New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Celebrates the Garden State with the Roots Project

Classic Arts Features   New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Celebrates the Garden State with the Roots Project
An interview with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra musical director Jacques Lacombe. On November 29, 30 and December 1, he will lead the Orchestra in the world premiere of a new work, commissioned as part of the New Jersey Roots Project.

The new work, Barcarolles for a Sinking City, was composed by New Jersey resident Lowell Lieberman. The Orchestra will also present Bartók’s flashy Concerto for Orchestra. In addition, pianist Adam Golka will make his NJSO debut, performing Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. Performances take place on Friday, November 29, (8 pm) at the Richardson Auditorium in Princeton; Saturday, November 30, (8 pm) at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark and Sunday, December 1, (3 pm) at the State Theatre in New Brunswick. Tickets start at $20 and are available for purchase online at or by phone at 1.800.ALLEGRO (255.3476).

The NJSO’s concerts from November 29–December 1 include the world premiere of a commission from Weehawken resident Lowell Liebermann. What is important about this new work and the New Jersey Roots Project, through which you are presenting the piece?

We are looking forward to giving this premiere. The New Jersey Roots Project celebrates the music of composers with connections to the Garden State. An important aspect of the project is including new music from composers who not only live and work in New Jersey but who also have a great relationship with the state. Liebermann has been living in the state for a long time, and he is an important living American composer.

Have you and the NJSO performed Mr. Liebermann’s works in the past?

I conducted Liebermann’s flute concerto years ago, and he has had a relationship with our Orchestra. The NJSO co-commissioned the flute concerto and gave the East Coast premiere in 1992 with Sir James Galway as the soloist. The NJSO gave the world premiere of Liebermann’s piccolo concerto in 1996.

Pianist Adam Golka will be playing Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. How did Mr. Golka become involved in this program?

Ravel’s piano concerto is a unique piece because there is something quite classical about it and also something very simple. The very exposed moments for horns and trumpets make an interesting combination with the piano and the sort of jazzy element that is also present. Adam Golka makes his debut with us; he is an up-and-coming artist who I think is headed for a very, very strong career. I’ve met Adam before, and I thought he would be the perfect soloist for this piece.

What makes Ravel’s piece so unique?

There is something both jazzy and quite classical about Ravel’s piano concerto, and also something very simple—more so than some of his other orchestral works. The second movement has fantastic dialogues between the piano and orchestra. There are some light, almost crystal-like, melodic lines from the winds, and a moment with the English horn that is a very special moment in the history of music. Exposed moments for the orchestra make for an interesting combination with the piano.

The program closes with Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. What strikes you about this work?

I have always had a special relationship with Bartók’s concerto—I made my debut with a few orchestras with this piece. There is so much maturity in the Concerto for Orchestra. Other Bartók works have a more complex structure, but the Concerto for Orchestra has both richness and a clarity that I appreciate very much. It’s something you find more often in his piano works.

It’s a flashy piece, and the finale is especially difficult for the orchestra. Bartók wanted the tempo to be extremely fast. Because of his musical language, the scales he uses are not the typical ones that musicians have in their fingers. You have to work at them! But once you have mastered them, his system is very organic. It’s a matter of being able to anticipate the language and go with it. It’s the kind of piece that once you have it, you have it for life.

Please tell us what else we can look forward to from NJSO this season?

Our first performances of the new year feature Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. A few seasons ago, we paired Beethoven’s Third and Fifth Symphonies very successfully. Beethoven’s Seventh premiered in December 1813, and the Eighth in February 1814; the Seventh was also played on the program premiering the Eighth. So I was not a genius by thinking of putting these two pieces together—someone else thought of it before! But it is the collaborative 200th anniversary of these two great pieces. Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies are strong contrasts, as are his Third and Fourth. I find it fascinating to put Beethoven’s symphonies next to each other to hear how versatile he was.

The Seventh is really one of his most important symphonies, with its rhythmical and dance-like aspects. The first movement has an ongoing tarantella rhythm, and the second movement a sort of slow march that has an almost hymn-like quality—there is a real depth to it. The Eighth is one of, if not the, best examples of the humor Beethoven showed in his music; it’s very close to Haydn’s world in its capacity to renew itself constantly and keep the listener on the edge—because there is always surprise, always wit.

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