MADISON, NJ - Madison residents were treated to a musical performance, entitled “A Surprise Wassail,” by the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey (BONJ), on Sunday January 12.
The performance was led by Madison conductor Maestro Robert Butts, and featured a cast of 30 members on violin, viola, cellos, bass, flute, oboe, bassoon, horn, trumpet and timpani, playing music of Classical and Baroque periods by composers Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and George Frideric Handel.
BONJ is a music organization which performs music from all periods and styles at concerts to many diverse crowds who don’t normally have the opportunity to witness such shows, works to foster and feature new and upcoming music artists throughout New Jersey, New York and internationally. One such new music artist was 16-year-old Nicolas Gritz, from Chatham, who got to make his debut show with BONJ, and play “Piano Concerto In D” by Franz Joseph Haydn
“It’s a little intimidating, but I’m very excited,” said Gritz. “This is a great opportunity to play with the orchestra. Definitely very nervous here, but I’m confident in my performing and feel very blessed to be here.”
Gritz is known for being the winner of BONJ’s 2014 Sylvia Platt Scholarship, and was recently named “Musician of the Month” last April by the Mayo Performing Arts Center. He also won the judge’s awards at the IMPACT music competition in NYC Carnegie Hall, the judges’ award at the Dimenna Piano Competition at the Dimenna Center, in New York City, Crescent Concerts Showcase for Exceptional Young Artists, and the Cecilian Society Scholarship for summer musical study at the Westminster Choir College.
Other musicians were also grateful to perform with BONJ at the Grace Episcopal Church, such as Morristown flutist Laura Ferraro, who has performed with the orchestra for the past 11 years
“This church is a tremendous venue for the classic music we play,” said Ferraro.
Ferraro also performs frequently with the Fieldstone Ensemble, of whom in 2016, she premiered “Five Course Dinner for Three” by Maestro Butts.
“This is what I do, and I just enjoy playing with the Baroque Orchestra,” said Ferraro. “Opportunities like this are getting fewer and fewer in this area. Roberts Butts is really passionate about what he does.”
Indeed, Maestro Butts is passionate about his conducting and making classical music available to all masses, even in a small-town setting like his hometown of Madison.
“One of the things I try to do with the Baroque Orchestra is to conduct music that most orchestras don’t in New Jersey,” said Maestro Robert Butts, who is originally from Rockaway Borough. “I like to mix something famous that everyone likes.”
Maestro Butts is the founder of BONJ in 1996 and serves currently as its music director and conductor. He has conducted concerts for 24 years, and has performed all over the states and beyond, including in countries such as Italy, Germany, Russia and Eastern Europe. He was the principal conductor at the 2018 Alion Baltic Festival in Tallinn, Estonia, and has received numerous awards, including the 2017 Tourism Appreciation Award, the 2019 Exemplary Leader Award and 2019 Artist of the Year.
The orchestra featured 30 members and a few special music guests, from all over the county and state, including a few Madison natives, like harpist Merynda Adams. Though not an official BONJ member, Adams has performed with the music group for several shows over the past three years.
“It’s lovely to play in my hometown and see familiar faces,” said Adams, who has been playing the harp professionally for 45 years. “I especially love playing Mozart especially. The composer’s ‘Flute and Harp Concerto’ is a piece that I enjoyed as a kid and always dreamed of performing it myself.”
Adams has further performed with acclaimed music group, such as the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, New York Grand Opera, New Philharmonic, Lyrica Chamber Music, Northeastern Philharmonic, Colonial Symphony, Westfield Symphony, Lake Placid Symphonietta and off Broadway in “The Fantasticks,” and internationally in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.
BONJ performed at the Madison church all afternoon, giving locals a taste of music they don’t normally hear. And there were no complaints at the show’s end.
“This has been a lot of fun,” said baritone singer Michael McAvoy, from Queens, who also performed his own debut concert with BONJ, singing arias by George Frideric Handel.
With his voice, McAvoy has achieved much acclaim and awards, including the first prize in the Amici Vocal Competition, a grand finalist in the International Talents of the World Competition, first prize in the oratorio division of the Lyra New York International Vocal Competition and first prize in the New York Classical Music Society Artists International Voice Competition.
“Everyone’s been extremely nice and professional,” said McAvoy. “They all make a wonderful sound.”
Maestro Butts seconded that motion with his conductor’s stick.
“I love this concert,” said Maestro Butts. "The church has great acoustics and wonderful sound. I love bringing this music to this kind of community. We all just love being part of this local town.”
Later in the year, the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey has other concerts planned. This includes locations such as the Crystal Room of Hanover Manor, in East Hanover, on April 3rd; Dolan Performance Hall at the College of St. Elizabeth, in Morristown, on April 19th; and then a second show at Dolan Performance Hall, on June 7th.
To learn more about the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, visit their website at https://www.baroqueorchestra.org/.