The bucolic town of Ocean Grove is a truly a summer star of the Jersey Shore!
Not only has this quaint little seaside town welcomed and delighted vacationers for over a century, but on Ocean Grove’s tree-lined streets, visitors can find one of the largest assemblages of authentic Victorian architecture in the nation.
Other summertime highlights in the town include dining at Nagle’s, a restored century-old pharmacy which functions as a popular eatery, and enjoying dessert at Days Ice Cream, another iconic Ocean Grove establishment which has been serving up yummy treats in the same location since 1876!
A second summer star of the Jersey Shore is Ocean Grove’s historic Great Auditorium.
Constructed in 1894, the 6,250 seat venue is not only used for religious purposes, but is also a prime spot for music lovers to enjoy classical, pop, and religious concerts right in the heart of town.
The Auditorium’s excellent acoustics — the result of its unique barrel-vaulted wooden ceiling — have been widely acclaimed by audience members and musicians alike. In fact, it is said that conductor Leonard Bernstein even once compared its acoustics to Carnegie Hall!
One final summer star of the Jersey Shore crown is The Great Auditorium’s “Summer Stars” concert series.
This selection of five classical performances is held annually on five consecutive Thursday nights during the summer season at the Auditorium.
Produced by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, this year’s offerings have already included such classical performers as The Imperial Brass, The Solisti Ensemble, pianist Gleb Ibanov, and guitarist Chaconne Klaverenga.
And for the final “Summer Stars” concert of the season, a showcase of classical music entitled Orchestral Legends and Romance — starring violinist Christine Kwak, organist Gordon Turk, conductor Jason Tramm, and the MidAtlantic Opera Orchestra — is poised to take the historic Great Auditorium stage on Thursday, August 3, 2017.
Audience members take their seats in this beautiful hall and excitedly await tonight’s feast of classical music.
Turk, organist and artistic director of Ocean Grove’s “Summer Stars” series, and Tramm, tonight’s conductor and Director of Music Ministries at The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, take the stage together to welcome the crowd.
Turk begins by providing the audience with a preview of the three major pieces which will constitute this evening’s performance — Boellmans’ Fantasie Dialoguee pour Orgue e Orchestra, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, and Horatio Parker’s Concerto in E-Flat for Organ and Orchestra.
After concert-master Byung-kook Kwak tunes the 65-piece MidAtlantic Opera Orchestra, he is embraced by conductor Tramm as Turk takes a seat behind the console of the Great Auditorium’s historic pipe organ. Then, Tramm and the entire orchestra take a pre-performance bow.
Once the orchestra begins to play Fantasies Dialoguee pour Orgue e Orchestre — a piece specifically written for pipe organ and orchestra — the first thing one notices is the richness of the sound in The Great Auditorium, a beautiful setting for enjoying live music both in sonic and visual terms.
Turk’s magnificent pipe organ enters — at times, floating above the orchestra; at times, filling the auditorium with massive sound; and at other times, perfectly blending with the orchestra.
Featuring joyful and uplifting pizzicato sections, ultimately, the music builds in intensity and suspense, and conductor Tramm guides the musicians to a glorious ending to enthusiastic “bravos” and applause from the crowd!
Concertmaster Byong-kook Kwak takes a moment to inform the audience that the next piece — Tchaikovky’s Violin Concerto in D Major — will be performed by his daughter, Christine Kwak, on the very same violin that was played at the premiere of the composition in 1881!
Christine Kwak takes her place on the stage in front of the orchestra to large applause. As the first movement, the Allegro moderato, commences, the orchestra begins to crescendo. Soon, Ms. Kwak joins them, tripping and skipping above the orchestra, her historic violin sounding stunning in this superb listening space.
At times, when the orchestra plays without her, Christine stretches her neck and wipes her strings as she listens to the other musicians playing, waiting for her to join them once again. And when she does, she performs with accuracy and heart, the music she produces sounding breathtakingly beautiful.
Her fingers and bow fly across the strings making her violin sing and soar, with the orchestra eventually joining her to add their own climactic melody to hers.
Rapidly playing on the upper register of her violin, Christine creates sounds of exquisite harmony and dissonance as she slides up and down the neck of her instrument.
As she plays, her music sounds like a flittering bird. At times, she appears to saw with her bow, whereas at other times, she effortlessly glides up and down the strings.
Kwak’s stunning performance of the Tchaikovsky is so impressive that audience members stand to cheer at the end of the first movement!
Following a momentary pause, conductor Tramm presents the second and third movements of the piece together.
The composition’s second movement — the Andante — Canzonetta — starts out very differently from the first, as it is slower and more melancholy in nature.
Here, Christine’s violin sounds mournful at times.
Soon, an oboe echoes and imitates her violin, showing an inclination to join her melancholy story.
In the piece’s third movement — the Allegro vivacissimo — each note holds more emotion than the next as the piece shifts mood, leading Christine and her violin to find a new voice as she saunters and meanders through the building cascades of sound.
As the tempo quickens, playing this piece demands complete concentration from the musicians and conductor, the music changing in an instant and making the physicality of the composition a rhythmic and melodic technical challenge.
The string section of the orchestra is featured as the musicians play what appear to be impossible runs of notes — each note standing alone, yet all running together in perfect symmetry.
