New Jersey Symphony Orchestra's Jacques Lacombe on the Winter Festival

Classic Arts Features   New Jersey Symphony Orchestra's Jacques Lacombe on the Winter Festival
An interview with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra musical director Jacques Lacombe. On January 17-19 and 24-26, he will lead the Orchestra’s Winter Festival. The multi-year “Man & Nature” Festival odyssey through the classical elements culminates this month, focusing on the theme of earth.

The program January 17-19 presents Mahler’s masterful Das Lied von der Erde, as well as the U.S. premiere of Tan Dun’s Earth Concerto, written by Tan Dun to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Das Lied. Performances take place on Friday, January 17 (8pm) at the Richardson Auditorium in Princeton; Saturday, January 18 (8 pm) at NJPAC and Sunday, January 19 (3 pm) at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. Performances January 24-26 feature Strauss’ Alpine Symphony, which depicts a mountaineering adventure, complete with a sudden storm and a glowing sunset, Performances take place on Friday, January 24 (8 pm) at NJPAC in Newark; Saturday, January 25 (8 pm) at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, and Sunday, January 26 (3 pm) at NJPAC in Newark.Tickets start at $20 and are available for purchase online at or by phone at 1.800.ALLEGRO (255.3476).


This season marks the finale of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s four-year “Man & Nature’ winter festival odyssey, exploring natural elements in music and how they have inspired composers. As the festival culminates, can you please discuss the original purpose of the festival?

Well, the original idea of having the Winter Festival dedicated to the elements was to also connect music with today’s life and sort of to be aware for the environment in which we live, where nature, and you know, sometimes to be a bit more careful about how we treat Mother Earth. I think it’s been interesting to combine that on so many different levels, to take that time to reflect on the elements, reflect on nature and to reflect on environmental issues – we’ve had collaborations and seminars on different aspects of the environment: water, air, pollution and all of that. And I think I see music as part of our life today. It’s not only a museum experience, it’s still accurate to our life today and I’m very pleased to see how the circle evolved and I think that when our audiences came to those concerts they had at their minds this reflection on our world and on nature and how beautiful it is and how important it is to treat it well.

For the first weekend of the Winter Festival, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra will perform the U.S. Premiere of Tan Dun’s Earth Concerto, a mesmerizing sonic and visual experience in which soloists play instruments sourced from natural materials including ceramic and stone. The concerts will also feature Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth.) Can you please tell us a bit about how these pieces relate and work together?

The Tan Dun goes full circle because when I played with the idea of presenting a winter festival in the theme of Earth, one of the first pieces that came to mind was “Das Lied Von Der Erde”—the Mahler. Having Mahler on that season as composer/conductor was very meaningful. This is one of Mahler’s last pieces. When I started to research I found out about this Earth concerto and then I started to read about it and I didn’t know that the piece was written for the 150th anniversary of the Mahler and very much inspired by that piece. So that was how that idea came. I think, just like you said for the water concerto, to have stone instruments, stone becoming instruments on stage like we had water becoming music was a beautiful, powerful idea. And that’s something we did in the first season of this four year cycle on exploring the elements and we are coming to the end of the four-year cycle. And so it closes the circle by bringing Tan Dun on the program and David Cossin as our soloist, who was also our soloist for the water concerto four seasons ago.

The Winter Festival also features some elements of visual theater. How does this enhances the concerts?

As part of the Winter Festival, we like to present pieces in a context that adds different layers to it, that adds elements. This is sort of a non-conventional setup in that sense. And I think that listening to music is a wonderful thing, and sometimes to also add the experience by adding some of your other senses to the concert experience really makes it stronger and opens new doors. I think of what we’ve done two years ago with Scriabin and Prometheus, or what we’ve done last year with The Tempest, with actors and projections, that we live in such a world where we are exposed to different media. I could see a point, not always, but in certain key moments in a season where we present music in a slightly different way. And that’s what the Tan Dun will achieve.

During the second weekend of the Festival, January 24-26, the focus is on Strauss’ Alpine Symphony – a piece that depicts a mountaineering adventure. The program also includes the lesser-known Symphony on a French Mountain Air, by D’Indy. Why did you choose this particular piece?

I like on occasion to visit forgotten repertoire and therefore D’Indy was an important figure of French music, he was the teacher of so many composers—when you think of all the composers he taught: Satie, Roussel, Renegard(??), Varese all those people. He was the father of the Schola Cantorum in Paris. Symphony on French Mountain Air was one of his most successful pieces, but it has disappeared from the repertoire like so many other pieces that at one point had the favor of an audience. So I like to rediscover those pieces and then to put them back in the repertoire, we do that on occasion. We have a few examples of that during the season. And the theme was the perfect excuse to include Vincent D’Indy during that season. And to do it with Pascal Roge, who is a longtime friend of mine. I’ve worked with Pascal twice already. We’ve done the Saen-sans and the Saen-2nd and also the Poulenc piano concerto. He’s a very, very fine pianist, especially when it comes to French music. He plays a lot of other repertoire with me but I personally like him in French music and I think that might be his first performance in D’Indy, but I’m very glad he agreed to do it.

At the January 24-26 concerts, the orchestra will also perform Wagner’s “Venusberg Music from Tannhäuser.” Please tell us why this piece was selected.

Sometimes you could do the Prelude by itself and sometimes you do the Prelude and Venusberg, but for this occasion I figured we’ll just use the concluding section, which is the Venusberg, which also stands by itself as a concert piece. It maybe deals a bit more with some of the most fairy aspects of the tale of all these creatures. And so just to deal with that, because of course there is the prelude but we already have that element in the Strauss Alpine symphony which is more majestic, and I figured as the concert opener I wanted to do something a bit more quick, more moving and with just a bit more life to it than this big hymn. That’s why I left the prelude out of this program and just concentrated on the supernatural of the music.

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