In the 2013 Winter Festival Jacques Lacombe, music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO), continues his investigations of natural elements that have inspired musical compositions and turns the spotlight on air and the atmosphere. The 2011 Festival focused on water; the 2012 Festival on fire. The winter festivals go beyond the concert stage by collaborating with non-musical organizations, which offer special events inspired by the NJSO theme.
To associate classical music with the environment gives us a chance to link music of the past to issues of today’s life, Lacombe says. Bringing partner organizations into the concert hall and exposing them to people who might not even know of their existence is a rich collaboration, he believes. “Orchestras need to have connections to the community, and I think that with partnerships, we are stronger. It goes back to being proud of who we are and what we have here in this state.”
Lacombe’s reaching beyond the concert hall affirms the ideas of Richard Dare, who takes over as president and chief executive officer of the NJSO today, just before the winter festival begins. As an orchestra executive, Dare helped rescued the faltering Brooklyn Philharmonic. Before that he built an international investment conglomerate. Both men agree about relating concert programs to concerns of daily life and about involving communities in professional performances.
The 2013 Winter Festival consists of two programs. The first takes place in New Brunswick’s State Theater on Saturday, January 5, at 8 p.m. as well as in Newark on Friday, January 4, and Sunday, January 6. Special events by non-musical organizations are scheduled for Newark. Michael Tippett’s Symphony No. 4, which calls for the sound of breathing, opens the program. Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” where the American Boychoir provides the finale’s wordless chorus, concludes the concert.
“It will be the first time I perform ‘The Planets’ with a boys’ choir,” Lacombe says. “The piece was written for female voices, but the work calls for a mystical sound, coming from the sky, and I thought children’s voices could work very well — they have less vibrato, and I think it will create an even stronger sense that you are hearing something from another world.”
The second program takes place in Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium on Friday, January 25, as well as in Newark on Saturday, January 26, and in Morristown on Sunday, January 27. Pieces scheduled are Peter Tchaikovsky’s “Tempest Fantasy Overture,” Jan Sibelius’ “The Tempest,” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (“The Pastoral”), which depicts a thunderstorm. The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey participates.
Tucked between the two winter festival concerts is a batch of concerts that includes the Beethoven Symphony and might qualify as having to do with air. NJSO trumpeter Garth Greenup breathes the solo part in Franz-Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto; the orchestra also plays Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Haydn,” which is based on the Austrian national anthem. That cohort of concerts is set for Friday, January 18, at 7:30 p.m. in Trenton’s War Memorial, as well as in Red Bank on Saturday, January 19, and in Englewood on Sunday, January 20.
The like-mindedness of Lacombe, now in his third season at the NJSO, and Dare, his new CEO, is evident in Dare’s account of an early encounter between the two. Interviewed by phone from New York City, Dare says, “From the first time Jacques and I met privately and sat down to dinner together, we talked about life and what is the legacy that we want to contribute to. What bubbled to the top was this: We want to be able to connect people to the relevancy of this art form.
“Here’s an example that I shared with Jacques that he laughed at and enjoyed: It’s shocking in our society that you can put on an opera, and show folks a story of love and betrayal with war and rape and redemption — huge themes. They’re the same themes that you see if you open up a newspaper. It’s been validated over the centuries that art encompasses this.”
But — and here comes the chuckle: “The only public discourse that occurs is: ‘The soprano hit the high notes well,’ or ‘The conductor dragged in the third movement.’ I felt that Jacques and I understood each other.”
Dare, 48, was born in Indiana, the second in a family of five children with a majority of boys. From age four he grew up on a dairy farm in northern California. “We milked cows and grew alfalfa,” he says. “It shaped who I am now. We had a large, rambling Victorian house and no TV because the reception was so bad. We had a four-party phone line. The most culture we had was the AM radio in the barn. I spent a lot of time working in the barn.”
“It was a wonderful way to grow up. I rode my bicycle to the schoolhouse. I brought in wood for the stove at school. It allowed a lot of time to think and imagine and wonder about the world. I read the Encyclopedia Britannica with my siblings. We started with the junior edition.”
