Trenton has its own musical tradition for welcoming the New Year. Modeled after Vienna, with American music added, the annual New Year’s Eve performance of the Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey (CPNJ) is its leading concert. This year, for the first time, it includes a soloist. Guest pianist Leon Bates joins the orchestra for George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” CPNJ’s music director, Daniel Spalding, conducts. The performance takes place Sunday, December 31, in Patriots’ Theater of Trenton’s War Memorial Building at 8 p.m.
Traditionally CPNJ partners with radio station WWFM for the December 31 concert. The station broadcasts it from Trenton concert to a worldwide audience. David Osenberg, music director of WWFM, is the on-stage host at the War Memorial. Alice Weiss, WWFM program director, welcomes the radio audience offstage and presents intermission events.
The partnership helps the orchestra establish itself in the community and the station reach larger audiences than those in the concert hall.
And while this year’s listening audience has to stay tuned to see if an unanticipated union-related problem causes radio silence on New Year’s Eve, the partnership between the station and the orchestra has been positive and provides a presence for the Capital Philharmonic which replaced the Greater Trenton Symphony Orchestra after its demise in 2012. (See U.S. 1, April 30, 2014.) Following a critical financial period initially, the orchestra won tax-exempt status in January, 2015, permitting both individual and corporate donors to deduct contributions to the orchestra as charitable gifts.
On air or not, Spalding says the concert is a bright way to end the year.“We always play happy music, a different program each year. It’s lighter music than the other concerts. In the tradition of Vienna, we always include a waltz. This year it’s ‘The Blue Danube.’”
He is also upbeat about the venue and audience. “The renovated War Memorial is a great hall,” he says. “It has very good acoustics. Almost anywhere you sit you get a good sound. And the orchestra can hear itself well.”
“Trenton audiences are very appreciative,” Spalding says. “The general thrust of many parts of the city is to make Trenton an arts hub. My goal is to make the orchestra central to arts rejuvenation in Trenton.”
“The orchestra is a high quality group,” Spalding says. “This is our fourth year, and the quality keeps going up. The musicians are becoming close knit. The orchestra is starting to coalesce and become a real team.”
Indeed, Spalding, a former Philadelphian, is so taken with Trenton and the orchestra that he left Philadelphia in April. “My wife and I moved to Trenton so we can be part of the Trenton community,” he says. He is married to pianist Gabriela Imreh. (See U.S. 1, February 11, 2015 for their tale of escaping from Romania) “I love the neighbors and the neighborhood. We can walk downtown. I can walk to the War Memorial. It was the orchestra that attracted us.”
Born in Wichita, Spalding came to the Trenton area in 1988, when he became the orchestra conductor at Trenton State College, now the College of New Jersey. He founded the Philadelphia Virtuosi Orchestra in 1993.
David Osenberg, Spalding’s chief collaborator at WWFM, traces the station’s transmission of live performances back about a decade and says the station now transmits more live concerts than any other radio station in the U.S. The listener-supported station, founded in 1982, operates from the West Windsor campus of Mercer County Community College.
Meticulously, Osenberg distinguishes between two sorts of live recordings. “Live” performances can consist of music recorded as it is performed, and released after performers edit and approve the release. Since no music is performed during intermissions, only the actual playing is released.
The second, riskier type of “live” broadcast consists of an actual performance as it unfolds. Such a broadcast would include the sounds of strings breaking on violins, the unfortunate noises when a brass instrument refuses to cooperate, the remarks of MCs at the performance, and special intermission events prepared for radio audiences. Let’s call the second sort of performance a “simultaneous” broadcast.
A New Year’s Eve concert is a candidate only for a “simultaneous” broadcast, not the ordinary “live” broadcast delayed by editing, Osenberg contends. “You can’t broadcast a New Year’s Eve concert on another day.” For the upcoming CPNJ concert he will be visible to the War Memorial audience, acting as an MC.
