New Jersey Symphony announces a wide-ranging 2024-25 season

by COURTNEY SMITH
nj symphony 2024-25 season

CHERYLYNN TSUSHIMA

New Jersey Symphony music director Xian Zhang.

The arrival of spring marks the transition from the cold, dark days of winter to the warmth and renewal of nature. There is a sense of hope as daylight hours grow longer. Fittingly enough, it is also the time of the year in which American symphonies and opera theaters traditionally announce new seasons.

So far, this year’s announcements have been generally slim, compressed versions. Seasons are shrinking as nonprofit arts organizations, still reeling from shuttered pandemic years, adapt to new models.

New Jersey Symphony is feeling the squeeze but promises brighter days ahead.

During a press event at NJPAC in Newark on March 1, music director Xian Zhang announced the 2024–25 season and offered her view of the orchestra’s future, now two years out from their landmark centennial season, and a half-year removed from cutbacks aimed at consolidating the workforce and concerts. Gabriel van Aalst, the symphony’s president and CEO since 2016, said its goal “was to continue to serve the community as much as we ever have, but in a financially responsible way that aligned with our mission of committing to new works and driving the orchestral art form forward.”

Zhang, with her customary enthusiasm, rolled out a wide-ranging lineup for the symphony’s 102nd season, featuring both comforting masterworks and up-and-coming mavericks, plus some dazzling star power.

While the current 2023-24 season continues to explore the musical heritage of American orchestral works, the next season looks toward broader and more mystical horizons. Themes will take cues from the four classical elements of nature — earth, air, fire and water — and the wonders of the natural world.

Zhang mentioned that she had wanted to create a nature-themed season since the pandemic began in 2020. “When that happened,” she said, “I was trying to figure out a way to come back to nature because we find more comfort in that.”

The new season will mark Zhang’s ninth with the orchestra. She joined in 2016 and her contract extension runs through 2028. Her directorship has been marked by a strong and unified standard of ensemble wrapped in a bright, technicolor sound.

ANDREW ECCLES

RENÉE FLEMING

The season will begin on Oct. 6 at NJPAC in Newark with a gala concert, “Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene,” featuring superstar soprano Renée Fleming. The program is inspired by her 2023 album of the same name that explores the complexities of the human relationship to nature. Music will span classical, romantic and contemporary repertory and be accompanied by projections from a National Geographic Society film.

“We’ve added Renée as sort of the icing on the cake because we love working with her and can’t wait to have her back,” said van Aalst.

Fleming’s first collaboration with the symphony was in 2014, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” to a recording made by the musicians, at Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. Zhang and Fleming first performed together in 2017 with the China NCPA Orchestra in Beijing, and they hit it off.

The season will wrap June 5-8, 2025, with Rachmaninoff’s blockbuster Piano Concerto No. 2 featuring guest pianist Conrad Tao, and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.

Mainstage concerts will be held at NJPAC, The State Theatre in New Brunswick, The Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, The Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown and The Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University. Subscription offerings are available at all five venues.

The season will feature Allison Loggins-Hull, a Montclair-based flutist and composer, as resident artistic partner. The artistic leadership position was created in 2021 by composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain to bring fresh musical perspectives. Roumain — who has worked under a slightly different title, resident artistic catalyst — will close out his well-spent tenure with a symphony-commissioned world premiere to be performed at the current season’s finale concerts, June 6-9.

RAFAEL RIOS

ALLISON LOGGINS-HULL

Loggins-Hull will be involved in the symphony’s artistic planning process, educational initiatives and community engagements to boost diversity, equity and inclusion within the organization and beyond. Her musical language explores social and political themes, and cultural identity. She is co-founder of Flutronix, a flute duo that mixes orchestral instruments with unexpected electronic elements.

Her work Can You See? will be presented in a full-orchestra version in the “Brahms and Chopin” program on Feb. 20-23, conducted by Christoph König. The program will also include rising star Tony Siqi Yun for a piano solo of Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Can You See? was originally written for the New Jersey Symphony Chamber Players for a 2021 summer series that was curated by Roumain. An expanded arrangement was commissioned for the 2022-23 season of the Cleveland Orchestra, where she is serving her second season as the Daniel R. Lewis Composer Fellow.

