June 12, 2024

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony ended its 2023-24 Princeton series with a concert of American works featuring two longtime collaborators. Led by Music Director Xian Zhang, Friday night’s performance in Richardson Auditorium included George Gershwin’s immortal Porgy and Bess, as encapsulated into a symphonic suite by noted arranger Robert Russell Bennett, along with Gershwin’s towering Concerto in F Major for Piano and Orchestra with guest piano soloist Daniil Trifonov. Complementing these two American classics was a world premiere of Daniel Bernard Roumain’s orchestral concerto Autumn Days and Nights, which Roumain, the Symphony’s resident artistic catalyst, had dedicated to Zhang.  more

June 5, 2024

By Nancy Plum

Performing 17th- and 18th-century music from a 21st-century perspective is always a challenge. Instruments have evolved over the past centuries, as have acoustical tuning and performance techniques. While orchestras and choruses are often looking for the next new thing, there are ensembles dedicated to preserving performance practice the way Baroque composers intended. One such ensemble is La Fiocco, which presented a season-ending concert this past Saturday at Christ Congregation Princeton.

Specializing in music of the late Renaissance, Baroque and early Classical eras on period instruments, La Fiocco featured three singers and eight instrumentalists in a program devoted to the music from “Henry Purcell’s London.” Like Mozart, Purcell lived hard and died young as a composer, producing an expansive repertory of music in his 36-year life. He composed under the patronage of England’s last two Stuart kings and musically ushered in the age of William and Mary. For this performance, La Fiocco brought together three experienced and accomplished singers in soprano Laura Heimes, tenor Stephen Ng, and baritone Brian Ming Chu to perform songs and ayres of the esteemed late 17th-century composer, as well as works of Purcell’s contemporaries. Throughout the evening, the three soloists showed themselves to be animated and theatrical, adapting their voices well to the very acoustically-live space of the church.  more

May 22, 2024

By Nancy Plum

For 40 years, Princeton Singers has presented chamber choral concerts of unique repertoire in some of the more unusual spaces in the area. Comprised of 16 professional choristers, the Singers has maintained a strong commitment to high-level presentation of music of all periods, especially advocating for the creation of new choral works. Led by conductor Steven Sametz (celebrating his 25th year as artistic director), the ensemble observed both its commendable history and Sametz’s significant anniversary this past Saturday night with a concert of “The Best of The Princeton Singers” at Trinity Church in Princeton.  more

May 15, 2024

By Nancy Plum

Instrumental concertos have been audience blockbusters for centuries. Such composers as Mozart and Beethoven cast themselves as leading stars in their own compositions, and contemporary performers have made stellar careers of exploring the repertory. Princeton Symphony Orchestra presented one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s challenging piano/orchestral works this past weekend, featuring a soloist who maintains an active repertoire of more piano concertos than almost anyone. Led by conductor Rossen Milanov and with soloist Sara Davis Buechner at the keyboard, the musicians of Princeton Symphony Orchestra brought Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major to life, bracketed by a contemporary work honoring nature and a towering Schumann symphony.  more

May 8, 2024

By Nancy Plum

The centuries-old tradition of boys’ choirs has always had a strong presence in the Princeton area. The American Boychoir School musically trained and educated hundreds of young men in its six-decade history in Princeton. Following closure of the Boychoir School, the Westrick Music Academy chose to expand its highly-successful Princeton Girlchoir program by incorporating a boys’ choir under its umbrella, and in the fall of 2017 launched the Princeton Boychoir. Aimed at singers grades three through 12, this program not only provided a musical extension to former American Boychoir members, but has also appealed to a new clientele of talented young performers. Today, the program includes three choirs addressing all stages of the changed and unchanged voice while imparting principles of “confidence, character, and leadership” to create fine young men.

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May 1, 2024

By Nancy Plum

Members of professional orchestras often have successful performing careers on their own, both individually and as part of chamber ensembles. Princeton Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Alistair MacRae maintains a bi-coastal performing life, with faculty and principal appointments on the West Coast in addition to New Jersey. One of his affiliations is as a member of the Puget Sound Piano Trio, ensemble-in-residence at the University of the Puget Sound School of Music in Tacoma, Washington. Princeton Symphony Orchestra presented MacRae and his colleagues in the Trio, violinist Maria Sampen and pianist Ronaldo Rolim, in a concert at Princeton’s Trinity Church last Wednesday night. With the music of Franz Joseph Haydn, Miguel del Aguila, and Felix Mendelssohn, the Trio showed how its four-decade history has created both musical cohesion and high-level performance.  more

