Monday, August 22, 2016


Sheila and OreoBy Sheila Abrams

A couple of brilliant performances by soloists and presentation of a new work highlighted the closing concert of the summer festival of the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey. The event was at Dolan Hall, College of St. Elizabeth, Convent Station, on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 21.


An interesting program, featuring joyful pieces by Mozart and Haydn, also offered a pensive work by Maestro Robert Butts (Above, center), Ripples and Reflections. A concerto with a complicated history, it was dedicated to the composer’s late brother, Thomas Butts, a saxophonist whose primary interest was jazz.

As Maestro Butts explained, he had been working on this piece for several years, during which time his brother passed away. He nonetheless completed it and, when Thomas Kurtz, a saxophone player, was among the winners of the Pearl and Julius Young competition for young musicians, he scheduled its performance.

That required transposition of the work from tenor sax, his brother’s instrument, to alto sax, which Kurtz played. But once more, plans were thwarted when, shortly before rehearsals began, Kurtz suffered an injury, making his performance impossible.

Stepping into the breach, in an unlikely virtuosic feat, was Dan Sagi (Above, right), a clarinetist who is a member of BONJ. The concerto for saxophone became, instead, a concerto for clarinet and orchestra. According to Butts, Sagi learned the music in ten days.

This unexpected sequence of events turned out to be a blessing for the audience. The plaintive tone of the clarinet sang beautifully, interwoven with the orchestra. Modern music, yes. There was some surprising pacing and some unexpected harmonies. But it was beautiful and emotional, clearly a love song from one brother to another. And Sagi’s performance was a joy. We would love for him to have an opportunity to solo with the orchestra again.

Ripples and Reflections was well set among a group of glittering classical works which could only spread smiles among the listeners. The concert opened with Mozart’s Divertimento K. 136, a fast-paced romp for string orchestra, in which the outstanding BONJ violins shone.

Next up was an annual event for BONJ, a performance by the first-place winner of the Young prize. This year’s winner is Chase Park, a cellist (Above, left, and right). One of the perks for the winner is the opportunity to play a concerto with the orchestra. Park chose Franz Josef Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major. Like the Mozart work, the concerto is a work of effervescent good nature, happy music, reflecting the finest of the classical tradition.

The youthful soloist played with sureness and authority, particularly shining in the gorgeous melodic interactions with the orchestra in the second, adagio, movement. An exceptional performance!

Following an intermission and the performance of Ripples and Reflections, the concert ended with the buoyant Haydn Symphony No. 85, “La Reine” (The Queen), one of 106 Haydn composed. This symphony, Butts explained, was a particular favorite of Marie Antoinette. During her better days, she required that it be performed at every concert she attended.

Despite her unhappy end, then, the queen spread a lot of joy with her taste in music. We can only conclude from the joyousness of this symphony, that Haydn would have been someone it would have been a pleasure to know.

BONJ will be back in November with a celebration of its twentieth anniversary.