Singer-dancers Joan Hess and Kirby Ward (above) are special guest Valentines of the New Jersey Symphony this Friday night at the Basie, and star conductor Xian Zhang (below) leads the orchestra back to Red Bank on February 25.   

When it secured the services of the internationally celebrated Xian Zhang as principal conductor last year, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra upped the ante on its bid to earn a place among the New York region’s premier musical organizations.

Now, the orchestra returns to its coastal New Jersey venue of choice — Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre — with a February slate that stands as a virtual valentine to its own versatility, whether waltzing across the works of the old masters or doing a Tin Pan Alley tapdance through the Great American Songbook.

For the annual Valentine’s season visit Friday night, the NJSO teams with a quite-dynamic duo of guest artists — vocalists and dancers Joan Hess and Kirby Ward — for a cupid-appropriate Dancing & Romancing concert that spotlights the words and music of such golden-age songsmiths as Cole Porter (“Begin the Beguine”), the Gershwins (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me”) and Jerome Kern (“The Song Is You”).

Also summoned forth are the sonic signatures and styles of artists such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Eleanor Powell, Glenn Miller and Astaire and Rogers, as the entertainers—who perform regularly both together and solo— showcase their wide-ranging skills in a grand setting that whisks them from the cabaret to the concert hall. Guest conductor Gemma New takes the baton for the orchestra’s latest reach across the aisle into pop territory, with tickets to the 8 p.m. event (starting at $20) available here.


On Saturday, February 25, Xian Zhang returns to the Count Basie, joined by the full NJSO and guest artist Kirill Gerstein for a program that’s highlighted by “Rach 2” — or Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, if you’re being formal — with the Russian-born pianist taking center stage for that canonical keyboard masterpiece.

Also on the agenda for the 8 p.m. concert are Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and the Overture to Giuseppe Verdi’s “Nabucco” — with earlybird arrivals treated to an illuminating Classical Conversation presentation that begins one hour prior to the main event. Take it here for tickets ($23 – $78) — and here for details on more upcoming attractions on the Basie boards, including Meryl Streep’s cinematic turn as the exuberant amateur operatic diva Florence Foster Jenkins (tonight, February 8), The TEN Tenors (March 9), and Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (March 16).