Baroque and Beyond - Gregory Moomjy on BONJ in New Jersey Monthly
New Jersey Monthly, November 2015
Baroque and Beyond: The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, entering its 20th anniversary season, will hold a concert on November 1 in Morristown.
By Gregory Moomjy | October 27, 2015
As it enters its 20th-anniversary season, the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey has clearly expanded beyond the time period in its name. Consider the program for its November 1 concert at the College of St. Elizabeth’s 560-seat Dolan Hall in Morristown, the orchestra’s home since 2008. The program includes Vivaldi’s Four Seasons—one of the most enduring works of the Baroque period—but also a 20th-century piece, Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.
The choices attest to the orchestra’s growth since its founding in 1996. Instead of concentrating solely on music from the 17th and 18th centuries, the orchestra now performs a wide-ranging repertoire from every era of music history.
The expansion allows the orchestra to broaden the audience for classical music, explains founder, conductor and artistic director Robert W. Butts. “This gives you an opportunity to explore 400 years’ worth of music,” he says.
It helps that the average price for a ticket is $40 for adults and $30 for seniors for full orchestra concerts, and $20 for seniors for smaller-scale programs. Students under 22 pay just $5 for all performances. This is far less than other classical-music institutions in the New York area. At the Metropolitan Opera, for example, a seat for a popular opera like La Boheme can run as high as $460.
Like many in classical music, Butts wears numerous hats. In addition to his work with the BONJ, Butts composes instrumental and vocal music. His latest piece for guitar, Early Morning Suite, had its European premiere September 4 in London. He has written operas based on the lives of colorful historical figures such as Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant and Oscar Wilde—subjects chosen for their emotional complexity.
Butts teaches at Montclair State University’s John J. Cali School of Music and the Casperson School of Graduate Studies at Drew University. He provides free tickets for his students—a nice perk on top of his real value as an educator. “In addition to possessing an intellectual understanding of music, Bob’s experience as a conductor means that he explores more than the history of a piece,” says Robert Cart, director of the Cali School. “He delves into the actual musical performance.”
“Dr. Butts is both leader and collaborator,” says Peter Lewis of Eastern Opera, “and involves his players and his singers in the making of beautiful music.”
The BONJ hosts annual Pearl and Julius Young Music Competition for young musicians. Cash prizes range from $100 to $1,000, and the first-place winner gets to perform a complete concerto at the BONJ Summer Music Festival.
The orchestra is a nonprofit organization with new as well as seasoned musicians. For some performers, the orchestra serves as a launching pad for their careers; other players are semiretired. The ensemble size varies, but generally averages 25 musicians. They perform year-round in a variety of settings, including concerts, a summer festival, semi-staged opera and the young artists’ competition.
Gregory Moomjy writes for Pro Ópera and other publications. He lives in New York City.
Reprinted with permission from the November 2015 issue of New Jersey Monthly. ©2015 by New Jersey Monthly, LLC
Some highlights from the concert on November 1, 2015