Spitz, and double bass player Ha Young Jung were clean in their solo lines. Wind combinations were exceptionally clean, with oboist Robert Ingliss playing particularly expressively and bassoonist Robert Wagner often providing very quick lines. Zhang elicited precise phrase endings throughout, and trumpeter Garth Greenup’s playing was a lesson in the varied types of trumpets and performance practice.

When Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky completed the 1878 Violin Concerto in D Major, the work’s intended recipient turned it back, proclaiming it unplayable. Clearly, Tchaikovsky and that 19th-century violinist had never met Randall Goosby, who has been turning heads in the violin world, even at his young age. A graduate of the Juilliard School, Goosby played Tchaikovsky’s Concerto on Friday night with ease and technical facility, as if he had known the music all his life.

The first movement of the Concerto opened with a lyrical orchestral melody, showing traditional classical roots. Goosby’s solo emerged effortlessly from the texture, as conductor Zhang built the drama quickly, and Goosby played the familiar first movement theme poignantly and with authority. He easily handled the quick passages with light fingering, showing a ringing upper register and full command of Tchaikovsky’s technical demands. Goosby drew out the drama of the first movement cadenza, drawing fire and passion from his 1708 Stradivarius violin and drawing the audience into his performing realm with teasing cadences and lyrical melodic lines.

The second movement “Canzonetta” was a throwback to a past musical age, played by the Orchestra with crisp winds and Goosby’s mournful songlike solo line. Zhang brought out the movement’s grace, with the solo violin line complemented by Andrew Lamy’s clarinet solo, and an elegant duet between Lamy and flutist Bart Feller. The rustic third movement “rondo” was marked by an enticing solo violin melody and agile playing from both soloist and Orchestra. Goosby’s melodies were often answered by wind solos, including those from bassoonist Wagner, clarinetist Lamy, and oboist Ingliss. Each repetition of the “rondo” refrain seemed a little more frenetic, with the movement gaining speed well toward a jubilant conclusion. Goosby closed Friday night’s performance with an encore of a “Louisiana blues strut,” with saucy melodies and show-stopping virtuosity that the 18th-century violin maker Stradivarius could not possibly have imagined.