RED BANK: SYMPHONY OF THE SENSATIONAL

xian zhangThe New Jersey Symphony’s dynamic new conductor Xian Zhang (above) takes the Count Basie stage for a Saturday night Tchaikovsky session. Broadway/TV actor-singer Norm Lewis (below) joins the NJSO for a little “Music of the Night” on April 15.

norm lewisContinuing a long and celebrated association with the Count Basie Theatre — one that’s taken an innovative and eclectic turn here in 2016, with guest performances by avant-garde percussionist Lisa Pegher and Broadway bombshell Megan Hilty — the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra returns to Red Bank with a stepped-up schedule that presents an unprecedented two distinctly different programs, within the space of one week.

The NJSO made waves late last year, when it named as its new music director the first woman to wield the baton in that role: Xian Zhang, the China-born prodigy whose move to the West in 1998 saw her serve an acclaimed tenure as associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic, while guesting with some of the top orchestras on either side of the Atlantic.

Hailed for her animated, passionate “audience favorite” style, the conductor (who first guested with the NJSO in 2010) takes the podium this Saturday, April 9, for a program entitled Zhang Conducts Tchaikovsky 4.

As the name suggests, the centerpiece of the 8 p.m. concert is a performance of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “passionate, foreboding” Fourth Symphony, the 1878 work that, in the NJSO’s program notes, “evokes the awesome power of Fate to shape human lives.” It’s paired on the program with another Tchaikovsky piece, the 1876 march known as Marche Slave.

Rounding out the program is Samuel Barber’s 1939 Violin Concerto, featuring a spotlighted soloist who’s been similarly electrifying audiences everywhere she appears: the young Grammy-nominated violinist Jennifer Frautschi. Take it here for tickets ($23-$78) — and arrive early for an onstage Classical Conversation, one hour prior to the performance.

Picking up the conversation from February’s well-received concert with stage star Hilty, the New Jersey Symphony and guest conductor Thomas Wilkins (Omaha Symphony, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra) shake hands with the pop-music world once more on the night of Friday, April 15, with an 8 p.m. program featuring stage-and-screen actor and vocalist Norm Lewis.

Fans of ABC-TV’s Scandal will know the Florida native from his recurring role as Senator Edison Davis on the hit series — but it’s on the New York stage that the Tony nominee has garnered his greatest raves and made historical waves, as the first African American actor to take on the title role of Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera. His many other high-profile projects on the Broadway boards include Les Miserables (as Inspector Javert), The Who’s Tommy, The Little Mermaid, and the 2011 revival of Porgy and Bess, for which he netted a Drama Desk Award in his lead role.

When he makes his Red Bank debut (for the event that replaces a previously announced “salute to the music of the Mad Men era”), Lewis will offer up a “Broadway and beyond” retrospective of his signature showtunes and personal pop songbook favorites. Take it here for tickets ($23-$83) — and go  for details on the NJSO’s return to Red Bank on June 11, when Jacques Lacombe makes his final Basie appearance with a “Three R’s” program of Rachmaninoff, Ravel, and twentysomething composer Chris Rogerson.