Just a few days after announcing that he will leave the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at the end of its 2015-16 season, music director Jacques Lacombe was at the conductor’s podium for the symphony’s 2014-2015 season-opening concerts in Newark, New Brunswick and Morristown that took place this weekend.
I attended the Sunday afternoon concert at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center and can’t say I spent much time thinking about the orchestra’s future, as I was too busy enjoying its present. Lacombe and the orchestra — with the help of the Westminster Symphonic Choir, soprano Aline Kutan, tenor Jean-Francis Monvoisin and baritone Jonathan Beyer — gave Carl Orff’s hour-long Carmina Burana the rich, epic treatment it requires.
While the opening “O Fortuna” chorus of Carmina Burana (repeated at its end), which seems to contain an element of supernatural force, is its most famous part, the piece is actually a long, winding journey, touching on all kinds of human experiences, from grubby tavern-going to rapturous love. Appropriately, the orchestra played the more aggressive passages with pulse-pounding energy but also shifted gears for the more ethereal or earthily humorous passages.
Claude Debussy’s Nocturnes, played in the first half of the concert (with help from the female members of the Westminster Symphonic Choir), also had great range, with passages devoted to “Nuages” (clouds), “Fêtes” (parties) and “Sirènes” (songs of the Sirens). And the dynamic concert opener, George Antheil’s McKonkey’s Ferry, added a local element, as Antheil was a Trenton native and the piece was inspired by Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River. (It was played as part of the NJSO’s New Jersey Roots Project).
It was a smartly assembled program, with three pieces that complemented each other without going over the same ground. And, of course, any concert in which you hear “O Fortuna” sounds like the start of something big, which is just the right note to hit on a season opener.
The symphony’s season continues later this month, with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor (featuring Gil Shaham), Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Franck’s Symphony in D Minor at NJPAC in Newark, Oct. 23; the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, Oct. 25, and the State Theatre in New Brunswick, Oct. 26.