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

July 5, 2023

By Nancy Plum

A new music festival has set down roots in Princeton this summer. The John Perry Academy of Music, previously based in Los Angeles, has relocated to this area and launched its summer activities this past weekend. Bracketing 12 days of master classes, lectures, and private lessons for musicians are two piano recitals, the first of which took place this past Sunday evening. Russian pianist Mikhail Voskresensky, who left his homeland in 2022 in protest of the invasion of Ukraine, opened the festival with a concert of 18th- and 19th-century piano music at Mayo Hall on the campus of The College of New Jersey.

Voskresensky’s concert Sunday evening began with two musical gumdrops from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Like others of Mozart’s works, Fantasy in d minor for piano was unfinished at the time of his death. In a type of musical fan fiction, Mozart’s widow turned to colleagues and friends to finish a number of these pieces. The last 10 measures of the Fantasy were thought to be written by German composer and organist August Müller, and his added fugal coda fit well with Mozart’s baroque intents in this short piece. Voskresensky paired this work with Mozart’s Fantasy in c minor, also left unfinished at the time of the composer’s death. The 28-bar original fragment was completed by composer and priest Abbé Maximilian Stadler, who titled the piece a fantasia and maintained the same baroque flavor that Mozart had begun. more

June 28, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The story of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk is one of the most tragic in American politics. Known as “The Mayor of Castro Street,” Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California and was assassinated (along with the city’s mayor) in November 1978 by Dan White, a former supervisor who had been refused reinstatement to office. The aftermath of the untimely deaths of these individuals changed the face of San Francisco politics, and White’s subsequent suicide created a trinity of loss of both life and potential. more

June 21, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Festival has arrived in the community, with recitals, lectures, and full concerts in a range of venues throughout town. Under the umbrella of Princeton Symphony Orchestra, the Festival has always included full operas in the performance schedule, and this past Friday night saw the opening of the first of the Festival’s two mainstage productions. Under a tented pavilion at Morven Museum & Garden, the Festival presented Gioachino Rossini’s farcical The Barber of Seville, recalling to the stage two singers who excelled last season and introducing new outstanding voices to Princet+on audiences.

Rossini’s 1816 Barber of Seville was part of an operatic tradition of composing for not much more than a handful of principal performers, with strong contrasting characters and complex and intricate ensemble numbers. Each of the singers in Princeton Festival’s production needed to be able to carry the stage and hold their own in duets and trios which could fall apart with one slip-up. Led by Princeton Symphony Orchestra Music Director Rossen Milanov and presented in Italian with English titles, this Barber of Seville was musically precise and clearly focused on physical comedy as well as top-notch singing. more

June 14, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra (GPYO) is justifiably proud of its 63-year history, and especially in rebounding from the instability of the past three years. In the midst of the pandemic, GPYO hired a new music director, who wasted no time in bringing the ensembles within GPYO back to full strength. The four ensembles within the Youth Orchestra organization presented their final concerts of the season this past Sunday afternoon and evening in Richardson Auditorium, solidly demonstrating their mission of providing young musicians with challenging musical experience while cultivating a lifelong love of the arts.

Sunday night’s concert at Richardson featured the Concert and Symphonic Orchestras, both conducted by Jessica Morel, in works which were both operatic and programmatic (the Chamber Winds and Preparatory String Ensembles performed in the afternoon). With more than 80 players, the Concert Orchestra presented two opera overtures and a contemporary work which showed how far the Orchestra had come in a season. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio Overture, Op. 72 is full of contrasts between rich orchestral passages and solo instrumental playing. The Concert Orchestra has an army of strings and fewer wind and brass players, but the solo instrumentalists were well up to the challenges of the music, especially horn player Kamila Ouadah. Conductor Morel kept the tempos steady; another orchestra might have played this work faster, but the tempos selected worked for this ensemble.  more

