by Lisa Young, Vice President, The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey
In the summer of 2016 I was having lunch with Bob, our Maestro, to discuss some orchestra matters. I noted that in the upcoming 2016-2017 season he had scheduled the June 2017 concert on what would be a milestone birthday for me. I asked him if he would be willing to play either Siegfried's Idyll by Richard Wagner, or Richard Strauss's Symphonische Fantasie aus die Frau ohne Schatten, both favorite pieces of music of mine. Without hesitation he said he would be pleased to do both.
Not being a musician, the challenges of doing these pieces was far from my mind when I suggested them. Bob, however, is never one to back away from a challenge.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Maestro Butts admitted. “I must say that when I first started studying the score, I felt very intimidated. But gradually Strauss’s musical language spoke to me and as the musicians brought their talents to their parts, it came together. Conducting the exquisite music of Wagner and Strauss was an unforgettable experience for me. Despite the difficulties, the musicians in the orchestra also felt excited at the opportunity to explore this expressive music.”
I attended the very first rehearsal. Under Bob's capable direction I listened to these pieces begin to come alive. On the day of the concert both pieces soared, statements by their respective composers about the nature of love. The superb musicians of the orchestra gave a brilliant and nuanced reading to Wagner and Strauss that brought me to tears. It was the greatest birthday gift ever! As extra icing on my birthday cake, Eric Davis, Marshall Sealy, Deryck Clark and Robert Watt performed Heinrich Hübler's Concerto for Four Horns.
“The Strauss Fantasie had a transcendental beauty that was very moving,” said Director of Communications & Technology Robert Kopacz. “I was surprised a small local orchestra would even attempt music of Wagner and Strauss, but they made it all soar.”
“Wow, did I and my family enjoy the sound of FOUR! French Horns as solo ensemble with the orchestra,” Kopacz continued. “My whole family was enthralled.”
Pianist Lynn Czae concluded the memorable concert with a magnificent performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23.
This was a birthday celebration I will never forget given by my favorite orchestra in the whole world.
Peter Stevens, former contributing writer to Classical New Jersey Journal, stated after the performance: "Sunday’s concert was another example of how BONJ and its director Robert Butts go farther than anyone else in this area to bring challenging and special works to the public which they otherwise would not encounter. Aside from a Mozart piano concerto and a piece featuring four french horns played by world class players of international stature, the audience got to experience Wagner's Sigfried Idyll in a free flowing performance of true feeling that really impressed. Also featured was a Symphonische Fantasie aus die Frau ohne Shatten by Richard Strauss. This was a bold move beautifully executed by the orchestra under Maestro Butts. They achieved that soaring and lush Strauss sound with aplomb. This was an amazingly generous concert. Any one of the four selections could have served as the centerpiece for any one of four separate concerts."