Music Pop CultureSeptember 17, 2013


The musicians of the Bay-Atlantic Symphony should consider adopting Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” as the orchestra’s theme song. They’re always on the go.

This intrepid orchestra, fully professional, founded in 1983 as the Bridgeton Symphony, performs regularly in locations as far-flung as Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Gloucester counties. That’s a lot of ground to cover, but that’s what the orchestra’s there for. Hence its name – Bay, for Delaware Bay, Atlantic for, well, you know – and its motto, “Great Music throughout South Jersey.”

But of all the songs about musical groups traveling, why Sir Paul McCartney? Because Bay-Atlantic, otherwise happily married to the mainstream classical repertory, steps out at least once a season for a blow-out pops gala, and this year it’s “Live and Let Die: A Symphonic Tribute to the Music of Paul McCartney.” Starring “Beatlemania” veteran Tony Kishman and four-piece rock band, Bay-Atlantic will be performing “Live and Let Die” September 22 in the Music Box at Borgata Hotel Casino, Atlantic City. Jed Gaylin—Bay-Atlantic’s youthful and articulate maestro—will conduct, with pleasure.

“When we do pops, we like to feel that we’re continuing our mission to present great music, and The Beatles’ is certainly that,” Gaylin says. “McCartney’s music is layered enough that we can present something we’re proud to stand behind.” Previous Bay-Atlantic pops galas have celebrated the legacies of Benny Goodman and Motown, for instance.

Other symphony orchestras feel the same way about “Live and Let Die,” clearly, including such big names as Atlanta and Seattle, which have presented the show to rave reviews. Kishman, whose physical and vocal resemblance to McCartney is striking, performs live—no lip-synching, no soundtracks. The hits keep coming – “Hey Jude,” “Penny Lane,” “Yesterday,” “Let It Be,” “Silly Love Songs,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club,” and more.

The orchestral pops approach makes sense because there’s another side to McCartney, “the cute Beatle,” the “Wings” rocker, the solo artist. As a composer he has been known to stretch himself. In 1991, in association with Carl Davis, he wrote “The Liverpool Oratorio” for soloists, chorus and orchestra, then returned to orchestral music in 1999 with “Working Classical.”  In 2000 he released “Liverpool Sound Collage,” an album of electronic music. His ballet music, “Ocean’s Kingdom,” was premiered in 2011 by New York City Ballet.  Critics have not been particularly kind to these outings, but still, they’re testimony to McCartney’s wide-ranging and versatile musical intelligence. He’s much more than a tunesmith.

Gaylin and Bay-Atlantic’s executive director, Paul Herron, have all manner of wonderful things to say about Borgata, which has worked hard to build a reputation as Atlantic City’s top-drawer casino, plus. While Bay-Atlantic is producing “Live and Let Die” on its own dime, with Borgata’s collaboration, the orchestra recently concluded a five-concert, straight-classical summer series there that Borgata footed the bill for. Now that’s news.

“They were very up front about this,” says Herron, a resident of Egg Harbor Township. “They wanted us to bring in our best people and play real classical music, and that’s what we did. I’m unaware of any other casino that has done this, except as a one-off (a single concert). Our mission is to take our music to places where it hasn’t been heard before. Borgata has been spectacular with us.”

Borgata’s The Music Box seats 900, Herron says, and the concerts sold very well. “For one concert, we had violinist Stefan Jackiw as concerto soloist, and we had four or five minutes of cheering. It’s astounding to get this from an audience in a casino. We also developed close relationships with the Borgata’s technical people. They’re used to doing pop and rock shows. Doing a concert with us, a live acoustical concert, blew their minds. They were thrilled.”

Partnerships are key to Bay-Atlantic, and the orchestra has succeeded in forging important links. The orchestra performs subscription concerts at the The Richard Stock­ton Col­lege Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter and Cum­ber­land County Col­lege’s Guaracini Fine and Per­form­ing Arts Center. Other venues include The Richard Stock­ton Col­lege’s Dante Hall Theater, where Bay-Atlantic is presenting the third annual Atlantic City Music Festival October 3-5; Rowan University;  a “Symphony by the Sea” summer series in Avalon Borough; and appearances with the Cape May Music Festival.

