Arts & Entertainment

A Symphony for Josh: Baroque Orchestra Conductor Debuts Composition April 27

April 12, 2014 at 2:05 PM

SUMMIT, NJ - Dr. Robert W. Butts, founder, conductor, and Artistic Director of The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, has had many momentous experiences in his long and creative life, however, he had never written a symphony.  

He has written and directed concertos for the bassoon and other individual orchestral instruments.   He has written raucous and bawdy compositions for the Cakes and Ale productions seen at the Orchestra's annual Summer Music Festival for several years.

He has also written operas, such as Mark Twain and the General, which was premiered at the 2012 Summer Music Festival and presented at NJIT, as well as Gesualdo, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado, the second and third of which are based on short stories by Edgar Allen Poe. 

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So, when Anne and Jon Plaut of Summit asked him if he would write a symphony one in memory of their son, Joshua, who died in 2011 of a freak, storm-related injury, he was honored to oblige. Josh's brothers, David, of Austin, TX, and Jeffrey, of Montclair, have also participated in the commission. The Symphony will have its premiere at 3 p.m., April 27, in Dolan Hall, College of Saint Elizabeth, Morristown.

 A Summit native, Josh was a graduate of Summit High School, Yale University (with honors), and Columbia University Law School, where he was editor of the Environmental Law Journal.  He and his wife, Lena Kim, were married in July, 1999, at the Yale Club in New York and they lived in Brooklyn.  At the time of his death, Josh was an Associate in the New York law firm of Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati. Earlier that year, he had been named Rising Star Attorney in New York City.

 A gifted writer, he was an editor of The New Journal, an undergraduate publication of Yale University.  He was also a member of the varsity lacrosse team that won the Ivy League Championship in his freshman year.  After graduation, Josh worked as an editor at Scholastic Publications and as press aide to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).  Following his graduation from Columbia Law School, he served as clerk to Senior Federal Court Judge Robert Sweet in Manhattan.

 "In all his endeavors, Josh established deep-seated and productive relationships," said his father, Jonathan Plaut.  “He was a master at communication and strategic thinking."  Josh loved classical music.  A few months before his death, he attended, with his wife, Lena, and his parents, Anne and Jon, a joyous weekend at Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony.

Dr. Butts, who has a large following throughout the metropolitan New York / New Jersey area, is known for his expertise and creativity in many musical fields.  In addition to his composing operas, he has also composed concertos for solo classical instruments.   He is on the faculty at Montclair State University, College of Saint Elizabeth, and Drew University, where his minicourses on all aspects of music and composers have been sure-fire hits for many years. One of his recent affiliations has been as Music Director for the Eastern Opera Company of New Jersey, which performs in Bound Brook.

Commenting on the composition of this Symphony, Dr. Butts said: “Composing is such an exciting and thrilling, yet mysterious process. The symphony has been the primary form for orchestral composition for almost three hundred years, and the most profound and deep musical thoughts emanate from it.  I have studied the composers whose symphonic work I most admire, primarily Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Sibelius and Shostakovich.  In the end, I was inspired by all of them, but the greatest challenge was Beethoven.”

Tickets for the concert can be purchased online at the Orchestra’s website,; by calling the office, 973 / 366-8922; or at the door the day of the concert.  They are priced at $40/Adults; $30/Seniors; and $5 for students under 22 with ID.

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