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Sarah-Chang-bannerThe skilled and glamorous Sarah Chang pays tribute to the star-crossed lovers of WEST SIDE STORY as the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra returns to Red Bank for a pair of events Saturday.

For their latest in a long-running seasonal series of presentations at the Count Basie Theatre, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has not-so-quietly introduced something new to the mix: the concept of the “No Shush” concert event.

Designed specifically for energetic and culturally curious young listeners ages 3 to 12, the family-friendly offering makes its Basie bow this Saturday, January 17 at 3 pm with a pre-show “instrument petting zoo” and other activities in the lobby — taking it inside to the auditorium for a performance (including selections from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf) by the New Jersey Symphony Chamber Players. It’s being billed as “classical music with all the chatter, questions, dancing and moving around desired” — so let the fuddy-duddies stew in their boxes; this one’s an expansively entry-level entertainment aimed at the folks for whom much of the world’s loftiest music was created in the first place.

Then at 8 pm, the NJSO sticks around Monmouth Street to complete the second half of Saturday’s twi-nighter — a star-kissed (and conceivably shush-worthy) program that pays tribute to a pair of 20th century American masters.

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A new family-friendly series known as ‘No Shush’ debuts at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank this Saturday. Structured  for kids aged 3 to 12, the program combines classical music by the New Jersey Symphony Chamber Players, a performance of ‘Peter and the Wolf’ by the Monmouth Academy of Ballet and a pre-show ‘instrument petting zoo’ – all in an atmosphere designed to encourage chatter, questions, dancing and movement.

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A 2010 performance of the Monmouth Civic Chorus, conducted by Mark Shapiro, at the First Presbyterian Church, Red Bank.

It’s a local holiday tradition of which it’s been said, “It won’t be Christmas without it” — and when the voices and instruments of The Monmouth Civic Chorus assemble in Red Bank on the afternoon of December 18, they’ll return once more to a classic oratorio that formed the heart of the very first MCC concert more than 50 years ago, a work that’s become synonymous with the expression of joy and celebration.

When the familiar notes of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s The Messiah soar toward the grand ceiling of the Count Basie Theatre, however, they’ll carry with them an inaudible but distinctly bittersweet undertone — a realization that the 2011 performance of this seasonal signifier will be the final one under the baton of longtime artistic director Mark Shapiro.

The veteran conductor, who announced his departure effective next spring, has in his 20-plus years at the podium helped the borough-based MCC evolve from a dedicated suburban troupe of “weekend warriors” to an acclaimed and confident force that’s appeared at Carnegie Hall and St. Peter’s Basilica, hosted some top-notch guest soloists — and challenged audiences and vocalists alike with new, unfamiliar, even experimental programming that would be the envy of many big-city chorales.

For the Basie concert, of course, it’s all about the comfort and joy of some favorite holiday choral music — and this coming Saturday and Sunday, lovers of harmonious human voices in all their intricacy and splendor can rejoice in the fact that no less than THREE marvelous organizations will be making some beautiful sounds around the greater Green.

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