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‘Coming together in harmony’ at UJA benefit concert
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‘Coming together in harmony’ at UJA benefit concert

AUDIENCE MEMBERS at the 15th annual UJA Benefit Concert this Sunday in Newark will not only get to hear world-renowned Grammy-winning Israeli pianist Yefim Bronfman perform with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, they will also be treated to a singular musical event.

Bronfman’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 will be presented in an unusual format suggested by NJSO director Jacques Lacombe. Between the concerto’s movements, the orchestra will perform two of the other works on the program: Brahms’ Hungarian Dances Nos. 1 & 5, and Smetana’s “Three Dances from The Bartered Bride.” Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture” will open the concert.

Bronfman said that “as an American and Israeli, I am honored to perform at the 15th benefit concert on behalf of United Jewish Appeal of MetroWest NJ…. UJA and its partner agencies answer the diverse needs of so many people, providing a safety net for vulnerable Jews across the globe. UJA also connects MetroWest and Israel in profound ways that help to ensure the Jewish future.

“In many ways, the work of UJA is similar to my performance with the NJSO,” said Bronfman. “We are all dedicated to coming together in harmony.”

The impetus to make the 15th annual UJA Benefit Concert a unique musical event began with Judy and Stewart Colton of Short Hills, who suggested attracting a world-class musician to perform. Through their relationship with the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, they secured Bronfman, a fellow board member with Stewart of the AFIPO, to perform with the NJSO at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

To make the concert happen, United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ promoted the concert and “The Colton Challenge.” The challenge matched all new and increased gifts to 12 local beneficiary agencies, including UJA, and through the Coltons’ challenge raised the ceiling of support for the community, drawing strong attendance for the concert.

Family visit

When asked what inspired him to present the concerto in the unusual format, Lacombe said, “I’ve wanted to create a program like this for a long time. When I studied in Vienna, I learned about the way concerts were programmed in the time of Beethoven and Mozart. I thought it was interesting, because today, people approach going to a classical concert like going to a museum — don’t talk, don’t disturb the performance.

“But at the time those works were created, people weren’t used to listening to new music like a symphony from beginning to end,” said Lacombe. “If, in the middle of a symphony, they really liked a movement, they would applaud until the musicians played that movement again — in the middle of the piece.”

Lacombe added that he has great respect for Bronfman as a musician and is “very happy to work with Yefim again.” The pianist’s vision is “so clear that you just embrace it and go with it.”

“I think it is also important that at this special event celebrating the Jewish community,” said Lacombe, “we feature the incredible talent of such a prominent Jewish artist.”

Lacombe also emphasized the importance of connecting the NJSO with all the communities of New Jersey. “The Jewish community is a great supporter of the arts, and it has given us as musicians a great tradition,” he said. “This concert celebrates that connection, and it feels like visiting your family during the holidays.

“This is my first time conducting the UJA concert, and it is really a sort of musical feast. I am excited to be a part of this tradition.”

To see a conversation between Lacombe and Bronfman about the special way the Beethoven concerto will be presented, visit www.njsymphony.org/video/1112uja.htm.

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