June 7, 2023

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.  more

May 17, 2023

By Nancy Plum

One does not often hear concertos for viola — an instrument often hidden within the orchestra. However, Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy is much more than a concerto; its form is that of a programmatic symphony, with each of the four movements describing scenes of the southern region of Italy. Princeton Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Rossen Milanov, brought Berlioz’s symphonic work to Richardson Auditorium this past weekend to close the 2022-23 orchestral season. Joining the Orchestra for this season finale was guest violist Roberto Díaz, a veteran performer and noted educator.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra preceded the Berlioz work with two pieces just as descriptive. Julia Perry was one of a cadre of internationally-known 20th-century American composers whose works have been underperformed but are now receiving new attention. Perry’s Study for Orchestra was premiered in 1952 under the name Short Piece for Orchestra and has become popular for its appeal and innovative approach to orchestration. In Sunday afternoon’s performance, Princeton Symphony Orchestra presented this short and concise work emphasizing its jazz style, which was consistent with American music of the time. A number of instrumental soloists were showcased, including flutist Anthony Trionfo and concertmaster Claire Bourg. Milanov kept the orchestral sound lean, aided by very clean trumpets.

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May 10, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The most recognized orchestral ensemble on Princeton University’s campus might be the University Orchestra, but Princeton University Sinfonia has had just as much impact providing students and audiences with opportunities to hear both symphonic masterpieces and lesser-known works. Conducted by Ruth Ochs, Princeton Sinfonia performed its final concert of the season last Friday night at Richardson Auditorium, presenting a world premiere amid musical reflections of Irish culture and a nod to the Cinco de Mayo holiday.

The world premiere was of a piece by University sophomore Toussaint Santicola Jones. Inspired by the Leonora Carrington painting Red Horses of the Sidhe in the Princeton University Art Museum, Jones created a two-movement work musically depicting Carrington’s landscape and incorporating ancient Irish mythology. The resulting Naked, Upon the Road to Tara was an appealing orchestral work making full use of the large Sinfonia ensemble. more

May 3, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The Emerson String Quartet has been a frequent performer on the Princeton University Concerts series over the past decades. In this final season in the Emerson’s storied history, the Quartet returned to Richardson Auditorium last week for a program of Shostakovich and Mendelssohn, as well as a world premiere. However, the Emerson did not return alone; joining them in the second half of the program was the young and vibrant Calidore String Quartet, whose 10 years of performing has propelled the ensemble to the forefront of the performance arena. Although Thursday night’s concert belonged mostly to the Emerson Quartet, the addition of the Calidore players enabled a performance of a hidden gem of Mendelssohn chamber music.

For her 2002 string quartet, composer and Princeton native Sarah Kirkland Snider drew inspiration from the recordings of the Emerson String Quartet, and she has been well acquainted with their sound for quite some time. Drink the Wild Ayre, which received its world premiere by the Emerson Quartet in Thursday night’s concert, was also inspired by the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s descriptions of natural beauty, and one line of poetry in particular. From its opening measures played by Emerson first violinist Eugene Drucker, Snider’s work was an appealing piece with driving rhythms propelling thematic material forward. Violinists Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist Paul Watkins were often playing in similar registers, creating an unusually well-blended instrumental palette. Drucker and Setzer frequently paralleled each other in melodic material, while Watkins provided a rich cello line, especially in the upper register of the instrument. more

April 26, 2023

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra fused Mozart, Bruckner and the 21st century in a series of concerts this past weekend, including the premiere of a new work by Princeton University composer Steven Mackey. Led by Music Director Xian Zhang, the Orchestra combined Mackey’s large-scale symphonic work with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s spirited Symphony No. 25 and Anton Bruckner’s devout Te Deum. Joining the Orchestra in Friday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium were a number of exceptional vocal soloists and the Princeton University Glee Club. more

April 5, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The music of 18th-century Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi is frequently heard on recordings, radio, and in films, but less often performed live, and Vivaldi’s more than 50 operas in particular are virtually unknown. Overshadowed in modern Baroque opera performance by works of George Frideric Handel and others, Vivaldi’s operas contain the same audience appeal and technical demands of other popular Baroque composers but have been neglected in the repertory. The early-music Jupiter Ensemble, a collective of exceptional musicians whose concerts highlight virtuoso performance, brought Vivaldi’s lively and animated music to Richardson Auditorium last Thursday night, presented by Princeton University Concerts. The seven-member ensemble performed an all-Vivaldi program, with multi-movement instrumental concerti interspersed with operatic arias. With four concerti and six operas represented, the musicians of Jupiter Ensemble showed the nearly full house at Richardson just how exciting and entertaining the early 1700s could be.

