Arts & Entertainment

NJ Festival Orchestra Kicks Off New Season in Westfield with Fresh Take on Gershwin

Guest pianist Michael Fennelly and Harmonium Choral Society perform with the New Jersey Festival Orchestra in Westfield. Credits: Jackie Lieberman

WESTFIELD, NJ — The New Jersey Festival Orchestra kicked off its 2015-2016 season Saturday night with Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” presented with the world premiere of a new choral part by guest pianist Michael Fennelly. The new part, about a couple falling in love, was performed by the Harmonium Choral Society.

Music Director and Conductor David Wroe told the audience of the serendipitous way the performance came about. He and Fennelly met up one day to chat, and as he was leaving Fennelly mentioned, “I have this rather interesting project that I’ve been working on,” Wroe remembered. And when Fennelly explained his work to finish the choral part that George Gershwin had envisioned for “Rhapsody” before his death, “I nearly dropped my coffee,” Wroe said.

Fennelly expressed his excitement at hearing the part performed for an audience for the first time.

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“I feel like a little kid,” he said.

Afterward, Fennelly said that the experience was “really fun.”

Fennelly was thankful to Wroe for giving his new version of the piece a chance and he was optimistic that it will catch on elsewhere.

“I think the piece is going to really be part of the repertoire,” Fennelly said.

The NJFO also performed Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture” and Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony.

A second performance will take place Sunday, Oct. 11, at 3 p.m. at Drew University in Madison. Single tickets are $26-$70. Discounted season passes are still available.  Learn more at

The orchestra performed its season opener at the Westfield Presbyterian Church on a new bigger, higher stage thanks to benefactors David Badertscher, Keith and Kathleen Hertell, Norman and Kristina Luka, Arthur Patchett, Jitendra and Veena Sharma and Thomas and Sunita Varkey.

Editor's Note: NJ Festival Orchestra is an advertiser of TAPintoSPF. For advertising inquiries, email

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