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A Chat With New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Conductor Jacques Lacombe


10 Sep 2013

Jacques Lacombe
photo by Fred Stucker

An interview with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra conductor Jacques Lacombe, in his fourth year as the Orchestra’s Music Director. The Orchestra begins its 2013-14 season on September 27th with a special opening weekend program.

The upcoming season will feature numerous dynamic musical programs featuring many renowned artists, including world premieres, a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Strauss’ birth, and a continuation of the New Jersey Roots Project. The season features 14 weeks of subscription classical programs, four pops programs in Newark and New Brunswick, and three family concerts.

The season’s exciting opening weekend will honor the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech with a performance of Duke Ellington’s Three Black Kings, the world premiere of Geri Allen’s Stone & Streams featuring the composer as soloist, and a special performance of Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony with spirituals sung by Afro Blue in between movements. How did this unique concert came together?

This program is all about finding new ways of sort of living together and all kinds of aspirations. When I started to play with the idea of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, I thought of Ellington’s Three Black Kings, with the third movement being dedicated to Dr. King. I have known Geri Allen for quite some time, and I have a lot of respect for her work and her amazing piano playing. I asked whether any material she had written—something that also addressed the message of Dr. King—could be expanded for orchestra. When I explained the context of the concert, she took that idea and made it her own.

It’s a powerful thing to perform Dvořák’s music intertwined with spirituals. This specifically American music provided so much of his original inspiration. Our combination of old and new worlds will be artistically stimulating. From the purely political aspect, it connects two ideas, bringing them closer together. Ultimately this goes back to Martin Luther King’s message and reinforces it.”

What has inspired your NJSO programs and collaborations?

I believe any orchestra can be a model for and driving force within its community—it’s about connecting. Because the NJSO is a state orchestra, I want to perform music by New Jersey composers and collaborate with many institutions throughout the state. The idea behind the “Man & Nature” Winter Festivals is to connect what we do on the concert stage to our daily lives. It’s been a very rich experience, and we have included groups from our communities, including theater companies, choirs and environmental organizations.”

This is the finale of your elemental Winter Festival cycle, what are your thoughts on this season’s concerts and the overall theme of the past four years?

The original idea of having the Winter Festival dedicated to the elements was to connect music with today’s life, to be aware of our environment and the way we treat the Earth. It has been interesting to take that time to reflect on the elements, nature and environmental issues on so many different levels—we have had collaborations and seminars on different aspects of the environment like water, air and pollution. I see music as part of our life today. I’m very pleased to see how the Winter Festival evolved, and I think that when our audiences have come to those concerts, they had the opportunity to reflect on our world and on natureand how beautiful it is and how important it is to treat it well.”

This season, several of your NJSO musicians are featured artists. What is it like to have your own musicians perform solos?

It is always significant for us to have our soloists, especially our concertmaster, Eric Wyrick, perform as soloists with the Orchestra. We see a special inspiration from our musicians when we have one of their colleagues featured as a soloist, and it adds a depth to their interactions with their colleague. It is a very rich and special element for all the musicians, and it is an opportunity to display the incredible talent within our orchestra.”

A key thread through the season is the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’ birth. What Strauss pieces are you performing?

Strauss’ Alpine Symphony is part of both the Winter Festival and the Strauss anniversary celebration; it is exciting to perform such a monument of the repertoire [that fits in with multiple] season themes. Strauss wrote his Violin Concerto as a young composer, before he turned 20. Presenting one of his earlier works gives our tribute to Strauss another touch. Finally, Strauss’ piece Ein Heldenleben is lined up with so many different themes this season: the Strauss anniversary, the conductor/composers... to close with Strauss gives the entire season a feeling of going forward and accomplishment by finishing up on this very, very high note with one of the greatest masterworks of the entire literature.”

This concert season features many exciting young guest artists, like Lukáš Vondráček, Daniel Müller-Schott and Santtu-Matias Rouvali. What is your philosophy about inviting young talents to perform with the NJSO?

It’s part of our philosophy to introduce new faces to our audience and new faces to America. We have presented a lot of wonderful, young, extremely talented musicians, and that’s a big part of what the NJSO is about—finding the talents of tomorrow and bringing fresh perspectives to the orchestra. I am always excited when I see young, upcoming soloists performing with us.”

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For more information about the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, visit www.njsymphony.org or email information@njsymphony.org. Tickets are available for purchase by phone 1.800.ALLEGRO (255.3476) or on the Orchestra’s website.





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