Jupiter Ensemble Artistic Director Thomas Dunford has an international reputation as a virtuoso lute player, and this instrument figured significantly in Thursday night’s program. The Ensemble presented two lute concerti, and Dunford played continuously throughout the concert as part of a continuo accompaniment, joined by cellist Bruno Philippe, double bassist Douglas Balliett, and Elliot Figg playing both organ and harpsichord. Elegant string playing was provided by violinists Louise Ayrton and Augusta McKay Lodge, as well as violist Manami Mizumoto. Vivaldi’s opera arias were sensitively and expressively sung by French-Italian mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre, who has also performed some of the most demanding coloratura opera roles in the repertoire worldwide. more

March 29, 2023

By Nancy Plum

It is difficult not to bask in the music of late 19th-century Italian opera master Giacomo Puccini. The soaring melodic lines and lush orchestrations of Puccini’s operas captivate listeners, even if they are not opera fans. Boheme Opera NJ brought operatic simplicity and Puccini’s opulent music to the stage of The College of New Jersey’s Kendall Hall Theater this past weekend with a new production of the timeless Madama Butterfly. Conceived and directed by Stefanos Koroneos and sung in Italian with English supertitles, this performance was highly entertaining and gave the audience more than a few thrilling moments of singing.

As with all their productions, Boheme Opera NJ compiled a cast of experienced performers, including both singers returning to the company’s stage and those making a debut. In Friday night’s performance (the opera was repeated Sunday afternoon), conductor Joseph Pucciatti began the opera overture quickly and with breathless musical energy, as the curtain opened on a modest set of Butterfly’s house bathed in black and shadows.

As lead character Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly), soprano Ashley Galvani Bell brought operatic experience going back to her childhood as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus. Bell showed a ringing upper register, especially in Butterfly’s signature aria “Un bel dì,” as she maintained eternal hope that her beloved Pinkerton would return. Clearly a woman who knew what she wanted, Bell’s Butterfly demonstrated a wide range of emotions through the music — teasing with Pinkerton, calming with her son and demure at the right times. more

March 22, 2023

By Nancy Plum

After three years of stop-and-start choral performance, Princeton Pro Musica has returned to what the ensemble does best — presenting choral/orchestral masterworks. This past Sunday, just in time for the composer’s 338th birthday, the 80-voice chorus performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion. Led by Pro Musica Artistic Director Ryan James Brandau and accompanied by the early music period orchestra La Fiocco and six vocal soloists, the singers of Pro Musica well demonstrated why pieces such as this have been their mainstay for the past 40 years.

Bach’s Johannes-Passion musically set the “passion narrative” of the suffering and death of Jesus as recorded in the canonical gospel of the apostle John. Bach illuminated John’s texts with arias, recitatives, and choruses, dramatically led by an Evangelist representing John, as well as the characters of Jesus and Pontius Pilate. In Sunday afternoon’s performance, Princeton Pro Musica and La Fiocco were joined by soloists Steven Caldicott Wilson singing the role of the Evangelist, Will Doreza as Jesus, and Jesse Blumberg singing the role of Pilate. Soprano Madeline Apple Healy, alto Robin Bier, and tenor Eric Finbarr Carey rounded out a vocal quartet with Doreza to provide additional musical commentary on the text.  more

March 15, 2023

By Nancy Plum

This past weekend, Princeton Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere of a piece featuring instruments rarely heard in orchestral works. Led by guest conductor Sameer Patel, the Orchestra performed American composer and violinist William Harvey’s Seven Decisions of Gandhi with the composer as violin soloist, musical artist Dibyarka Chatterjee playing the Hindustani tabla, with the added orchestral color of the sitar, played by Snehesh Nag. Saturday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) teamed Harvey’s work with late 19th-century Russian music of Alexander Borodin and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, taking the audience at Richardson Auditorium on a musical ride of dynamic contrasts and rich orchestral writing.  more

March 8, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton University Orchestra has a history of paying tribute to past members, including the annual Stuart B. Mindlin performances honoring a past percussionist with the Orchestra. This past weekend’s concerts by the Orchestra honored class of 2003 ensemble cellist Daniel Ulmer, who passed away prematurely but had a significant impact on the Orchestra during his time at Princeton. Friday and Saturday night’s performances at Richardson Auditorium also presented two winners of the University Orchestra’s 2022-23 Concerto Competition.

