The Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey opened its fifth season, Saturday, at the Patriots Theater at the War Memorial in Trenton, with a wholly enjoyable and interesting concert repertoire of the Hector Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture, the Mysterious Mountain by Alan Hovhaness and the Symphony No.3 “Organ” by Charles Camille Saint-Saëns, featuring accomplished organ soloist Joseph Jackson.
Not only was the audience treated to these beautiful musical masterpieces of the concert repertoire, but also a fun musical prelude highlighting the newly refurbished and magnificent 93-year-old Lincoln Theatre organ, now housed under the War Memorial stage — restored and cared for by the New Jersey Organ Society.
The orchestra, which is led by music director Daniel Spalding, was founded in the fall of 2013 “in a quest,” its mission statement says, “to make Trenton a proud, culturally integrated, musical beacon of renewal.” Saturday’s concert was certainly something to be proud of.
Spalding chose the first work, Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, to add to the French theme of the evening. From the first note, it was immediately apparent that the acoustics in the newly refurbished hall were super warm and pleasant. The many brass section parts were clear and responsive. The gorgeous wood panels and solid building construction work especially well for warming the symphonic sounds coming from the stage. The orchestra was set up very well with French horns on the top riser with the woodwinds and the rest of brass section seated beneath them, strings and percussion on the floor, all with a clear view of the conductor.
The second piece, Mysterious Mountain by Hovhaness, is an amazing work of introspection and intensity. The piece is full of interesting orchestration including many open chords, woodwind, brass and harp solos, and even the ethereal sounds of the celeste, a heavenly sounding keyboard instrument.
The third and final work of the evening was a beautiful and melodic French symphony featuring a full pipe organ. This work can indeed only properly be performed in a hall with an organ — and the Lincoln Theatre organ certainly had the required power to knock the socks off all present.
This musical instrument is truly magnificent in every way, the console gorgeous to behold, clad in gilded ivory, with multiple ranks and multi-colored stops. The “old lady,” as she was affectionately called, has numerous sounds, effects and moods, and truly needs to be heard (and felt) in person to be fully experienced and appreciated. Its pedal tones reverberated and shook the hall with subtle but powerful vibrations.
While the organ makes an initial, subtle appearance in the first movement — in a similar way to which to a massive whale teases its ship-bound viewers with mere glimpses of its true underlying power, as it shadows the ship — the fourth movement begins with the surprise unleashing of a majestic chord organ chord, with the force of that same whale crashing down from a surprise jump. The effect never fails to make the audience jump from their seats.
When the beautiful music of the Saint-Saëns organ symphony ended, the full and warm appreciation of the dedicated and loyal audience was graciously extended to Spalding, Jackson and all the orchestra members. The audience departed the classic hall, satisfied in knowing that the Capital Philharmonic was fulfilling its all-important mission.
For information on the orchestra, visit capitalphilharmonic.org.