As the orchestra continues to soar, the music starts to race away, the violin and orchestra chasing one another in a glorious romp before its powerful conclusion. Once again, this leads to energetic “bravos” and a standing ovation for Christine, Tramm, and the talented musicians of the MidAtlantic Opera Orchestra.
Following a short intermission, organist Turk and conductor Tramm once again take the stage to huge applause.
In the evening’s final piece, Parker’s Concerto in E-Flat for Organ and Orchestra, the orchestra and organ play during the first movement, the Allegro moderato/Andante.
At times, they create a thunderous sound in the Great Auditorium together. At other times, however, listeners can only discern a gentle whisper of the strings.
Concertmaster Byong-kook Kwak solos on his violin with a beautiful lyrical tone, and he soon engages in a conversation with a French horn. The gentle strumming and plucking of a harp adds beauty to the piece as the rest of the orchestra commences to fill in the space in between.
Turk’s entrance on the organ sounds like the sun rising and — in an unusual twist in this unique open-air venue — from outside its open windows and doors, cicadas can be heard appearing to join in on the louder portions of the music, perhaps sensing the vibrations of the strings and massive pipe organ, but somehow drastically quieting down again once the music is calm.
Ending with a lovely sustained chord, Tramm leads the group into the piece’s second movement, the Alegretto ma ben marcato. Like a question and answer in waltz time, this portion of the composition may remind some of the sound of a carousel organ accompanied by orchestral strings featuring alternating bowed figures with pizzicato plucking of the strings.
In the final movement, the Allegro moderato, molto resolute, the strings perform at a dynamically loud volume and Turk matches the intensity on his organ. The low notes rumble and the brass and strings alternate with the organ before continuing on their way.
Soon, the music shifts, and the organ and orchestra play in synchronicity. Each player’s part is as important as the next — all are inseparable — and, together, they create a massive sound that overtakes the auditorium and fills the souls of the delighted music lovers in the Great Auditorium.
When Turk plays his rumbling solo, the entire orchestra sits entranced until it is their turn to join the cacophony of notes which resolves into a glorious wall of sound to cheers, whistles, and yet another well-deserved standing ovation!
Following the performance, we take a moment to chat with several of the performers of tonight’s Summer Stars: Orchestral Legends and Romance concert.
First, we chat with organist Gordon Turk who talks about how, on tonight’s program, “the well-known violin piece” — Tchaikovky’s Violin Concerto — “and the two relatively unknown organ pieces” — Boellmann’s Fantasie and Parker’s Concerto for Organ and Orchestra — “were very compatible with each other.” In addition, Turk notes, “It was great playing with all of these wonderful musicians of the MidAtlantic Opera Orchestra,” asserting, “you can always depend on them to make such wonderful music!”
With regards to her performance of the Violin Concerto, Christine Kwak reveals, “I’ve performed this piece a lot of times, and I will even be playing it in Korea in the Fall. But I love playing here at the Great Auditorium — the sound is so amazing — and I love playing alongside Gordon Turk and with this orchestra,” before going on to add, “The audiences here are so lovely — the way they receive the music here is really so special.”
We also chat with Christine’s mother, June, a pianist, who is in the audience tonight. Says June, about her daughter, “I am very proud.”
When asked if she ever gets anxious watching her daughter perform on stage, June serenely replies, “Christine has been playing ever since she was three, so I don’t get nervous — I have complete confidence in her.”
Outside the Great Auditorium, we also get to chat with several audience members who share their opinions of tonight’s Summer Stars: Orchestral Legends and Romance concert with us.
Says Sandra from Allenhurst, “I’ve been coming to the Summer Stars series for at least ten years and, overall, this is the best concert I’ve ever seen in the Great Auditorium. The first piece was magnificent. And Christine Kwak is always excellent, too; I’ve seen her perform here many times. And I have to say, I just loved the final piece, as well!”
Nancy from Ocean Grove calls the program, “wonderful,” adding, “It’s such a treat to have music of this quality right here in our own town. We have followed these shows for years, and Gordon Turk always finds this level of talent. Every concert, I think, ‘Can they top this?,” and they always do!’”
Bonnie from Ocean Grove agrees and adds, “This was one of the finest concerts I’ve seen! I especially liked Christine Kwak’s performance; she is graceful like a swan and is such a gracious young lady. And the MidAtlantic Orchestra is exceptional, too — they have such a nice mix of musicians. All in all, very well done!”
Lastly, Noreen from Ocean Grove exclaims, “Orchestral Legends and Romance was breathtaking! Christine Kwak’s playing literally stopped my heart. Hearing her play tonight, I had the same feeling I had when I heard Pavarotti sing ‘Nessun Dorma’ in person.”
Going on to note, “And the Great Auditorium is one of the stars of the show — every seat is perfect,” Noreen concludes by stating, “That is why really fine musicians love playing here — it’s a real treasure!”
For more information on violinist Christine Kwak, please go to solistiensemble.org. To learn more about organist Gordon Turk, click on gordonturk.com. For further information about conductor Jason Tramm, please see jasonctramm.com. Lastly, to learn about upcoming performances at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium — including a Labor Day and Broadway Celebration by Father Alphonse and the Orchestra of St. Peter by the Sea on September 2 — please go to oceangrove.org.
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