Lest anyone think that the Orchestra members spend too much time on music, both of this year’s Concerto Competition winners already have accumulated diverse achievements rivaling people twice their age. Piano soloist and senior Richard Qiu is graduating with a degree in economics and certificates in Music Performance, Statistics and Machine Learning, and Technology and Society. Student conductor Adrian Rogers, also a senior, is earning a degree in economics and a certificate in Music Performance, but has added certificates in Architecture and Engineering, and History and the Practice of Diplomacy to his resumé. Any of these academic focuses is a career unto itself, and the confidence and drive of these two students was evident in their self-assured performances with the University Orchestra.  more

March 1, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton University Glee Club paid tribute to former longtime Glee Club conductor Walter L. Nollner this past weekend with a concert linking the high Baroque to the 21st century. Saturday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium featured a piece by composer and former Princeton student Caroline Shaw as well as three choral/orchestral works by Johann Sebastian Bach. Led by Glee Club conductor Gabriel Crouch, the concert was in partnership with “02.24.2022,” the Princeton student organization supporting victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  more

February 8, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Tis the season to hear amazing pianists and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major of Johannes Brahms. In January, New Jersey Symphony presented Daniil Trifonov playing this work and next week, Philadelphia Orchestra brings the same concerto to the Kimmel Center stage. Princeton Symphony Orchestra brought its interpretation of Brahms’ majestic concerto to Richardson Auditorium this past weekend, featuring pianist Inon Barnatan, a longtime friend of the PSO. Led by Music Director Rossen Milanov, Saturday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) brought the Princeton Symphony Orchestra instrumentalists and Barnatan to the Richardson stage for an evening of 19th-century Viennese elegance and drama.

To warm up the audience for the Brahms concerto, the Orchestra presented a work composed in 2020 but influenced by a predecessor to Brahms. Fate runs through some of Ludwig van Beethoven’s most significant works, and American composer Carlos Simon drew from an 1815 journal entry of Beethoven for his one-movement Fate Now Conquers. Simon also derived musical structure for this piece from the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, creating musical gestures capturing the “unpredictable ways of fate.”

Beginning with fierce playing from the flutes, Fate Now Conquers was Beethoven-esque in its drama, rhythmically led by consistently strong playing by timpanist Jeremy Levine. Carlos Simon packed a great deal of musical action into the five-minute work, and conductor Milanov kept the Orchestra players moving the music forward, complemented by an elegant cello solo from Alistair MacRae.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra returned to Simon’s source material with their gracefully dramatic performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major. Conducting from memory, Milanov built the drama well throughout the four-movement work while maintaining a Viennese lilt. Accents and sforzandi in the strings were always exact, and the overall instrumental palette was consistently light, even when at full strength. The overriding theme of this performance was joy as Milanov used dynamic contrasts, gradual crescendos and Beethoven’s abrupt silences to augment the lean and crisp orchestral playing. Pastoral wind solos were heard through all four movements, including from oboist Lillian Copeland, clarinetist Pascal Archer, flutist Catherine Gregory, and bassoonist Brad Balliett.  more

January 18, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Each year, Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) recognizes musicologist and philanthropist Edward T. Cone with a performance including a bit of star power, honoring the longtime friend of the orchestra and major supporter of cultural life in Princeton. This past weekend’s PSO Edward T. Cone concerts were scheduled to feature South African soprano Pretty Yende, who is well on her way up in the opera world. Unfortunately, Yende was unable to perform because of illness, but Princeton Symphony Orchestra shifted gears well by bringing in another operatic superstar. Fresh off celebrated performances with the Metropolitan Opera and receipt of the 2022 Richard Tucker Foundation award, soprano Angel Blue filled in as soloist in an entertaining evening of opera highlights and American music.