April 24, 2024

By Nancy Plum

The period in England between 17th-century composer Henry Purcell and the early 20th century was bleak for native composers. Ralph Vaughan Williams began putting British composition back on the map in the late 19th century, soon joined by Sir Edward Elgar, who had been knocking at the door of recognition for quite a while before the premiere of his epic choral/orchestral The Dream of Gerontius. Taking the practice of incorporating chorus into symphonic works to a new level, Elgar’s Gerontius traces the journey of the title character from deathbed to judgement before God. The Princeton University Orchestra and Glee Club joined forces this past weekend to present this monumental work at Richardson Auditorium. A combined Walter L. Nollner and Stuart B. Mindlin memorial concert, this performance also acknowledged graduating seniors of both ensembles, sending them off into the world celebrating a musical achievement and contemplating the cycle of life questions Elgar raised.  more

March 13, 2024

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra combined innovative performance with contemporary music this past weekend with a pair of collaborative performances with Time for Three, a groundbreaking ensemble crossing boundaries of classical, Americana, and singer-songwriter genres with virtuosic playing. Led by Princeton Symphony Orchestra Music Director Rossen Milanov, the two ensembles alone and together presented an evening of late 19th-century and early 20th-century ballet, as well as a newly-composed work written for Time for Three. The combined performance of these instrumentalists brought the audience to its feet with the dazzling playing of Time for Three double bassist Ranaan Meyer and violinists Nick Kendall and Charles Yang.  more

March 6, 2024

By Nancy Plum

The annual Princeton University Orchestra Concerto Competition has always shown the depth of talent in the University student body. This year was no exception, with the Orchestra performing a showcase concert of the Competition winners this past weekend. Under the direction of PUO Conductor Michael Pratt, the Orchestra played three full and complex concerti featuring tuba, cello, and violin soloists. As a bonus, the ensemble presented a world premiere of a collaborative work with the University’s African Music Ensemble and the West African Dafra Kura Band.

The Concerto Competition winners were young this year, with three underclassmen displaying impressive technical dexterity in the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Robert Schumann, and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Sophomore Wesley Sanders and the University Orchestra opened Friday night’s performance in Richardson Auditorium (the concert was repeated Saturday night) with Vaughan Williams’ Concerto for Bass Tuba. The first major concerto ever written for tuba and orchestra, the 1954 concerto packed within its three movements virtuosic requirements well illustrating the full capabilities of the instrument. more

February 28, 2024

By Nancy Plum

The fall performance of the Richardson Chamber Players, postponed from its original November date at Richardson Auditorium, took place last Thursday night at Taplin Auditorium in Fine Hall on the University campus. The concert was devoted to the music of “Les Six,” a group of composers working in Paris during the early 20th century and credited with developing a purely French repertory of music. The nine musicians who performed Thursday night as the Chamber Players presented a program of works for a variety of instrumental and vocal combinations, allowing the audience to experience collective artistry close up.

Clarinetist Jo-Ann Sternberg, violinist Brennan Sweet, and pianist Allison Brewster Franzetti opened the concert with the 1936 Suite for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano of Darius Milhaud, immediately showing a bright ensemble sound. Sternberg’s clarinet lines richly resonated through the intimate space of Taplin Auditorium and Brennan’s lyrical violin passages brought out well Milhaud’s graceful melodies. The three players highlighted the saucy feel of the closing movement, bringing the work to a graceful close.  more

February 21, 2024

By Nancy Plum

The Princeton University Glee Club, currently under the direction of Gabriel Crouch, has maintained a long history of collaborations with vocal artists and ensembles who come to Princeton to coach the chorus members and perform with the Glee Club in a joint concert. This past week, as part of its 10th anniversary “Glee Club Presents” series, the chorus invited to campus the professional American Spiritual Ensemble, which has sustained a mission of keeping the American Negro spiritual alive for more than 25 years. Founded and led by Everett McCorvey, the Spiritual Ensemble seeks to preserve what McCorvey called “folksongs of the Negro slaves” which were not only a source of comfort, hope, and faith throughout centuries, but also a clandestine form of communication. more

February 14, 2024

By Nancy Plum

The concert this past weekend by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine at McCarter Theatre was long overdue. The Orchestra was scheduled to perform at McCarter a year ago, but the ongoing conflict in that region, combined with travel and economic difficulties, shelved those plans. The Orchestra was finally able to embark on a United States tour this month, and the ensemble brought a rare musical experience to Matthews Theater Sunday afternoon. Led by Volodymyr Sirenko and featuring guest pianist Volodymyr Vynnytsky, the Orchestra presented a program steeped in both the Romantic symphonic tradition and Ukrainian musical history.  more

