December 31 marked the 23rd year for New Jersey’s biggest and brightest New Year’s Eve family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts – with over 200 artists, 89 events in 24+ venues – representing dance, theatre, music, world cultures, visual arts and children’s events. For all 23 years, Morris Arts has served as First Night’s artistic programmer, securing topflight talents who attract thousands of people from throughout the state and beyond. Once again, nearly 2/3 of the program featured new artists (or artists returning after several years), many of whom have performed at top venues (the White House, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden), won international recognition, performed on national radio/TV, in major films and/or collaborated with superstars of performing arts. On that night, for a remarkably affordable price ($17.50-$25!), nearly 5,000 people experienced everything from classic rock ‘n roll to the Tuvan-style Throat Singing!
L-R: The British Invasion Tribute; The Frank Vignola Duo (Vinny Raniolo, Frank Vignola); Bucky Pizzarelli (photo by John Marelli).
On the jazz/rock front, crowds jammed the Mayo Performing Arts Center to hear the note-perfect classic 60s rock from The Beatles to the Beach Boys offered by The British Invasion Tribute band (which opened for Ringo Starr) while others took in new country rock with the Tequila Rose Band. Capacity crowds savored jazz guitar legends (the fabulous Frank Vignola with special guests Bucky Pizzarelli and Gene Bertoncini, not to mention our own sizzling jazz pianist, Rio Clemente, the “Bishop of Jazz.”
On the blues, bluegrass and blends front, Matuto’s unique Louisiana bluegrass/Brazilian mix had the audience dancing in the aisles. Others grooved with the Cobra Brothers (classic blues) and hot picking, rockin’ honk-tonk, roots, country and Western swing of the Silk City/Reckon So Mashup with ace fiddler Kenny Kosek (who played with Willie Nelson and others).
L-R: Silk City/Reckon So Mashup with fiddler Kenny Kosek and vocalist Mary Olive Smith; Conductor Leon Hyman with the New Jersey Festival Orchestra; Greg Giannascoli, marimba master; Svetlana Smolina, piano virtuoso; Matuto (blending Brazilian and bluegrass).
Such select ensembles as Harmonium, The NJ Festival Orchestra, Solid Brass Lite, along with soloists like organist Gordon Turk, marimba master Greg Giannascoli, and award-winning piano virtuoso Svetlana Smolina showcased classical music with their virtuosic, fiery, elegant and passionate repertoires.
For those who love world cultures…they were able to sample Chinese Theatre Works’ hand puppet show, learn tribal dances from around the country with Redhawk Native American dancers, or take an aural tour of China with Music from China’s exotic erhu (fiddle) and pipa (lute) performances. The Shubanjali dancers, in jeweled costumes, performed classical and folk dances of India, while fiery songstress Michela Musolino and her trio shared passionate songs of Sicily and South Italy. Those who love Eastern European, Balkan and Klezmer music, delighted (and danced to) the amazing music of The Kleztraphobix or channeled the spirit of Bob Marley with Random Test Reggae’s Caribbean reggae. And, what better way to welcome the new year than by dancing to the hot salsa rhythms of Colombia’s Armando Son Jimenez y Orquestra Sabor ?!
L-R: Indian Classical dancer, Suba Parmar of Shubanjali; Redhawk Native American dancer; Colombian salsa band, Armando Son Jimenez y Orquestra Sabor; Music From China Duo – Sun Li on pipa and Wang Gouwei on erhu; Michela Musolina, Sicilian songstress; Random Test Reggae.
On the historical front, Martha Washington held forth on First Ladies while Meet the Musicians introduced composer “Johannes Brahms” who shared his life and music with the audience . Audiences met the Lord of Misrule and heard Renaissance 12th Night/ musical merrymaking on replica period instruments played by the costumed Early Music Players of NJ.
L-R: First Ladies according to Martha Washington; The Early Music Players; Galumpha dancers; Dennis Kobray as Brahms with Meet the Musicians .
Fans of Dance (or physics students) marvelled at the amazing dancers of Galumpha, whose human “architecture” formations defied gravity and mixed muscle with merriment. And, caller Mary Moody had them swingin’ their partners, as she brought her own special brand of square dancing fun for the whole family.
