South Jersey’s orchestra in residence tries something a little less classical, but still classic as it returns to the Borgata
As the Bay-Atlantic Symphony saw its 25th anniversary approaching last year, Paul Herron, executive director of the orchestra, and symphony execs decided they needed to make a splash. Long known for playing in Cape May in the summer and at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and Cumberland County College, the symphony decided it was time to test the waters of Atlantic City.
Of course, it’s better to break in big with something new and unexpected. So the symphony teamed with Cirque de la Symphonie, which set circus and trapeze acts against classical music.
“We really wanted to do something special for our 25th anniversary and I had known about the Cirque act and we just thought it would give us a very exciting show,” Herron says. “So we went to the Borgata with the idea and they loved it and said, ‘That sounds like fun.’ And it was just a great time with jugglers and acrobats flying over our heads.”
But more than that, the show brought the symphony a round of publicity and goodwill it may have never received before.
“The response was wonderful,” Herron says. “And it really got our name out there and gave us a very high visibility. It showed people we could put on great music and perform at a big venue. It helped us all through our season [Nov.-May] last year.”
So as the symphony’s 26th anniversary approaches, Herron and Jed Gaylin, musical director of the symphony, faced an unusual problem. How do you top last year’s show?
“It was something we were concerned about,” Herron says. “Last year was such a great show. But we won’t have trapeze acts flying over us this year. But we still wanted to do something really special and step outside ourselves. So along with special guest Dave Bennett we are going to put on a swing show. We’re going to recreate a night out in the ’40s.”
The performance is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Borgata.
Clarinetist Bennett and his sextet (clarinet, piano, bass, drums, guitar and vocalist Carol McCartney) specialize in saluting the great Benny Goodman. The group has developed a program specifically for symphonies and pops orchestras.
“It’s a great evening, especially since they bring a vocalist,” Herron says. “We are going to back the sextet with a full 50-piece orchestra, so it should be pretty powerful. And we are also bringing in a very gifted pianist in Jeffrey Biegel. He’s going to do Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ which is just a beautiful piece of music. It should be a night that appeals to a lot of people.”
But wait a minute. Benny Goodman? Gershwin? Where are the Beethoven and Brahms? Isn’t that what symphonies play?
“You’re right, usually we play classical,” Herron says. “But we came up with a game plan a few years ago saying, ‘What can we do to expand our presence in the South Jersey community?’ And we decided we couldn’t limit ourselves. We have to try new things and new approaches. We can’t sit on top of some white tower saying we only do classical. Especially in Atlantic City where there are so many types of acts going on at any time. We have to do something to stand out there or we’ll just get buried.”
Part of the commitment also brought new programs into being, such as a lecture series by Paul Somers, which reaches out to three counties (Atlantic, Cumberland and Cape May). The symphony also has programs to bring music to veterans and the visually impaired. But its latest move brings another county into the symphony’s sphere as Rowan University joins the orchestra as a new venue this season.
“That basically puts us into venues in three counties adding Gloucester County,” Herron says. “I think we are the only regional symphony in the state that plays three venues.”
Not bad for a symphony founded in 1983 as the Bridgeton Symphony in Cumberland County.
“Our members do drive a lot,” laughs Herron. “We have some travel expenses.”
Yet for fans of the symphony, expensive is not the word. The gala at the Borgata for example has ticket prices of $35, $50 and $65; down significantly form last year’s performance, which sold seats for $75 and $100.
“We have a great relationship with [the PNC Arts Alive program], which gives us a ticket subsidy,” Herron says. “That’s something we really wanted to do. We want this to be affordable to people so they can enjoy a great night of music. Through PNC, we’ll be offering a flat rate for our regular season of about $25 a performance. I think that’s unheard of — seeing a 50-piece symphony for $25.”
Still, the theme of any night with the symphony is great music. Gaylin, maestro and musical director of the company enters his 13th season with the symphony. Under Gaylin, the orchestra quickly renamed the Bay-Atlantic Symphony, has grown and attracted national attention.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa has announced that the Bay-Atlantic Symphony will bring masterpieces by Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven and Prokofiev to The Music Box in a series of five concerts from July 7 through August 18.
Atlantic City is about to get a healthy dose of classical culture courtesy of a very unlikely source.
“Performing is something we’ve always enjoyed a great deal. It’s a great part of what we do. It helps that the people, who come out are always into the music and what we do when we’re onstage.”
Members of the Bay-Atlantic Symphony will present a three-day free musical extravaganza at various indoor and outdoor venues in Atlantic City Friday through Sunday, Oct. 14-16.
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