February 7, 2024

By Nancy Plum

The Westminster Community Orchestra performed a veritable potpourri of instrumental and vocal music this past weekend. Sunday afternoon’s concert in Richardson Auditorium had something for everyone, from operatic excerpts to a world premiere to traditional Chinese music. Led by conductor Ruth Ochs, the 55-member ensemble showcased several student winners of the Orchestra’s Concerto Competition, as well as one of Rider University’s choruses. Taking a pep rally approach to drawing the audience into the performance, Ochs brought an additionally festive atmosphere to the afternoon.

The Community Orchestra displayed its own capabilities opening with Carl Maria von Weber’s “Overture” to his 1821 opera Der Freischütz. Considered the first German Romantic opera, Weber’s work was revolutionary in its folklore roots and unearthly portrayal of the supernatural. Ochs and the Orchestra began the work with a slow, dark, and mysterious introduction, as a quartet of horns set the Wolf’s Glen scene. The string sound was well balanced, with the second section of the “Overture” fully symphonic and martial. Clarinetists Russell Labe and Pamela Kotula provided graceful lines coloring the music well. more

January 24, 2024

By Nancy Plum

Mahler Chamber Orchestra, a collective of players from around the world, has been heard in Princeton in the past, dating back to before the pandemic. Last weekend, Princeton University Concerts presented the renowned ensemble in a ground-breaking format of an immersive virtual installation. For four days, the public had the opportunity to be part of a multi-dimensional orchestral world as the Chamber Orchestra presented works of Mozart, Ives, and Mendelssohn, conveyed to listeners via headsets including a display screen, stereo sound, and sensors. The 45-minute concert was part of the Chamber Orchestra’s “Future Presence” project, a virtual reality initiative to enable fluid dynamic interaction among listeners, music, and performers.  more

January 17, 2024

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra continued this season’s focus on composers and musicians associated with Princeton this past weekend with performances of works by Princeton-educated composers, one sung by a University graduate now an opera superstar. On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium, Princeton Symphony Music Director Rossen Milanov led the musicians in an imaginative program of music ranging from the 18th century to current times. 

Princeton University’s compositional Ph.D. program has launched some of the most innovative creators of new music working today. Nina Shekhar, currently a Ph.D. candidate in music composition at the University, has already achieved acclaim and awards for her work. The one-movement orchestral Lumina, performed by Princeton Symphony in this weekend’s concerts, well demonstrated Shekhar’s inventive approach to instrumental music. Beginning with long notes from bowed xylophone and glockenspiel, followed by periods of silence in which the residual sound echoed through the hall, Lumina was full of suspense and contrasts between light and dark. Shekhar used the full orchestra in the instrumentation, with solos from clarinetist Pascal Archer and flutist Scott Kemsley emerging from the orchestral palette. Shekhar’s piece possessed a pulsating feel, both from natural acoustics and musical effects, and was rich in majestic symphonic sound.  more

December 20, 2023

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony returned to Richardson Auditorium this past weekend for the ensemble’s annual presentation of George Frideric Handel’s always-popular oratorio Messiah. Conducted by noted baroque specialist Nicholas McGegan, the spirited performance last Friday night brought together a stylistic chamber orchestra, youthful chorus, and four vocal soloists.

Messiah is comprised of nearly 50 choruses, recitatives, and solos or duets tracing the life of Christ in three distinct parts. McGegan, known for the speed and clarity of his baroque music performances, led the Symphony and Montclair State University Singers in all but a handful of the numbers in a concise 2½ hours of buoyant instrumental playing, clean choral singing, and lyrical vocal solos. His approach to the work, which he has conducted many times, emphasized the theatricality of the biblical story, as well as the charm and elegance of the 18th century.

As with most oratorios of its era, Messiah opened with an instrumental “Overture.” In Friday night’s performance, the musicians maintained crisp rhythms, with sharply-played double-dotted notes keeping the pace of the music moving forward. McGegan maintained a quick but unhurried tempo, with a lean orchestral fugue setting the stage for what was to come. more

December 6, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The Princeton University Orchestra and Glee Club joined forces this past weekend at Richardson Auditorium to present an unusual gem of a concerto from one of the most creative periods of French musical history. Orchestra conductor Michael Pratt and Glee Club director Gabriel Crouch brought together the two ensembles to perform a concerto for two pianos, multiple saxophones, orchestra and chorus by 20th-century composer Germaine Tailleferre, whose compositional output has remained largely unexplored until recent decades. Combined with the music of Brahms and Mozart, the Tailleferre work created a solid anchor for the Orchestra’s annual tribute to former University faculty member and composer Peter Westergaard.

