MusicOctober 17, 2017


There’s a new orchestra in town, folks. On Sunday, October 22, The Montclair Orchestra performs it inaugural concert, entitled “Operatic Connections” at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Montclair.

serenadesI know, I know, you’re all a little jaded by now at the sheer amount of awesome arts activity going on these in New Jersey and especially in Montclair. But this orchestra is a little different. The musicians are a mix of both professional and student fellows, mixed throughout the orchestra. This is really pretty unique, because most professional orchestras are made up entirely of professional musicians, who have been performing for many years. There are also some training orchestras in the country, like Symphony in C in South Jersey and the Civic Orchestra in Chicago, which are made up of emerging professional musicians – bridging the gap between school and a professional orchestra career. This kind of opportunity is incredibly valuable, providing a great deal of necessary experience in making the transition to a professional career.

But with blending professional and student fellow musicians, The Montclair Orchestra is taking a different angle, which is pretty interesting. I mean, imagine that you are a promising young musician and you’ve just gotten your first gig with a professional orchestra (lucky you!). Since you’ve never worked for a professional orchestra before, you don’t really know how the pros prep for rehearsals and you REALLY didn’t realize that you only had a few days for those rehearsals, rather than the two weeks you always had in conservatory. (I’m already anxious for you, just thinking about this!) But then imagine that before you got this new gig, that you were a member of The Montclair Symphony Orchestra, learning the ropes of a professional career, right alongside those who have been doing this for a few decades. Now you’re confident, because you’ve learned how to hold your own in a professional environment, you know how to be fully prepared before your first rehearsal, and you’re not intimidated.

Yeah, that second scenario sounds a lot better to me, too.

And in a conversation with Andre Weker, President and Chairman of The Montclair Orchestra, it really strikes me that Montclair is just the perfect location for this type of organization. (And that’s not just because Montclair is a crazy hotbed of arts activity these days, which is totally true.) Given Montclair’s proximity to NYC, there are a great number of professional musicians to play in the orchestra. But the Montclair area is also in close proximity to several universities with great music programs, including Montclair State University and Rutgers University. So there’s a great pool of talent on both sides of the professional/student scale – perfect for a blended orchestra like Montclair’s. Weker tells me that eventually, they plan to expand the scope of the student fellow program, providing feedback to the fellows from section leaders and the music director, as well as practical guidance on a career.

The Music Director of the Montclair Orchestra is David Chan, who is also the concertmaster at The Metropolitan Opera. For the 2017-2018 season, he’s planned a series of five concerts. The first takes place on Sunday, October 22 and is called “Operatic Connections” in honor of 17-year (and counting!) career at the Met.

Chan_img-0414_origThis first concert (which I think they should call Inaugural2 – because it’s the inaugural concert of their inaugural season. You’re welcome, Montclair Orchestra!) features three works: Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destino, Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 (in which the orchestra will be joined by Ying Fang, soprano).

The Forza overture is fairly often played by symphonies outside of the opera context, usually at the opening of a concert, as it will be here. That has always struck me as a little funny, since it’s a little ominous-sounding, introducing the musical “fate” motif that strikes throughout the opera. The second piece on the program is Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 – a piece that, although not sung, has a lot of song-like musical components. The third piece (consisting of the concert’s entire second half) is Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. As with his earlier three symphonies, this one has its origins in a song: “Das himmlische Leben” (“The Heavenly Life”), which Mahler originally wrote in 1892 (this symphony was written in 1899-1900). Aspects of the song appear throughout the first three movements and the whole song is sung in its entirety by a solo soprano in the fourth movement.

While the repertoire on this concert is a little traditional, don’t think that the Montclair Orchestra is only going to be in the business of programming the works of dead white guys. Andre Weker tells me that they want to change the public perception of what orchestral music is and can be. In addition to performing classic masterpieces like these, they are programming concerts with contemporary works by living composers. (I see this as really great for a couple of reasons: Not only am I a big fan of programming modern repertoire, but producing a range of works is also going to be invaluable experience for the student fellow musicians.)

And here’s a bit of trivia that you can use at your next NJ-based cocktail party: This concert is being held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, right? Well, nearly 100 years ago, there was another Montclair Orchestra, which had been formed by musicians from St. Luke’s!  That orchestra then later merged with other music groups in the area, ultimately moving to Newark and becoming the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, the largest professional orchestra in the state. Weker says that, with the new Montclair Orchestra, they’ve been really conscious about connecting their organization to the community of Montclair. “Part of that includes recognizing the history of music in Montclair, in which Saint Luke’s plays an important role,” he says.

There are an additional four concerts over the 2017-2018 season for the Montclair Orchestra. Each has a different theme: “Change” on December 10 at Immaculate Conception, “Contrasts” in February at Montclair State University’s Cali School of Music, “Balletic Reinvention” on March 25 at MSU’s Memorial Auditorium and “Tour of Colors” on May 13, again at Saint Luke’s.

The Details

The Montclair Orchestra holds its inaugural concert, “Operatic Connections” on Sunday, October 22 at 7:00 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 73 South Fullerton Avenue in Montclair, NJ. Tickets are $45 (general admission). For more information, visit montclairorchestra.org.

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Patricia K. Johnson
Patricia K. Johnson

Patricia, Jersey born and bred, is a lifelong arts lover, arts patron, performer and artist. One of the very few people who actually cheers when The Dreaded Opera Category shows up on Jeopardy, Patricia is also an avid Yankee fan (from birth) and is learning to become an Eagles fan (from marriage).