APEX Ensemble: “Respecting tradition, embracing modernism”

One hundred years ago, in 1922, an ensemble later known as the Montclair Orchestra gave its first concert at the Montclair Art Museum. The ensemble grew to become the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, moving to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

Ninety-four years after the township’s first symphony orchestra, resident André Weker created the Orchester Montclair. Since 2016, the Orchester Montclair has grown, as has its vision.

And, like its predecessor, it has a new name.

APEX Ensemble continues to perform symphonic compositions. The season finale took place last Sunday at Central Presbyterian Church, with works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Gustav Mahler, Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt, as well as vocal performances by soprano Felicia Moore and baritone John Brancy.

The performance was noted for the excellence of its musicians and singers, and for the mix of older and younger performers. Older musicians come from distinguished organizations such as the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and the New Jersey Symphony. The youngest artists come from music conservatories and rub shoulders with “seasoned pros”.

“What we’re doing is intentionally bringing all of these top students together with professionals,” Weker said. “They are exposed to the intricacies of what it means to be a professional. How do you develop these understandings? We show how it works in the real world.

Ensemble APEX opens its season finale with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Ballad in A Minor” on Sunday afternoon. (ADAM ANIK/COURTESY APEX ENSEMBLE)

Ensemble APEX opens its season finale with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Ballad in A Minor” on Sunday afternoon. (ADAM ANIK/COURTESY APEX ENSEMBLE)

Extend the reach of orchestral music

The subtitle of the APEX moniker is “The Orchestra for the Next Generation”. The organization focuses on mentoring young musicians, with professionals offering guidance and performance opportunities to conservatory students, and these future professionals networking face-to-face with younger students.

Under the tutelage of Youth Program Director Diego Garcia, APEX’s youth programs are about to begin, with virtual audition applications due Friday, May 20 and live auditions May 21-22 in Montclair.

Beginning this fall, programs will include coaching professional musicians from orchestras such as the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. Mentoring will be offered to students of Fellows who attend music institutes such as Juilliard, Mannes, Montclair State University, and Manhattan School of Music.

“I would say that, for me, the most notable feature of APEX’s evolution has been the traction our mission has gained in the New York area music community, despite the challenges presented by COVID over the past two years. “, APEX Ensemble Music Director David Chan told Montclair Local in an email.

“Part of that was the rebranding as APEX, which describes our mission and goals more accurately than our previous incarnation,” Chan said, “but mostly it’s about the huge value that our professional mentors and students have found playing sideways.”

Recognized as a master violinist, Chan served as concertmaster of the Met Orchestra for 22 seasons and, for the past five years, served as APEX’s first Music Director and Conductor.

“It goes without saying that, being in the New York City subway market, we have access to some of the best talent in the world, between top conservatories and professionals who come from Lincoln Center,” he said. “What shouldn’t be taken for granted are the bonds that form between what I like to call ‘older’ and ‘younger’ players, or ‘more experienced’ and ‘slightly less experienced’ musicians. .”

“Maestro Chan has assembled an incredible orchestra,” enthused Thomas Parente, APEX Ensemble board member. Soprano Felicia Moore studied piano with Parente at Westminster Choir College.

Grammy Award-winning baritone John Brancy and bandleader David Chan during Gustav Mahler’s ‘Song of a Wayfarer’ at the concert. (ADAM ANIK/COURTESY APEX ENSEMBLE)

Grammy Award-winning baritone John Brancy and bandleader David Chan during Gustav Mahler’s ‘Song of a Wayfarer’ at the concert. (ADAM ANIK/COURTESY APEX ENSEMBLE)

Another APEX board member, Wendy McNeil of Montclair, said Weker approached her for her skills: “He found me on LinkedIn. I am a professional fundraiser. André immediately convinced me of his passion and commitment.

Weker asked him to join the board. “He wanted the council to reflect the demographics of the city, of the state. New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the country. APEX wants to reflect that diversity,” recalled McNeil, who is black. “I thought about it for a day and I was like, ‘Why not me?'”

“We do a lot of diversity inclusion work,” said McNeil, who sits on APEX’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. “The name change makes it bigger than just a local nonprofit. It was this idea of ​​making it more marketable to a larger community.

“André and David have been doing this from the start. It’s part of their DNA.

Says Weker: “We respect tradition, but we also embrace modernism and what music is becoming. In fifty years, what will orchestras be playing? We don’t know what’s going to happen until we look in the rearview mirror.

“We must continue. Otherwise, we’re just stuck like a museum.

McNeil echoed her. “Orchestral music will die out if we don’t engage young people in it,” she said. “APEX involves a new generation of people involved in the orchestral experience.”

APEX decided this week to hold its concerts on a pay-as-you-go basis, according to Weker. “These concerts are expensive to put on,” he said, pegging the cost of each at a minimum of $65,000.

“We want the concerts to be inclusive. Costs cannot be an obstacle.

Weker said APEX is in contact with other organizations such as the Montclair Art Museum, the Montclair Foundation, Montclair Film and Boston University, where Weker earned a degree in music.

APEX will provide a foursome at an upcoming Out Montclair event. This summer, APEX is working with the Valissima Institute of Montclair State, providing an experience for young female musicians to learn conducting.

This Friday evening, May 20, at Edgemont Memorial Park, APEX musicians will perform at the AAPI Lantern Festival for Justice and Memory.

“We are still committed to making Montclair our home,” Weker said. “We want to maintain Montclair as an artistic community. If we want to be an artistic city, we must support all arts.

“People come here for the arts. That’s what makes this city special.

About Roy B. Westling

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