The University Orchestra opened Friday night’s concert (the performance was repeated Saturday evening) with one of the University music department’s talented students leading the ensemble. Senior Aster Zhang has performed extensively as a cellist both nationally and worldwide and is also trained as a conductor. For her portion of the program, Zhang led the Orchestra in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Overture” to The Magic Flute. Conducting without a baton, Zhang was poised and professional from the outset, leading a stately opening and smooth transition to the quick-moving passages. The string sound was consistently light, and musical punctuation clear. Taking her time in slower sections, Zhang showed Mozart’s drama well, aided by elegant wind solos. more

November 15, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra returned choral music to its repertory this past weekend with a performance of a newly-reimagined edition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s popular Requiem. Since Mozart’s untimely death in 1791 left the work incomplete, scholars have attempted to second-guess the composer and provide an alternative completion adhering to Mozart’s intent and historical character. Conductor Rossen Milanov and Princeton Symphony Orchestra brought this rendition of Mozart’s immortal masterpiece to Richardson Auditorium this past weekend, with composer Gregory Spears’ addition of three new movements to the mass for the dead. Joining the Orchestra for Saturday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) were four vocal soloists and Westminster Symphonic Choir.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra paired the Requiem with a 21st-century work inspired by a string quartet of Mozart contemporary Franz Joseph Haydn. Caroline Shaw’s 2011 Entr’acte for string orchestra incorporated contemporary musical effects into a classically-structured piece, including passages reminiscent of J.S. Bach. Milanov led the Orchestra in a feathery opening to Shaw’s one-movement work, allowing the music to quickly become powerful while maintaining a lean quality. Concertmaster Basia Danilow and principal cellist Alistair MacRae played an intense duet against relentless pizzicati of the other players, and MacRae’s graceful lute-like playing delicately brought Shaw’s unique and appealing work to a close.  more

November 8, 2023

By Nancy Plum

When choruses choose to perform the oratorios of George Frideric Handel, it is usually the popular Messiah which draws in audiences. However, Handel composed close to 30 oratorios, essentially perfecting the genre when interest in Italian opera waned in 18th-century England. Sung in English, oratorios had great audience appeal, retaining the solo vocal fireworks popular in opera but adding complex choral numbers which served a narrative function and provided commentary on the action.

Handel looked to biblical sources for subject matter to create his familiar oratorios, with works based on the stories of Saul, Samson, and Judas Maccabeus. Lesser known is the 1748 Solomon, which depicts the life of the monarch of ancient Israel in 63 arias, recitatives, and choruses. Handel’s choral/orchestral works are tailor-made for the more than 100-member Princeton Pro Musica, which brought a production of Solomon to Richardson Auditorium this past Sunday afternoon. Led by Pro Musica Artistic Director Ryan J. Brandau and joined by the period orchestra New York Baroque Incorporated and five vocal soloists, Pro Musica presented a spirited performance of Handel’s animated work. more

November 1, 2023

By Nancy Plum

McCarter Theatre is well into a season of diverse presentations, including the well-respected Classical Music Series. Last week, two renowned specialist Baroque performing ensembles came to Princeton for an evening of Johann Sebastian Bach. The London-based Monteverdi Choir and its companion English Baroque Soloists orchestra took the stage at Richardson Auditorium last Monday night to perform Bach’s 1749 Mass in B Minor, the 18th-century master’s extended setting of liturgical text.

Completed just a year before Bach’s death, Mass in B Minor was comprised of more than 25 choral movements, solos and duets, and was unique in its time for including the five major sections of the mass text, rather than the customary “Kyrie” and “Gloria.” Likely never performed in Bach’s lifetime, this piece has become one of the composer’s most enduring choral works. It is also one of the most difficult to perform, requiring a great deal of vocal stamina, and is an example of Bach’s innate tendency to write instrumentally, even for the voice.

