Maestro Robert W. Butts, founder and conductor of The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey for 20 years, was named one of five 2015 Honored Artists by The American Prize. Maestro Butts was also awarded the 2011 American Prize Citation for Arts and Education outreach. He was named the 2004 Arts Professional of the Year by Morris Arts (then the Arts Council of the Morris Area), the DeMarsh Award by The American Recorder Society, and twice was a finalist for The Leo M. Traynor award. For the American Prize, he has been a finalist as opera and orchestra conductor and as composer. He also was awarded The 2011 Vytautas Marijosius Memorial Award.
Maestro Butts has developed The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey from a specialized period ensemble to one of New Jersey's most dynamic orchestras with the most far-reaching repertoire. While still performing the music of the 17th and 18th centuries (Monteverdi through Beethoven), Maestro Butts has expanded the orchestra to include music of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Further, he and the orchestra have become leaders in the performance of new music, having premiered a dozen works by local composers over the past four years.
In addition to his own compositions, Maestro Butts has led the orchestra in premiere works by Derwyn Holder, Richard Russell, Amy Reich, and Monsignor Marco Frisina who visited from the Vatican for the premiere of his work Puccini Suite. Maestro Butts has maintained a commitment to young artists through work with The Pearl & Julius Young Music Competition, sponsored by the orchestra. Finalists of the competition have been invited to play concerti with the orchestra, and to perform with the orchestra to enjoy the experience of playing with the more seasoned players.
Maestro Butts has also been a leading force in conducting opera in the New York area. Working with The Little Opera Company, New Jersey Concert Opera, BONJ Opera, Eastern Opera, Touring Opera Company of New York, and Opera Theater of Montclair, Maestro Butts has led acclaimed performances of operas from the 17th through the 21st centuries. He is the only conductor to have conducted concert performances of three Handel operas (Semele, Acis and Galatea, and Giulio Cesare) and three Wagner operas (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, and Siegfried) in addition to operas by Mozart, Pergolesi, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo, Bizet, Weber and Johann Strauss. He has worked with singers and directors from around the world. In March 2015, Maestro Butts made his conducting debut in Italy with a performance of Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona. He later conducted the opera with an international cast at The Bell and Barter Theatre in Rockaway, New Jersey.
As a composer, Maestro Butts finds influences from all styles of music ranging from the contrapuntal complexity of Johann Sebastian Bach to the passionate lyrical works of Tchaikovsky and Puccini to modern composers such as Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Pop music has also influenced his highly lyrical style, particularly the compositions of Stephen Sondheim. In 2015, Maestro Butts had his compositions performed in Italy, England, China and Korea. His chamber operas were performed in January 2015 at The National Opera Center in New York. His Early Morning Suite was recently premiered at Schott Recital Hall in London. His Symphony #1 - The Joshua Symphony, commissioned by the Plaut family, was premiered in 2014.Other compositions receiving performances and critical attention include the operas The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and Mark Twain and the General, as we ll as the popular Browning Songs, Bassoon Concerto, Five Poems on Emily Dickinson, Suite for Mid-Winter Afternoons, and Saturnalia Strings.
As an educator, Maestro Butts has taught courses on music history, conducting, American Music, Opera, and Early 20th Century Music at Montclair State University, The Casperson School of Graduate Studies at Drew University, The College of Saint Elizabeth, and Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has presented musicological papers at conferences of The American Musicological Society, The Country Music Conference, The Sonneck Society, The American Byron Society, The Symposium on New Classicism, and Friends of Mead Hall Annual Meeting. He is renowned around New Jersey for his passionate and warm teaching and lecturing style which he has brought to many adult education programs, libraries, and retirement communities. He lectures regularly for The New Jersey Council for the Humanities and has lectured for The New Jersey Symphony, New Jersey State Opera, and Elderhostel. He has participated on opera education panels at The Metropolitan Opera. With The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, he created the education broadcast series Concerts and Conversations.
Maestro Butts has done extensive media work - recently appearing on television broadcasts in Cremona and Castlefranco in Italy; in London, England; as a Comcast Newsmaker in New Jersey; and on Ask the Expert with Jesse Frees on WMTR. The November issue of New Jersey Monthly featured a special story on Maestro Butts and the orchestra.
The American Prize, begun in 2009, is awarded for excellence in all areas of musical performance and education. Performances are judged on artistic quality, based on the full breadth of possible criteria, including the overall effect of the performance, musicality, rhythmic incisiveness, ensemble, tone quality, accuracy, intonation, knowledge of style. Founder and Director David Katz was selected as as one of Musical America's "Professionals of the Year—a Key Influencer" for 2016.
The other "Honored Artists for 2015" include Donald Appert, conductor, of Vancouver, WA; Peggy Dettwiler, conductor, of Mansfield, PA; Jonathan Handman, conductor, of LaGrangeville, NY; and Robert Wendel, composer, of New York, NY.