New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) kicked off its 2015-16 season in grand style on September 25 with a Gala cocktail reception, amazing concert, and a post-concert supper. This is Maestro Jacques Lacombe’s final season with NJSO before he goes to his next appointment as Principal Conductor at the Bonn Opera beginning in 2016-2017. This adds a special piquancy to this final season with NJSO that is bound to increase the subscriber base.
The glitterati moved from the reception into Prudential Hall where we were treated to the presentation of the NJSO-Victor Parsonnet, M.D. Leadership Award to none other than mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, whose affiliation goes back quite a while to when her then-husband Henry Lewis was NJSO’s Musical Director from the 1969-70 season through 1974-75. Horne was featured with a cavalcade of artists such as Joan Sutherland, Frederica von Stade, Richard Bonynge, Reri Grist, and many more. Dedicated to mentoring young singers, Horne still teaches voice in a career that spans six decades and still going strong!
Then NJSO immediately brought us to our feet again with a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Many of us sang along and the energy in the room was palpable both on and off-stage. The next selection was Maurice Ravel’s aptly named “Valses nobles et sentimentales,” which begins as a beautifully modern waltz that segues into a lush and lovely section, then flirts with contemplation, then returns to verve and energy and greater sentiment. Delicious!
Saxophonist, composer, and conductor Branford Marsalis’ debut with the NJSO was John Williams’ brilliant “Escapades” from the soundtrack for the 2002 movie “Catch Me If You Can.” This piece provided Marsalis the canvas upon which his derring-do would best be displayed. There’s a thrumming sexy Mad Men vibe that alternates with a wistful thoughtfulness. Accentuating the saxophone’s at-times bell like notes, there were also echoes of the vibraphone lines in the strings. It made for a brilliant ending to the first act, to be sure.
Darius Milhaud’s “Scaramouche” was the beginning of the second act, with a playful “Vif” in which Marsalis demonstrated a colorful dynamic range, and “Modéré” which begins quietly, then turns to elegiac and pastoral, rich with sustain. Finally, the “Brasileira” movement gave free reign to Milhaud’s fiery imagination, where the full rhythms brought visions of sultry nights wandering the beaches of Ipanema.
The final work of the evening was Ravel’s arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which gave us a true sense of the tastes of Autumn. There’s a wee spot of Halloween, the sound of entropy, and my favorites–the modern take on the traditional “Dies Irae” melody in the “Catacombs,” and the James Bond movie-villain feel of “Baby Yaga,” before the stately “Great Gate of Kiev.” This was a thoroughly satisfying evening whose highest praise is it leaves us hungry for what the new season holds.
Want to join me at NJSO? Travel New Jersey with me to hear NJSO at a variety of venues, get your tickets now at www.njsymphony.org