L-R: Dinoman with lifesize (young) Brontosaurus; Dominic Rizzo with frog; Chinese Theatreworks hand puppets; Illusionist Anthony Salazar and assistant.
Kids of all ages delighted in Dinoman’s Dinosaurs (with lifesize inflatable dinosaurs!!), Rizzo’s live reptile show, illusionist Anthony Salazar’s comedy magic, Mr. Fish’s Phenomenal Physics and the Chinese Theatreworks’ hand puppet show. The early session for younger children included hula hooping for the whole familywith Whirled Revolution, Art 4 Kids with fine artist Christine Wagner and Building Kidz:Imagination LEGO! (building with LEGOS) while The Children’s Fun Festival offered its lively mix of magic, juggling, balloon animals, facepainting and an organ grinder!
The more adventurous audiences heard Throat (Overtone) singer Alex Glenfield who has mastered the Tuvan Throat Singing style, and can sing more than one note simultaneously! It’s like NOTHING you’ve ever heard!! Or, experienced the “alien” music of Michael Durek on the theremin, the only instrument played without being touched! Audience members even had a chance to try their own hand at the instrument. And then there was Alissa Dirato, the Living Statue, who remained immobile and marble-like until she moved!!
L-R: Throat (overtone) singer Alex Glenfield; Thereminist Michael Durek; Classical comedic pianists Nadia and Vladimir Zaitsev; Comedian John Fisch; “Living Statue,” Alissa Dirato.
Still others banished the winter blues and laughed their way into the New Year with Comedian Jon Fisch (hand-picked to open for Jerry Seinfeld and featured on Late Night With David Letterman) or giggled as the Piano Duo of Nadia and Vladimir Zaitsev performed music From Bach to Rock, blending humor and pianistic skill. And then, there was street performer, George Esparza, whose Flying Flea Circus and Wahoo Medicine Show brought drama and flim-flam to a new level. Three visual arts exhibits (displaying over 200 artworks) and two sets of fireworks topped off that magical evening known as First Night® Morris County. To check out the full lineup of artists, visit www.firstnightmorris.com.
Enjoy some VIDEOS of some of the First Night performances:
Hear a little of pianist Svetlana Smolina’s virtuoso performances HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE – with some of her finale, the devilishly difficult Carmen Fantasy (Bizet/Horowitz) HERE, audience reaction HERE.
The dancers of Galumpha defied gravity, creating human “insects”, balancing and lifting in ways most of us haven’t seen and generally using muscle and merriment to enchant audiences with their unique, inventive choreography, HERE , HERE and their striking finale HERE.
Silk City/Reckon So Mashup brought a taste of honky-tonk/bluegrass to the evening, HERE.
To see all ages dancing to the Caribbean beats of Random Test Reggae, click HERE.
The refined sounds of a Renaissance 12th Night musical celebration were also heard HERE, courtesy of The Early Music Players of New Jersey.
Thereminist Michael Durek provided the public with a chance to try their hands at playing the unique instrument. Check out one person’s masterful effort HERE.
It was a family affair as multiple generations tried their hands at hula hooping with Whirled Revolution, HERE.
And you thought it was just a marble statue…that is until Living Statue, Alissa Dirato, moved to pose for a photo with a member of the public…HERE.
Undaunted by darkness or cold, street performer and ringmaster of the Flying Flea Circus, George Esparza captivated audiences with the antics of his flying fleas, HERE
It was a truly magical night for all….The PHOTOS, courtesy of Morris Arts, the Daily Record, the Star-Ledger, J. Sovelove and MorristownGreen.com say it all:
Special thanks go to all the media who helped us to spread the word for this spectacular event. Check out the extensive FIRST NIGHT articles online:
List of all MG articles at http://morristowngreen.com/tag/first-night-morris-2015/
From the night of the event:
**youtube video sampler of event (prominently featuring: Shivalik Ghoshal/Alex Glenfield) http://morristowngreen.com/tag/first-night-morris-2015/
Recorder Papers’ Out & About cover story on First Night:
Additional coverage on First Night (previously collected):
Media coverage for First Night:
Dec. 2014 issue of The Morristown News had a nice article on p. 17