There are as many ways to perform Bach’s music as there are ensembles worldwide. The evolution of choral societies in the 19th century led to massive choirs singing Bach with large orchestras and Romantic musical effects. The mid-20th century brought a renewed interest in presenting this music in the manner in which the music was originally conceived, an approach especially popular among European performers. The Monteverdi Choir, on the verge of its 60th anniversary, was founded to specialize in historically-inspired projects, with the Choir’s umbrella organization home to the younger but equally as influential English Baroque Soloists period instrumental orchestra. Dinis Sousa, associate conductor of the Monteverdi ensembles, led both the Choir and Baroque Soloists in their presentation of Bach’s towering work last Monday night. more

October 25, 2023

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony has long provided a showcase for up-and-coming artists destined for the forefront of the performing arena. The Symphony’s opening concert of its Princeton series this past Friday night at Richardson Auditorium brought together a conductor and solo cellist currently relatively unknown, but not for long. Conductor Joseph Young, music director of the Berkeley Symphony and director of ensembles at Peabody Conservatory, led the Symphony musicians in a program of Robert Schumann, Edward Elgar, and the Princeton University-connected Jessie Montgomery, and featured in the Schumann Cello Concerto was a definite future star in cellist Sterling Elliott, currently pursuing an artist diploma at The Juilliard School. The three pieces performed in Friday night’s concert highlighted unique instrumentation, rich orchestral colors, and a touch of virtuosity.

American composer Jessie Montgomery has had a partnership with Princeton University as a graduate fellow in music composition and has been making a name for herself creating musical works for ensembles nationwide. Among her most recent commissions was Snapshots, co-commissioned by several orchestras, including New Jersey Symphony. Friday night’s performance represented the East Coast premiere of Montgomery’s four-movement work, which Montgomery has described as a set of vignettes of her time studying film music. more

October 18, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton University Concerts launched its 130th season this past week with a total immersion experience provided by a renowned professional chorus enjoying a visit to the University. The San Francisco-based vocal ensemble Chanticleer, led by music director and University graduate Tim Keeler, came to Princeton for a collaboration with the University Glee Club, currently under the direction of conductor Gabriel Crouch. Following days of joint rehearsals, a “Chamber Jam” and a “Live Music Meditation,” the two ensembles presented a concert this past Thursday night at Richardson Auditorium to close out their successful partnership. Typical of Chanticleer’s performances, the program featured repertoire ranging from the very traditional Max Reger and Heinrich Isaac to Hoagy Carmichael and Joni Mitchell, as well as a contemporary work by another Princeton University graduate.  more

October 11, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Fall always brings lively audiences to Richardson Auditorium for the University’s ensemble concerts, with anticipation of the new academic year and students cheering each other on. Princeton University Orchestra began its 2023-24 season this past weekend with two performances in Richardson featuring both the newest Orchestra roster of talented students and one student musician in particular who successfully tackled one of the most difficult works in the repertory.

Led by conductor Michael Pratt, Friday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Saturday night) continued the ensemble’s multi-year tradition of paying tribute to Ukraine with the playing of Elegie by Ukrainian composer and ethnomusicologist Mykola Lysenko. The Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff works which comprised the bulk of Friday’s program showcased the full capabilities of the Orchestra, and Pratt felt that for this season opener, the voice of Ukraine should also be heard. Lysenko originally composed Elegie as a solo piano piece, and the instrumental version played by the Orchestra was created by composer Vsevolod Sirenko and one of Princeton’s own — Class of 1983 graduate Hobart Earle, currently conductor of Ukraine’s Odesa Regional Philharmonic. This arrangement preserved Lysenko’s keyboard charm while reflecting the composer’s desire to retain Ukraine’s distinct identity within the country’s Russian historical influence. more

August 2, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts closed its 56th season last week with a performance by Dalí Quartet, an ensemble of four string players committed to high-quality performance of classical and romantic repertoire, as well as a particular focus on works of Latin America. Violinists Ari Isaacman-Beck and Carlos Rubio, violist Adriana Linares, and cellist Jesús Morales came to Princeton’s Nassau Presbyterian Church last Wednesday night to present a concert of chamber music by Franz Schubert, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and renowned 20th-century Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. Founded in 2004 and currently based in Philadelphia, Dalí Quartet showed in this concert the well-blended sound and combined technical facility these musicians have achieved over the past 10 years. more

July 26, 2023

By Nancy Plum

There is a tremendous amount of music for string trios and quartets, but repertoire for two wind instruments and piano is much more limited. The ensemble Poulenc Trio, currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, has been redefining the wind trio genre through performance and commissioning of works for oboe, bassoon, and piano. Oboist Alexander Vvedenskiy, bassoonist Bryan Young and pianist Irina Kaplan Lande came to Princeton last week to present a program of French music from the 19th through the 21st centuries. Whether a standard from a master or a newly-commissioned piece inspired by the French chamber tradition, the concert performed on Wednesday night’s concert at Nassau Presbyterian Church made for a refreshing summer evening. more