“Daniel had approached me about writing a work that was informed by the meaning of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and sort of surveying the role of us as American citizens,” said Loggins-Hull in conversation with the symphony’s vice president of artistic planning, Erin Lunsford Norton. “At the time, with the climate of things, a lot of these questions were being posed across so many artistic fields.”

Loggins-Hull will be among a handful of living female composers whose works will be championed. “This season, on all programs, you see a lot of female composers’ pieces,” Zhang said. “We will see (works by) Caroline Shaw and Gabriela Ortiz not once, but twice in one season, which is rare … and I think that it shows quite a big emphasis in our initiative.”

The opening weekend concert — “Xian Conducts Scheherazade,” Nov. 1-3 — will feature one of Ortiz’s works, “Kauyumari,” commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2021. Zhang says the work sums up the season’s thematic arc, which proposes symbols and metaphors from the natural world to better understand the complexities and interconnectedness of the human experience.

“Kauyumari, the blue deer, is the spirit who sacrificed himself and guides the Huichol people (of Mexico) to connect with their ancestors, receiving their mercy and guidance to be guardians of our planet Earth,” Zhang read aloud from a print-out. “Their connection to the spiritual world is something inherent to life itself, as it is the way of co-existing in harmony with nature and all of creation.”

She added: “And that is really what we’re trying to feature in this season all about nature.”

INON BARNATAN

In addition to the Rimsky-Korsakov masterwork of the concert’s title, the program will feature returning guest soloist, Inon Barnatan, for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17.

Another returning pianist and crowd favorite, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, will play Ravel’s Piano Concerto Jan. 9-12 with guest conductor Kevin John Edusei. The program also includes Donghoon Shin’s Of Rats and Men and Sibelius’ Second Symphony.

The Jan. 30-Feb. 2 celestial-themed program, “Holst’s The Planets — An HD Odyssey” will be accompanied by projected HD images from NASA. Montclair State University’s Prima Voce will sing the choir parts. The concert also will include Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending with violinist Nancy Zhou, and Shaw’s The Observatory.

Zhang said Shaw’s work was inspired by a visit to Los Angeles’ famous Griffith Observatory. It debuted in 2019 at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Zhang.

Shaw’s Valencia will be included in the March 7-9 “The Firebird with Xian Zhang” concert, which will explore the symbolism of fire in both mood and metaphor. It will feature two new choreographies by frequent collaborator Nimbus Dance, a Jersey City-based dance company.

The first dance, Dark Water, is set to a new work by the young drummer Qasim Naqvi called God Docks at Death Harbor (Piano Quintet Version). Fire is often used as a symbol of both destruction and renewal; Naqvi described the work in program notes as “a vision of our planet years from now … the quiet and peacefulness of a world restoring itself.”

The second dance is set to Stravinsky’s incandescent suite from The Firebird, a folk-inspired work often associated with transformation and vitality.

PAQUITO D’RIVERA

The fiery energy continues in the Nov. 7-10 “Paquito D’Rivera with New Jersey Symphony” concert of Latin jazz and Mexican music that features New Jersey native D’Rivera and his Quintet led by conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto. The concert will be presented in partnership with the TD James Moody Jazz Festival.

The symphony’s enthusiastic support of new music commissions will be exemplified on March 13-16, 2025, in the “Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2” concert, which will host the world premiere of a new work for double bass and orchestra by double bass player Xavier Foley. The New Jersey Symphony commission is significant because the double bass is rarely presented as a solo instrument.

Other guest artists will make their symphony debuts, including conductor Lina González-Granados for the “Vadim Gluzman Plays Brahms” concert on March 20-23, 2025, featuring solo violinist Gluzman on Brahms’ thrilling Violin Concerto.

CHRIS LEE

STEVEN BANKS

Saxophonist Steven Banks will make his debut at the April 3-6, 2025 “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Xian Zhang” concert, playing modern jazz composer Billy Childs’ Saxophone Concerto, which was written for him.

The Beethoven choral masterwork will feature vocal soloists and the symphony’s regular choral partner, Montclair State University Chorale, which will also perform at the annual holiday “Messiah” concerts, Dec. 20-22 in Princeton and Newark.