Saturday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) featured a lean and precise Princeton Symphony both on their own and accompanying Blue in arias showing the soprano’s dramatic and technical range. Music Director Rossen Milanov opened the concert with two works depicting the great American landscape. Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber were two of this country’s leading composers in the mid-20th century, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring suite and Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 showed remarkable similarities in their depictions of the United States in a simpler time. more

January 11, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Just barely 30 years old, Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov has been racking up awards, including a Grammy for one of his many innovative recordings. New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) has been lucky to call Trifonov a longtime friend; the acclaimed pianist spent a year-long tenure as NJSO artist-in-residence and has collaborated with NJSO music director Xian Zhang a number of times. Zhang, Trifonov, and NJSO brought their collective magic to Richardson Auditorium last weekend, presenting one of Johannes Brahms’ most towering works. Last Friday night’s performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major demonstrated to a very full house not only Trifonov’s range of musical imagination, but also numerous expressive solos from NJSO players.

The first movement “Allegro” of Brahms’ concerto opened with an unaccompanied solo horn melody, richly played by principal hornist Chris Komer. As piano soloist, Trifonov delicately completed the musical sentence, leading into extended triumphant passages of solo keyboard. Trifonov played the diverse range of emotions and technical aspects of the music with ease, conveying the more majestic passages with reverence, with quick pedaling and a very light and fast right hand. From the podium, Zhang and New Jersey Symphony created a variety of dynamic effects within the graceful interplay between orchestra and solo pianist. Trifonov closed the movement with dreamy piano passages in the upper register of the instrument, leading to an elegant close.

The second movement was marked by a lean string sound and Trifonov’s nimble piano playing, punctuated by a pair of German trumpets. A refined duet between flutist Bart Feller and oboist Robert Ingliss helped sustain the ebb and flow of drama in the music. The third movement “Andante” belonged to Trifonov and principal cellist Jonathan Spitz, who opened the movement with a sweet cello solo accompanied by lower strings. Trifonov’s supple a cappella solo keyboard passages added to the song-like palette as Zhang kept the tempo and shimmering strings steady. The closing movement to this concerto was playful and full of Brahms musical humor, aided by fast piano work from Trifonov, a regal pair of clarinets and an appealing duet between oboist Ingliss and Bart Feller playing piccolo.  more

November 23, 2022

By Nancy Plum

A rare musical gem came to Princeton last week when McCarter Theatre presented an international touring choral/orchestral ensemble. The Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart is a foundation established in 1981 to research and perform the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and connect it to musical composition of today. Despite the focus on Bach, the organization has commissioned numerous works inspired by or rooted in the compositional style of the 18th-century master and has been recognized for its international collaboration. The Bachakademie houses the Gächinger Kantorei chorus and Bach-Collegium Stuttgart orchestra, and both of these ensembles came to McCarter Theatre Center’s Matthews Theater last Wednesday night to perform Bach’s monumental Mass in B minor. Conducted by Bachakademie Artistic Director Hans-Christoph Rademann, the concert presented a work which has challenged choral ensembles for more than 250 years. 

Bach’s responsibilities as cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig in the early 1700s required him to churn out service music at a seemingly unfathomable rate. In the last decade of his life, Bach began to expand a previously composed “Kyrie” and “Gloria” work into what became the Mass in B minor by adding a “Credo,” “Sanctus,” and “Agnus Dei” from music composed over a 25-year period. Bach completed the mass in 1749, but this work was not performed as a concert piece until the mid-1800s, more than a century after Bach’s death.

