WESTFIELD, NJ — The New Jersey Festival Orchestra, based in Westfield, will kick off its 2015-2016 Oct. 10 in Westfield with Gershwin’s ever-popular “Rhapsody in Blue” presented with the world premiere of a new chorus by guest pianist Michael Fennelly.

“’Rhapsody in Blue’ is an iconic masterpiece that is thrilling from beginning to end. It embodies all the fun and swagger of the roaring 20s and captures the spirit of a modern nation,” NJFO Music Director and Conductor David Wroe said.

Fennelly, seen here performing part of “Rhapsody” as a soloist in Japan, is excited to debut his new chorus here with the NJFO and the Harmonium Choral Society.

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George Gershwin himself had once written a very minimal choral part for the piece, Fennelly said.

“Just a few oohs and ahhs,” he explained. But the composer never got around to completing a definitive choral part and, after he died in 1937, “Nobody fulfilled Gershwin’s vision of it. I thought, ‘I’ll just do it.’”

Fennelly’s work on the chorus came up when he and Maestro Wroe spoke earlier this year. Wroe was very supportive, Fennelly said.

“Michael Fennelly has taken Gershwin's original sketches and recorded fragments and arranged them into a wonderful new chorus and added new words in the style of Ira Gershwin,” Wroe said.

Keeping the words in the Gerswhin style and spirit was important to Fennelly, who resisted the urge to use more contemporary language and sentiment, writing instead lines such as, “All of my life, I’ve wanted you as my wife.”

Fennelly said he enjoys rehearsing with the orchestra and chorus.

“It’s really fun. So far everyone loved it,” he said. Especially the Harmonium Choral Society, he noted. “Boy, they were really enthusiastic, and they really nailed it.”

Maestro Wroe said the NJFO is thrilled and honored to perform this chorus for the very first time. Fennelly is optimistic that it will be played much more in the future.

“I think that the new version will, hopefully, take off,” Fennelly said.

Rounding off the concert, the NJFO will perform two more life-affirming works, Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture” and Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony.

Following the concert Saturday night, Oct. 10, at the Presbyterian Church in Westfield, a second performance will take place Sunday afternoon, Oct. 11, at Drew University in Madison.

Single tickets are $26-$70, or buyers can save up to 25 percent with one of our discounted ticket packages. 

Single tickets and discount packages may be purchased directly from the NJFO office (224 E. Broad Street) or by calling the box office at 908-232-9400 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Avoid ticket fees and handling charges by purchasing tickets online at www.njfestivalorchestra.org.

Also this season, music lovers can look forward to Gustav Mahler’s monumental 9th symphony on Nov. 8 at Bickford Theater in Morristown. In the winter, audiences can celebrate the winter season the NJFO's annual “Home for the Holidays” program and New Year’s Eve with “Dancing the Blues Away."

In March, a cast of internationally acclaimed guest performers will present, acted and in costume, Puccini’s “La Boheme.” The NJFO season comes to a finale with two monumental masterpieces featuring Chinese choirs from New York and New Jersey.

There will also be as a series of features at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, where NJFO will accompany Kristin Chenoworth, Bob Newhart, Jackie Evancho and more.

“We’re looking forward to demonstrating that NJFO presents out of the box, unique and refreshing music,” Wroe said. “This year we will present the familiar in unfamiliar contexts or dress the traditional winners in shiny new armor. We have no fear of mixing the 'popular' with the 'classical' mediums. That they are side by side, sometimes in the same concert, allows for cross-fertilization of their respective audiences and broadens the scope of our reach into the Arts community we serve. Our unique and dynamic season will, we believe, bring classical music to life with an ongoing ‘festival’ of compelling presentations worthy of our name.”

Learn more at www.njfestivalorchestra.org.