Symphony musicians will take solo roles in concerts featuring two violinists: concertmaster Eric Wyrick and principal second violin Francine Storck. “Xian Conducts Mozart,” May 16-18, will feature pieces by Mozart and Bach, as well as modern composer Michael Abels’ Delights & Dances, a bluesy work for solo string quartet and string orchestra. On May 17, Wyrick and Storck will join Zhang in “Discover Mozart & Bach,” an educational program featuring Bach’s Double Concerto for Two Violins.

There is little wonder why the symphony built the new season around themes of nature, particularly the earthier ones that give a sense of security and connection to the physical world. Grounding and stability are north stars for many arts organizations as they adopt strategic plans aimed at long-term sustainability, in response to the pandemic’s upheaval.

In August 2023, the symphony announced cuts to the 2023-24 season as it confronted “macro- and microeconomic challenges.” The cuts included a consolidation of its classical series concert weekends from 14 to 11 and a reduction of its administrative staff by 15.4 percent. Cuts were proactive to soften the impact of cost increases and decreased attendance numbers.

The 2024-25 season will continue with the changes that were made to consolidate the season in 2023-24, including having 11 weekends, instead of 14, in the subscription series.

“The goal of that compression was that we continue to serve the audiences with basically the same amount of concerts that we had been doing before, in a smaller footprint, financially,” said van Aalst. “Coming into this new season, we needed to make sure that we were continuing to offer the vibrant, artistically viable journey that Xian has been taking us on for the last 8 years, but to do it in a similar footprint to make sure we’re sustainable in the long-term.”

Here is the full lineup of all the concerts in the 2024–25 season (the summer concert season will be announced in late spring). For information and tickets, visit njsymphony.org.

Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene with Renée Fleming”

Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, Oct. 6 at 3 p.m.

Renée Fleming, soprano; Xian Zhang, conductor. Season opening gala concert inspired by Fleming’s 2023 album, Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene.

ROB DAVIDSON MEDIA

XIAN ZHANG

“Opening Weekend: Xian Conducts Scheherazade

Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m.; Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, Nov. 2 at 8 p.m.; Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, Nov. 3 at 3 p.m.

Xian Zhang, conductor; Inon Barnatan, piano. Program includes Gabriela Ortiz’s Kauyumari; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17; Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

“Paquito D’Rivera with New Jersey Symphony”

Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, Nov. 7 at 1:30 p.m. and Nov. 8 at 8 p.m.; Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, Nov. 10 at 3 p.m.

Carlos Miguel Prieto, conductor. Paquito D’Rivera, guest artist and co-curator; Paquito D’Rivera Quintet. Program is part of the TD James Moody Jazz Festival and includes George Gershwin/Paquito D’Rivera’s Medley for Jazz Quintet and Orchestra; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart/Paquito D’Rivera’s Adagio on a Mozart Theme; Daniel Freiberg’s Latin American Chronicles; Carlos Chávez’s Symphony No. 2, “Sinfonía India”; Aaron Copland’s El Salón México; Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2; José Pablo Moncayo’s Huapango.

“The Muppet Christmas Carol” in Concert

Constantine Kitsopoulos conductor

Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m.; Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m.; Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, Dec. 7 at 3 p.m.; State Theatre in New Brunswick, Dec. 8 at 3 p.m.

“A Gospel Holiday”

Science Park High School in Newark, Dec. 14 at 2 p.m.

“George Frideric Handel’s Messiah”

Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University, Dec. 20-21 at 8 p.m.; Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, Dec. 22 at 7 p.m.

Jeannette Sorrell, conductor; Sonya Headlam, soprano; John Holiday, countertenor; Ed Lyon, tenor; Kevin Deas, bass-baritone; Montclair State University Singers (Heather J. Buchanan, director).

ANDREW ECCLES

JEAN-YVES THIBAUDET

“Jean-Yves Thibaudet Plays Ravel”

Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, Jan. 9 at 1:30 p.m. and Jan. 11 at 8 p.m.; Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University, Jan. 10 at 8 p.m.; State Theatre in New Brunswick, Jan. 12 at 3 p.m.

Kevin John Edusei, conductor; Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano. Program includes Donghoon Shin’s Of Rats and Men; Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G; Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2.

“Lunar New Year Celebration with Xian Zhang”

Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m.

Xian Zhang, conductor; Min Kwon, piano; Peking University Alumni Chorus; Starry Arts Children’s Chorus (Rebecca Shin, director).