The Gächinger Kantorei and Bach-Collegium performed the Mass in B minor drawing the soloists from the chorus, as would have been done in Bach’s time, and assigning some of the extended coloratura choral passages to solo concertists. Under Rademann’s direction, the performance brought together a clean and precise chorus and orchestra with four historically-informed and technically accurate vocal soloists.  more

November 16, 2022

By Nancy Plum

Anything lasting 100 years deserves recognition. Centenaries are observed by individuals, civic organizations and even buildings, but in these times, a musical organization which has thrived for 100 years merits a particular reason to celebrate. On November 27, 1922, a new-formed orchestral ensemble of 19 string players gave a modest concert of Purcell, Saint-Saëns, and Victor Herbert at New Jersey’s Montclair Art Museum. Almost 100 years later to the day, what is now New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) presented a concert featuring a world-renowned cellist in a state-of-the-art concert hall to an audience of more than 2,500. Over the past century, NJSO has grown in tandem with the state of New Jersey to a full orchestra with five concert homes in the state, as well as a virtual presence. Currently under the musical leadership of conductor Xian Zhang, NJSO kicked off its 100th anniversary festivities this past Saturday night at Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center with a sold-out gala and concert highlighting the orchestra players and guest cellist Yo-Yo Ma. 

Saturday night’s performance at NJPAC included accolades from community and political leaders fitting for the occasion, as well as a contemporary work co-commissioned by NJSO from legendary jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Premiered by the orchestra last January, Marsalis’ Herald, Holler and Hallelujah was scored for 19 brass and percussion players, paying tribute to the original members of the NJSO. Playing from boxes on one side of the hall and led by conductor Xian Zhang from the stage, the brass players were joined by five percussionists who added rhythmic drive and character to the music. Marsalis drew this work’s musical influence from marching band and big band styles, as well as his trademark mastery of jazz. With the brass ensemble on one side facing across the hall, the unorthodox harmonies of the piece were occasionally diffuse in the space, but the passages that captured the New Orleans “second line” funeral tradition worked particularly well. 

While the Marsalis piece was rooted in truly American jazz and blues, the work which featured Ma with New Jersey Symphony was influenced by the composer’s time in New York City. Czech composer Antonín Dvorák spent several years in New York City in the 1890s, and although his Cello Concerto in B minor was completed when he had returned to Europe, the concept for the work was from Dvorák’s time in the United States. Ma’s career has been as much about collaboration as solo concertizing, and his performance of this concerto with NJSO was a true partnership from the opening rolling passages. Conductor Zhang led soloist and orchestra in a dramatic first movement, with Ma’s exquisite solo lines well punctuated by the winds. Fast moving solo passages spoke well in the hall, and Ma effectively handled shifts between lyrical and more frenetic styles. The first movement “Allegro” was also marked by a clean quartet of horns and clear solo wind lines, including from clarinetist Pascal Archer and flutist Bart Feller. Cello and flute were often in duet throughout the concerto, and despite the distance between the two players, Ma and Feller were in solid communication and dialog. more

November 9, 2022

By Nancy Plum

The Brentano String Quartet, longtime friends of Princeton University Concerts, made a return visit to Princeton University last week with a concert paying homage to the American classical music tradition. A former ensemble-in-residence at Princeton, the Brentano Quartet commanded the stage at Richardson Auditorium last Thursday night with “Dvorák and the American Identity,” acknowledging the impact of Czech composer Antonin Dvorák on 20th-century American music and the legacy of this composer to this day. Violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory, and cellist Nina Lee created a program drawn from arrangements of American tunes as well as complex classical works rooted in the gospel and spiritual traditions.

The Brentano musicians began the concert with an arrangement for string quartet dating back almost 100 years. In the early decades of the 20th century, the Manhattan-based Flonzaley Quartet thrived for a mere 27 years, but despite the brevity of their existence, left a repertory of spiritual arrangements for string quartet possessing the same complexity as the rich works of the 19th century Romantic period. Arranged by Flonzaley second violinist Alfred Pochon, these pieces conveyed the same depth of emotion with four string players as the more familiar versions with words.

The Brentano String Quartet presented three Fonzaley arrangements Thursday night, beginning with a lush version of the spiritual “Deep River.” Accompanied by the lower strings, first violinist Steinberg presented the tune quietly, and as the tune was passed among the instruments, the players explored the more soulful characteristics of the music.

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