Regional Orchestra of the Week: New Jersey Symphony
BroadwayWorld is thrilled to announce its newest series - the Featured Symphony Orchestra of the Week!
Today's Featured Orchestra is the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra!
The NJSO today presents concerts featuring top-tier musical guests at seven venues throughout the state-in addition to summer concerts at additional outdoor venues-and provides educational and community engagement opportunities through the Greater Newark Youth Orchestras and numerous other programs.
In 1922, the ensemble that would later be known as the NJSO gave its first concert at the Montclair Art Museum, a fittingly local venue for the beginning of an organization that has defined itself through its community connections. Philip James led this group of only 19 string players in a program that included music by Purcell, Saint-Saëns and Veracini, as well as the world premiere of The Dark Road by American composer Cecil Forsyth.
An impressive roster of guest soloists graced the Orchestra's stages in the late 1920s and 30s, including Percy Grainger, Pablo Casals, José Iturbi, Joseph Szigeti, Artur Schnabel and Efrem Zimbalist.
Samuel Antek became the NJSO's music director in 1946 and focused on expanding the NJSO's role in its communities, beginning radio broadcasts on WNJR, creating the "Music for Fun" series of children's concerts, introducing the first outdoor pops concert on the estate of Augustus C. Studer of Montclair and establishing the NJSO's first youth orchestras. Antek stated the Orchestra's mission was "to share with more communities the inspiration of the concerts given by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra."
Under Music Director Henry Lewis (1968-76)-the first African-American music director of a major symphony orchestra-the NJSO entered a new era of high-profile musical activity. The Orchestra made its Carnegie Hall debut with famous soprano (and Lewis' wife) Marilyn Horne, who became a regular guest with the Orchestra during the Lewis years, as soloist; performed three outdoor concerts led by Lewis in 1968 in a vacant lot on Prince St.-the site of the 1967 Newark Riots-and one in Untermann Field that Lewis dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King; and gave a concert at Garden State Arts Center with Luciano Pavarotti. The Orchestra would perform with Pavarotti again in 1984, in the first classical music program ever performed at Madison Square Garden.
The Orchestra gained even wider recognition under the direction of Hugh Wolff from 1985 until 1992. During this time, the Orchestra broadcast live concerts on PBS, performed The Rite of Spring at Carnegie Hall to great acclaim and presented a retrospective of the works of Bernstein at Carnegie Hall in a concert praised by the composer himself. Mstislav Rostropovich led the Orchestra in a Kennedy Center Concert, and the Orchestra made its first international tour to Ireland for the Adare Festival and a performance at Dublin's National Concert Hall.
The growth of the Orchestra's reputation continued under Zdenek Macal, who increased the number of commissions and premieres the Orchestra performed, including works by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, George Walker and Richard Danielpour. It was also under Macal that the NJSO stepped out as a major recording ensemble, releasing recordings of works by Dvorák, Mussorgsky and Glière on the Delos label.
Neeme Järvi succeeded Macal in 2003. The esteemed Estonian conductor championed Scandinavian music during his tenure with the NJSO, introducing New Jersey audiences to new works and raising the Orchestra's artistic profile.
Since becoming the NJSO's Music Director in October 2010, Jacques Lacombe has garnered praise from critics and audiences for his creative programming and his talents at the podium. Under his leadership, the NJSO has augmented select concerts with multimedia elements and daring new programs. Highlights of the NJSO's "Man & Nature" Winter Festivals have included performances of Tan Dun's Water Concerto, Scriabin's Prometheus: The Poem of Fire-with a realization of the composer's "color organ"-and the commissioning of the Francesca Harper Project to create original choreography for Beethoven's ballet The Creatures of Prometheus.