“Holst’s The Planets — An HD Odyssey”

State Theatre in New Brunswick, Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m.; Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at 8 p.m.; Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, Feb. 2 at 3 p.m.

Xian Zhang, conductor; Nancy Zhou, violin; Montclair State University Prima Voce (Heather J. Buchanan, director). Program includes Caroline Shaw’s The Observatory; Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending; Gustav Holst’s The Planets (presented as an “HD Odyssey” with projected NASA images).

“Warner Bros. Discovery Presents Bugs Bunny at the Symphony”

Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, Feb. 14 at 8 p.m.; Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m.; State Theatre in New Brunswick, Feb. 16 at 3 p.m.

George Daugherty, conductor.

CHRISTOPH KÖNIG

“Brahms and Chopin”

Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, Feb. 20 at 1:30 p.m.; Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m.; State Theatre in New Brunswick, Feb. 23 at 3 p.m.

Christoph König, conductor; Tony Siqi Yun, piano. Program includes Allison Loggins-Hull’s Can You See?; Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1; Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1.

The Firebird with Xian Zhang”

Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, March 7, 2025 at 8 p.m. and March 9, 2025 at 3 p.m.; Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, March 8, 2025 at 8 p.m.

Xian Zhang, conductor; Jonathan Spitz, cello; Nimbus Dance (Samuel Pott, artistic director and choreographer). Program includes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude from Cello Suite No. 2; Caroline Shaw’s Valencia; Qasim Naqvi’s God Docks at Death Harbor (Piano Quintet Version); Igor Stravinsky’s Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss; Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird.

“Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2”

Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, March 13, 2025 at 1:30 p.m. and March 15, 2025 at 8 p.m.; Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University, March 14, 2025 at 8 p.m.; Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, March 16, 2025 at 3 p.m.

Xian Zhang, conductor; Xavier Foley, double bass. Program includes Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune; Xavier Foley’s Soul Bass for Double Bass and Orchestra; a new work for double bass and orchestra by Xavier Foley (World Premiere, New Jersey Symphony Commission); Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2.

“Vadim Gluzman Plays Brahms”

State Theatre in New Brunswick, March 20, 2025 at 7:30 p.m.; Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, March 22, 2025 at 8 p.m.; Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, March 23, 2025 at 3 p.m.

Lina González-Granados, conductor; Vadim Gluzman, violin. Program includes Robert Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale; Gabriela Ortiz’s Clara; Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto.

“Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Xian Zhang”

Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, April 3, 2025 at 1:30 p.m., and April 4-5, 2025 at 8 p.m.; State Theatre in New Brunswick, April 6, 2025 at 3 p.m.

Xian Zhang, conductor; Steven Banks, saxophone; Felicia Moore, soprano; Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano; Issachah Savage, tenor; Reginald Smith Jr., baritone; Montclair State University Chorale (Heather J. Buchanan, director). Program includes Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise from Eugene Onegin; Billy Childs’ Saxophone Concerto; Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, “Choral.”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in Concert

Constantine Kitsopoulos, conductor.

Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, April 10, 2025 at 7:30 p.m.; Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, April 11, 2025 at 8 p.m.; Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, April 12, 2025 at 8 p.m.; State Theatre in New Brunswick, April 13, 2025 at 3 p.m.

ERIC WYRICK

“Xian Conducts Mozart”

Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University, May 16, 2025 at 8 p.m.; Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, May 17, 2025 at 8 p.m. and May 18, 2025 at 3 p.m.

Xian Zhang, conductor; Eric Wyrick, violin; Francine Storck, violin. Program includes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik; Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Concerto for Two Violins; Michael Abels’ Delights and Dances; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 35, “Haffner.”

“Discover Mozart & Bach (Family Concert)”

NJPAC in Newark, May 17, 2025 at 2 p.m.

Xian Zhang, conductor; Eric Wyrick, violin; Francine Storck, violin. Program includes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik; Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Concerto for Two Violins; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 35, “Haffner.”

“Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich”

Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, June 5, 2025 at 7:30 p.m.; Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University, June 6, 2025 at 8 p.m.; Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, June 7, 2025 at 8 p.m.; Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, June 8, 2025 at 3 p.m.

Xian Zhang, conductor; Conrad Tao, piano. Program includes Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2; Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

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