“We’re vagabonds all over South Jersey. We’ll go anywhere,” say Herron, with a chuckle. “What’s important is that we stay true to ourselves and give people the music and the level of music-making that’s important to our audiences.”

A versatile and highly praised conductor who has performed internationally (Russia, China, Romania, Poland, Mexico, Italy, Spain), Gaylin also heads the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he resides. He is a regular conductor with the city’s Opera Vivente, as well. He has been Bay-Atlantic’s music director since 1997.

A look at Bay-Atlantic’s programming, past and upcoming, shows a commitment to the core orchestral repertory—Tchaikovsky and Brahms, for instance, will be opening the season Oct. 27-27—and a sophisticated adventurousness that keeps players on their toes and concert-goers all ears.

In January, “Music from the Americas” will offer works by Aaron Copland plus Brazilian composer Ney Rosauro’s “Marimba Concerto” with Makoto Nakura, and Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov’s “Last Round.” Also coming up are Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” with Jennifer Casey Cabot, and Saint-Säens “Piano Con­certo No. 2 (1868)” with the brilliant American pianist Clipper Erickson as soloist. Past seasons offered rarely heard wind concertos by Bellini and Weber, excerpts from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” with Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat,” American composer George Walker’s “Lyric for Strings,” and Chinese composer Lee Pui Meng’s “She Comes to Shore: Con­certo for Impro­vised Piano and Orches­tra,” which Bay-Atlantic recorded for classical music label Naxos.

“We look for intersections in the music we play, then we go beyond them,” Gaylin says. “It’s a conversation we’ve been having with our audiences over the years, over the bar lines. I’m passionate about great symphonic music and contemporary American music. Part of what we do is to do new or unfamiliar works, saying ‘here’s something we think you will like, here’s something we’re excited about sharing with you,’ and open up a two-way engagement. It’s a performing credo of mine.”

Gaylin is equally passionate about education and community outreach. He serves as artist-in-residence with The Richard Stockton College, where Bay-Atlantic is a constituent of the music program. The orchestra also offers youth concerts and a music history lecture series for adults presented by composer and critic Paul Mack Somers.

“We’re engaged in building music education in the schools as well as all we’re doing at Stockton. We want to get young people and their parents involved. We would like to open up relationships with 55-plus communities,” Gaylin says. “The concept is to work all sides of the age spectrum, working with communities holistically, while avoiding the trap of niche marketing.”

Bay-Atlantic has other important “stakeholders” who help to make it all possible, among them PNC Arts Alive, which supports “expanding audience participation and engagement,” and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, a stalwart advocate for the arts in New Jersey.

It has been “A Long and Winding Road” for the Bay-Atlantic Symphony, as is true for most American orchestras, but the path ahead looks bright.

“Live and Let Die: A Symphonic Celebration of Paul McCartney” with the Bay-Atlantic Symphony— bayatlanticsymphony.org—Sunday, Sept. 22, 3 p.m., Borgata Hotel Casino, Atlantic City. Tickets $50 and $65, www.theborgata.com or 866-900-4849.

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Michael Redmond
Michael Redmond

Michael Redmond has written about the arts and cultural affairs for The Star-Ledger, The Princeton Packet, Opera News, Symphony Magazine, Lincoln Center Playbill, and Carnegie Hall Playbill, among other publications and websites. He has been recognized for “Distinguished Service to the Arts” by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and for excellence in Critical Writing by the New Jersey Press Association. A lifelong resident of the Garden State, Redmond is a lapsed pianist, a hapless acrobat, a card-carrying member of the Newark Public Library, a master of polyglot Scrabble, and an occasional poetaster. He keeps his Turnpike road-warrior skills sharp.