Friday, March 18, 2011

NJSO, Best Of ...

This weekend, in performances around the state, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra is offering one of their "Best of … " programs, featuring descriptions and other narration accompanying shorter excerpts from the classical repertoire in a one-hour concert. I'm not a huge fan of these, but that's partly I already know something about the repertoire and the history, so a string of excerpts and short descriptions is going to be kinda boring. The group does manage to throw in at least a couple of moments of less familiar repertoire, and the ensemble's playing is always first-rate, so if I do go it won't be a total loss.

When these programs began last season, I wrote that it was too much Discovery Channel and not enough traditional concert experience. I stand by that, but I have to admit that there is a real benefit to the Discovery Channel approach. For someone who doesn't know the repertoire but is interested, these kinds of events might be far more interesting than a standard concert. You get a sample of a variety of music, along with entertaining narration giving you some context to help grok the music's significance.

And that's exactly what these programs are designed to do: to introduce the casual listener to the rich repertoire, to dress the music in a way that shows off its sexy curves. The gamble is that once you're smitten, you come back for more as a regular subscriber.

This weekend's program is "Best of Spanish Flair", and includes selections from George Gershwin's Cuban Overture, Manuel de Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat Suite No. 2, Aaron Copland's El Salón México, living Mexican composer Arturo Marquez's Danzón No. 2, Georges Bizet's Carmen, Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol. Thomas Wilkins (pictured) conducts and Oren Fader (well-known from the guitar-duo-based new music ensemble Cygnus) will be the guitar soloist.

The concert happens at 7:30 p.m. at the War Memorial theater in Trenton tonight, March 18; at 7:30 p.m. at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank tomorrow, March 19; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 20 at the bergenPAC in Englewood. Tickets range from $18 to $57. To purchase, and for more information, check out the orchestra's website or call 1-800-ALLEGRO.

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