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New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Biography
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) is an American symphony orchestra based in the state of New Jersey. The NJSO is the state orchestra of New Jersey, performing concert series in six venues across the state, and is the resident orchestra of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, New Jersey.
Location and venues:
Philip James founded the orchestra in 1922. During the 1940s, the orchestra performed at Newark Symphony Hall. Currently, the NJSO presents classical, pops and family concerts at venues in six cities around the state:
Newark: New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC),
Englewood: Bergen Performing Arts Center (BergenPAC),
Red Bank: Count Basie Theatre,
Morristown: Mayo Performing Arts Center,
New Brunswick: State Theatre,
Princeton: Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University,
The NJSO annually performs summer concerts at multiple venues across New Jersey. In June 2014, the NJSO plays free concerts at Pier A Park in Hoboken, Branch Brook Park in Newark, Mercer County Park in West Windsor and bergenPAC in Englewood, in addition to performing at festivals at Moorland Farm in Far Hills and Giralda Farms in Madison. Additionally, ensembles of NJSO musicians perform chamber music in various statewide locations through its Resources for Education and Community Harmony (REACH) program.
The NJSO previously presented concert series at the War Memorial in Trenton and the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.
"Golden Age" string collection:
In recent times, the NJSO became known for its purchase of 30 string instruments, including several made by Stradivari, for its string players, purchased from the collection of Herbert R. Axelrod in 2003. Lawrence Tamburri, then the orchestra's president and chief executive officer, speculated that this purchase would help make the orchestra more of a tourist attraction. Neeme Järvi has stated that this was one major reason that he chose to accept the NJSO music directorship. The orchestra named this collection the "Golden Age" string collection, and had hoped that this acquisition would enhance the prestige of the orchestra, and attract increased audiences and donations.
However, this purchase ran into controversy after doubts surfaced as to the actual value of the collection. Axelrod had claimed their value at USD $49 million, and sold it to the NJSO for USD $17 million. However, it turned out that the $17 million value was closer to the current market value. Furthermore, newsreporter investigations raised doubts as to the complete claimed authenticity of several of the instruments in the collection. The later criminal charge and guilty plea of Axelrod for an unrelated charge of federal tax fraud caused embarrassment to the NJSO on this transaction. In spite of the unfavourable publicity as a result of this controversy, the NJSO had planned to retain the violins and not sell them, as of July 2006.
In April 2004, Simon Woods became the NJSO's president, after Tamburri had left the NJSO for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Woods himself left the NJSO in July 2005 for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The investigation into the Golden Age collection had occurred during Woods' tenure. The appointment of Gremillet as the orchestra's next chief executive after Woods was in October 2006.
In March 2007, Gremillet and the NJSO stated that, faced with severe budgetary fiscal and deficit issues, they would try to sell the Golden Age instrument collection. The original agreement with Axelrod was that the orchestra would retain the instruments for at least 10 years, but Axelrod gave his assent to allow the orchestra to try to sell them. The intentions were to use the funds from the sale of the instruments to retire orchestra debt and to build up the orchestra's endowment fund. The orchestra had stated that their ideal scenario would be that the collection would be bought as a whole and then lent back to the orchestra, but commentators noted the difficulty of realizing such a plan.
In addition, a Vienna actress, Kyra Sator, had alleged that she was the proper owner of one of the instruments in this collection and threatened legal action against the orchestra in February 2007. Gremillet stated that the orchestra would "vigorously defend our title to this instrument" and noted that it was "extremely puzzling to receive such a letter four years after the deal". As well, the Newark newspaper The Star-Ledger had reported that Järvi might reconsider extending his contract with the NJSO in light of this planned sale of the instruments. When asked about this in 2007, he stated: "It's very possible, but I haven't thought about it yet."
In November 2007, the NJSO announced that they had sold the Golden Age instruments to the American investment bankers (and twin brothers) Seth Taube and Brook Taube, along with a group of other investors, for USD $20 million and a portion of the proceeds from any future sales of the instruments. Part of the agreement allowed the orchestra to retain playing rights to 28 of those instruments for a minimum of 5 years.
Other press comments have noted that in spite of the financial troubles and controversy over this instrument collection, the orchestra has improved artistically during Järvi's tenure. In October 2007, the NJSO announced that Järvi had extended his contract as music director through the 2008-2009 season, with a commitment to six weeks of subscription concerts. In February 2008, the orchestra confirmed the conclusion of Järvi's tenure as the NJSO's music director at the end of the 2008-2009 season. In March 2009, the NJSO indicated that Järvi had agreed to serve as the orchestra's artistic adviser after the conclusion of his contract as music director, and subsequently to take the title of conductor laureate. The orchestra also reduced its staff and the number of subscription concerts, from 70 to 61, scheduled for the 2009-2010 season.
The NJSO has had a series of radio broadcasts in the US since the 2006-2007 season. Gremillet announced in October 2007 that the radio broadcasts would continue. In addition, he stated the NJSO's accumulated debt is at USD $15 million as of October 2007. After the announcement of the November 2007 sale of the Golden Age instruments, Gremillet stated that their scheduled sale cost will allow the orchestra to retire its accumulated debt of USD $14.2 million, and restore USD $3.1 million used from the NJSO endowment used for the purchase of the instruments.
In November 2008, Jacques Lacombe guest-conducted the NJSO for the first time. In October 2009, the NJSO announced the appointment of Lacombe as its 13th music director, effective with the 2010-2011 season, with an initial contract of 3 years. Lacombe held the title of music director designate for the 2009-2010 season. In July 2012, the NJSO announced the extension of Lacombe's contract as music director through the 2015-2016 season. In October 2014, the NJSO announced the scheduled conclusion of Lacombe's tenure as the orchestra's music director after the conclusion of the 2015-2016 season.
Following the departure of Gremillet as NJSO president, the orchestra appointed Richard Dare as its next December 2012. Dare took up the post at the beginning of January 2013. On January 10, 2013, Dare resigned as NJSO president, following reports of a prior accusation of a sexual offense in 1996, and possible exaggerations of his business accomplishments. Controversy subsequently ensued on the question of how much information NJSO officials and board of trustees, and the search committee, knew of this situation during the source of the search for a new executive director. In June 2013, the NJSO announced the appointments of James Roe as its next president and chief executive officer (CEO) and of Susan Stucker as its chief operating officer (COO), effective July 1, 2013.
Xian Zhang first guest-conducted the NJSO in 2010. She returned for further guest appearances in February 2012 and May 2015. In November 2015, the NJSO announced her appointment as its 14th music director, effective in September 2016, with an initial contract of 4 years. She is the first female conductor to be named music director of the NJSO.
The NJSO has made several records for the Delos label with former music director Zdeněk Mácal, including works of Hector Berlioz, Antonín Dvořák, Reinhold Glière and Modest Mussorgsky. With Lacombe, the NJSO made a commercial recording of Carmina Burana, taken from Lacombe's debut appearances with the orchestra.
Philip James: 1922-1929,
Rene Pollain: 1929-1939,
Frieder Weissmann: 1940-1947,
Samuel Antek: 1947-1958,
Matyas Abas: 1958-1960,
Kenneth Schermerhorn: 1962-1968,
Henry Lewis: 1968-1976,
Thomas Michalak: 1977-1983,
Hugh Wolff: 1985-1993,
Zdeněk Mácal: 1993-2002,
Neeme Järvi: 2005-2009,
Jacques Lacombe: 2010-present