For the Central Jersey Symphony Orchestra, 50 Years of Musical Magic

The community orchestra’s anniversary season kicks off Nov. 10.

Music director Michael Avagliano conducts the Central Jersey Symphony Orchestra during a perfomance last season at Drew University. The CJSO celebrates its 50th anniversary this season. Courtesy of Karen Mancinelli

Managing the Central Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s more than 50-person ensemble is no easy task. The orchestra includes professional musicians, volunteer players and a handful of college students. The CJSO also collaborates with other performing groups. The scheduling alone might seem like a recipe for disaster, but composer and music director Michael Avagliano says it’s just the right mix.

“The core of the orchestra is volunteer members from all across New Jersey and all across every walk of life,” says Avagliano. “The fact that they all come together and create this beautiful gel of an organization is really amazing.”

Avagliano first performed with the CJSO as a violinist and concertmaster. In 2004, a chance to fill in as conductor put him on the path to his current role, which he assumed in 2008.

Learning from each other and collaboration are constant themes for the CJSO, a nonprofit celebrating its 50th anniversary this season. State funding administered by the Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission supports the orchestra, as well as contributions from members. Concerts take place at various New Jersey venues. Under a partnership with Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, the orchestra rehearses and has performed in RVCC’s Nash Theater. Also through the partnership, the orchestra gains audience and fresh talent, while RVCC students receive valuable performing experience.

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“The students that I taught that were participating in it really appreciated this advantage,” says former music department chairman Anthony Strong. “It’s a very professional, great thing that we’re happy to have.” Strong, now retired, was a key advocate for the orchestra’s presence on campus.

The 50th-anniversary season kicks off November 10 with a performance of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1 at the Pingry School in Basking Ridge. James Yang, winner of the Young Pianist Competition of New Jersey, will be featured as a guest player. On January 17, the dancers of the Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy, a public high school in Elizabeth, will add visuals to the orchestra’s performance of Sleeping Beauty. The season concludes April 26 with a program of Beethoven, in collaboration with Music in the Somerset Hills.

For Avagliano, the goal is to create magical moments on stage.

“If we can produce and give something like that to the audience,” says Avagliano, “then we’ve got a victory for the orchestra—and the members really believe in that. Which is one of the things I love about it.”

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