This week and through May 12, six North American orchestras arrive in New York to participate in Spring for Music at Carnegie Hall, a festival that celebrates the individuality of musical enterprise, from Alabama to Edmonton, Houston to Milwaukee, and inventiveness and adventurousness in programming. Audiences get the chance to hear these orchestras, some in Carnegie debuts, at which new music or music, familiar or rare, in new contexts is key. And the price of these musical adventures: $25 for all seats, regardless of the location in the hall—front row to top balcony. Carnegie’s celebrated acoustics ensure every ensemble will be heard at its best.
I spoke with Jacques Lacombe, music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra(NJSO), one of the participants who is traveling the least but which brings one of the widest-ranging programs.
Q: Tell us about your program.
A: I have spent quite a bit of time in Berlin, have long been interested in that city’s remarkable musical life in the early 20th century and, particularly, in the role of Ferruccio Busoni, an Italian cosmopolite, who in addition tobeing a great pianist and composer, was also an influential teacher. And his students were as distinctive as his own music is original. We are presenting one of Busoni’s masterpieces, the concerto for piano and orchestra, one of the most difficult in the repertoire. The pianist Marc-André Hamelin plays it with such ease that audiences can’t help be swept up by its quality and emotional depth. And in the fifth and last movement, a chorus of male voices is added to the mix that brings the whole thing to another level, away from virtuosity to a sort of meditation.
Q: And the other works?
A: We are presenting Kurt Weill’s Symphony No. 1, known as the Berliner, written by the composer when he was 21 and studying with Busoni. Its composition was about seven years before his smash hit The Threepenny Opera, which premiered in Berlin. Although it shows the influence of Busoni, Weill’s original voice comes through, both in moments of dark intensity and in lyrical spots that hint at his later work as a Broadway composer. Also on the program is Nocturnal, by Edgar Varèse, who also studied with Busoni. However, Nocturnal is one of Varèse’s last works, written in the early 1960’s. Like the Busoni concerto, it calls for men’s chorus as well as soprano to deliver a text of words and phrases drawn from House of Incest by Anaïs Nin, set by Varèse in his wholly original sound world and uninhibited fashion. I think it is both an alluring program and offers a very interesting voyage.
Q: What does the appearance in Spring for Music represent for NJSO?
A: A lot. The orchestra hasn’t played there for quite some time. It is a big deal and it is my debut in the hall with the orchestra. It is also confirmation of what we are trying to accomplish in New Jersey. It is an adventurous program, but it is something we do in our programming, alongside traditional repertoire. It is part of my mission as music director to present new music and also music that has been neglected.
Q: What is particular about the NJSO and this concert?
A: We are the rare example of a state orchestra that tours every week and this leads to performing in a completely different acoustic on a nightly basis. This is standard procedure for the orchestras. Also, the chorus for the program features from the men of the Westminster Symphonic Choir. It is one of the best choruses in the entire country and they are based in Princeton. This Spring for Music concert is an opportunity to promote and collaborate another New Jersey organization. It has special meaning for me to be at Carnegie Hall with this special group of singers as well as the orchestra.
Mario R. Mercado is the Arts Editor at Travel + Leisure.