Dare tells me that his first encounter with classical music occurred when he was 14. “I was cleaning the school and I pulled out an LP record. It had an attractive cover. The teacher let me take it home. It was Tchaikovsky’s ‘Francesca da Rimini.’ I was absolutely stunned. I was mesmerized by the soundscape and the story. I brought the record back, and asked the teacher if she would teach me to write music like this. She told me you had to take lessons. I tracked down a piano teacher who found that a neighbor had a piano. My brothers and I wheeled it up the stairs into the house. The teacher told me to get Czerny and Hanon. For the next three years I practiced seven days week seven hours a day. I was obsessed.”
“I began composing. I thought it was an avocation. I thought that all composers were dead. But I wanted to do it because it was so beautiful.”
Dare spent a year at Newbold College, outside of London, England. “I had a wonderful music composition teacher there,” he says. “Grandiosely, I wrote a piano concerto and some tone poems.” After returning to the United States he earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a master’s degree in education, with a focus in psychology, from California’s Loma Linda University.
Asked about his music background in a question-and-answer document distributed by the NJSO, he claims broad experience. “My primary focus in college was musical composition (composition, theory, harmony, counterpoint, orchestration and so forth) . . . I also studied the piano, organ, violin, trumpet and percussion for much of my youth. But my primary love was always writing music-concerti, tone poems, ensemble pieces, even a ballet.”
Looking back on his post-university prospects, he says, “Then it was time to grow up and get a job. One of the things you can do in the United States is be an entrepreneur. I ended up going into business. I learned that if you can write a piece, you can write a spread sheet. With both, you’re trying to organize something large and complex.
“Like anybody starting out you’re new and unproven. You don’t have a lot of connections, just book learning. You scramble and start out consulting, giving ideas. My first job was with an orthodontist. I consulted about how to develop a bigger business, and created a managed service organization.
“At first you don’t have the capital to invest. Gradually, you ask for a little equity instead of a consultant fee. Then you say, ‘We want to finance it.’ Then you say, `We want to do it ourselves and have the exclusive rights to it.’ You rise by being the person who has the better ideas.”
Dare calls a vacation with his wife, Kitty, in Japan, roughly a decade ago “an epiphany.” The outcome was the formation of Pacific Rim Partners, a private investment firm that melded American products and Japanese business practices. Dare learned Japanese. The couple decided to “do it the Japanese way and get involved in several lines of enterprise at once — restaurants, energy, infrastructure, technology, and media. We want to cooperate with competitors, not eliminate them,” he says.
And then his wife began studying art history for a master’s degree at Columbia University. “We set up little apartment for her and decide that I will visit her once a month. I jump back on the plane and head for the main office in Tokyo. I think, ‘This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.’ I love building the business, but I don’t want to be away from my family. In Tokyo I set in motion a plan to package the company and sell off the parts. It took about a year to find a home for everything.” Dare wondered what he would do with the rest of his life.
“I decided that music is what I really love. I started googling around. I googled Brooklyn because I had never been there. I thought there must be an orchestra.” The resident orchestra, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, had run out of funds and had canceled an entire season. Hoping to recover, they hired Alan Pierson, the founder of the avant-garde Alarm Will Sound ensemble as artistic director. “I sent him an E-mail and told him who I was,” Dare says. “We met and he laid out his vision. I wanted to execute the vision, to expand and refine it.”
With Dare on board as CEO of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the orchestra completed what one journalist called its “reboot” season of 2011-’12, performing programs geared to local residents in various neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Critics and audiences were enthusiastic.
Invited to apply for the vacancy at the NJSO when CEO Andre Gremillet moved to the Melbourne Symphony in Australia, Dare gave a dramatic initial presentation. “I was so excited to be able to speak with the trustees and other members of the NJSO Search Committee that I took the initiative to put together an entire printed book for each of them to share my thoughts about how we might fit together as a team and what my leadership might mean in the context of all they’ve already achieved together so far,” he says. “It may have been presumptuous of me to provide so much detail up front, but I felt the opportunity was really so immense that I wanted to communicate my thoughts as clearly as possible.”
The NJSO announced Dare’s appointment in early December. Soaking up his new environment, during a reception at Princeton’s Drumthwacket, he says. “I’m looking forward to 5 to 10 years in New Jersey.”
New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s 2013 Winter Festival, State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. With the American Boychoir, Saturday, January 5, 8 p.m. $20 to $88.
Winter concert, Trenton War Memorial, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton. Friday, January 18, 7:30 p.m. $20 to $76.
Winter Concert, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University. Friday, January 25, 8 p.m. $20 to $88.
973-624-3713 or www.njsymphony.org.