New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) continued the dazzle in Week II of the Winter Festival, with guest conductor Maestro Christian Vásquez leading the orchestra with the highlight for many being Pinchas Zukerman solo on Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 61. Prior to the January 22 performance, at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center, there was an excellent discussion where Maestro Vásquez, who hails from Venezuela and is also a violin virtuoso, was joined by Maestro Zukerman. They discussed the importance of the universal language of music and how the discipline of playing, and listening to other musicians, creates the groundwork for peace, as well as accomplishment as an individual. Particularly the music El Sistema, which puts instruments in the hands of young children who might not otherwise know them, has created social change as well as generations of brilliant musicians who now play on the world stage.
The first part of the program led off with Samuel Barber’s overture for “The School for Scandal.” This sparking piece got our energy up with its glorious gamboling dissonance resolving to a more playful mien, and then the oboe brought us somewhere completely different–the transport of music!
The Beethoven came next, and from the first movement, Maestro Zukerman, with masterful phrasing and dynamic range, rendered solo as poetry. He brought notes from the violin I hadn’t thought possible. The Larghetto was smooth and serene, setting the stage for the dramatic Rondo, whose theme foreshadows Richard Strauss’s “Till Eulenspiegel” later in the century. Maestro Zukerman has prodigious dexterity and the Roma-flavored drama in the solo was beautifully expressed. The Franz Kreisler cadenza was featured in this work and for many in the audience, the Concerto was so satisfying that it could have been the finale of the concert. Yet, the Camille Saint-Saëns was yet to come.
The second part of the program featured Saint-Saëns Symphony Number Three in C minor, “Organ,” Opus 78, as a perfect harbinger of the upcoming Valentine’s Holiday. It is the key of the declaration of longing. The first movement is initially full of foreboding, windswept seas, and a soupçon of “sorcerer’s apprentice” that gives way to a vigorous thrumming passage that then quiets. Later, a version of the traditional “Dies Irae” melody comes in. When the organ sneaks in on low, little cat feet, you feel it before it registers in the hearing range and it took my breath away. The slow decay of the organ’s sound at the end is masterful—just the right amount of positive-negative space.
The symphony’s second movement has a martial fervor, a sense of going into battle, and hearing this on the day after I had attended the Women’s March in Trenton, I really found it an energetic call to arms. Subtle piano and tingling cymbals make cameo appearances and then a call and response among the violins and cellos. Later, the organ ignites a sense of pronouncement followed by a flow of arpeggiated piano flourishes, incorporating the theme of “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” which segues to a joyful fugue where joy and victory celebrate together as oboe and flute coalesce and return from the “Dies Irae.” The program began with the five tympani notes of Barber and ended with a flourish of tympani from Saint-Saëns and a standing ovation for Maestro Saint-Saëns. A brilliant program, it whetted the appetite for the finale of the Winter Festival on January 29.
Make your plans now–there is so much more to come! Book your tickets now at www.njsymphony.org