Today minimal technical staff is required for a simultaneous broadcast, Osenberg says. “Whatever is happening on stage goes into a unit no bigger than the carry-on permitted on an airplane. The unit is hooked up to the Internet, and then to the station, which sends the transmission out on the air. It’s virtually instantaneous. It makes possible a recording whose quality is very close to what is being heard in the hall, and it happens automatically in real time, without human intervention.”
Sending out a simultaneous broadcast to the world requires only turning on a switch. Advanced technical systems do the rest. “Just power the little thing up,” Osenberg says. “As long as it’s connected on both ends, it works. Doing something like the New Year’s Eve broadcast becomes a cinch. Minimal space is required. The technical side has come close to perfection.”
Broadcasting from the War Memorial has its pluses and minuses, Osenberg says. “Bill Nutter, who runs the War Memorial, is amenable to what we need. But there are logistical problems. We need to make physical electrical connections to the Internet. We need to keep the wings of the stage clear so there’s enough space for the performers and for our staff to do interviews.”
The needs of both those attending the performance, as well as the radio listeners, must be met at the same time, Osenberg says. “There’s a big difference between capturing sound for a radio broadcast and amplifying sound for the audience at the performance. The orchestra does not need to be amplified. But when I’m speaking into the mike on stage, I have to be amplified so that both the War Memorial audience and the radio listeners can hear me. We need recording engineers who know how to do it. They’re really the stars of the broadcast.”
WWFM’s awareness, about a decade ago, of its location in the rich area for concerts between New York and Philadelphia led to its leadership as a broadcaster of live music, says Osenberg. “We wanted to be, we needed to be, more than a radio station that played CDs,” he adds. Starting with an FM signal in New Jersey, the station added HD transmission and was able to form partnerships with performers and festivals. “Now there are 70 different partners whose concerts we broadcast,” Osenberg says. “They get much larger audiences than could fit into their venues. From our point of view, we provide live music-making experiences.”
Osenberg cites some of WWFM’s live offerings. “Every weekday at noon there is a live concert. Every Monday evening we broadcast music from the great music schools in the country or from local schools. Most Fridays we broadcast live music recordings of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, or events from the Institute for Advanced Study. The majority of the time, CDs are broadcast.”
Decisions about what to broadcast live are made by general manager Peter Fretwell and WWFM’s development team. A question they frequently ask is: “Do we have the necessary staff?” WWFM’s staff consists of six full-time and eight part-time on-air hosts.
Osenberg was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1959. His father was the office-systems manager for a large construction company in Chicago; his mother was a housewife. After completing undergraduate work at Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois, Osenberg earned graduate degrees in music composition and theory from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
After developing what he calls “a vast knowledge of records” as a manager for Tower Records in Philadelphia and then for the Naxos recording label, Osenberg went to work part-time for the WWFM record library. In 2006 he suggested an interview program on WWFM. Osenberg hosted the show, called “Cadenza.” In 2014 “Cadenza” won a Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson award. “Cadenza” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m.
Osenberg is working on a new live event for early May. “We’re hoping to combine the best players of three youth orchestras in the area to form an All-Star Youth Orchestra,” he says. Members would come from the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra, Central New Jersey Youth Orchestra, and Bucks County Youth Orchestra. The All-Stars are scheduled for Rob Kapilow’s “What Makes it Great” show, which airs monthly.
Osenberg expects that the All-Stars will be heard, not only locally, but in Florida, California, and other United States locations; in the Far East, and in Europe. “We know,” he says, “because we’re a listener-supported radio station and people from all those places support us.”
Despite the unresolved issues regarding the New Year’s Eve Concert, the Langhorne, Pennsylvania, father of two looks forward to the challenge. “What’s not to like about doing a live radio broadcast with an excited audience, familiar and favorite music, and a sense of occasion — based on the clock?”
New Year’s Eve Concert, Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey. Patriots Theater, Trenton War Memorial, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton. Saturday, December 31, 8 p.m. $10 to $75. 215-893-1999. www.Capitalphilharmonic.com.
WWFM Radio. 24 hours a day. In central New Jersey at 89.1. Online at wwfm.org.