Charismatic American #Conductor Teddy Abrams led American violinist Sarah Chang, an international celebrity, and the mighty forces of New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in a rousing three-concert season opener, seen in Newark’s Prudential Hall Sunday afternoon, Sept. 25. Iconic works by composers from the Americas and France included Aaron Copland’s “Four Dance Episodes from ‘Rodeo’,” originally part of a cowboy ballet, resonant with interwoven folk tunes practically part of the genome of those born on these shores.

Up first

Leonard Bernstein’s “Three Dance Episodes from ‘On the Town’”—also originally conceived as a ballet, but in a sophisticated jazz style—opened the program and got the blood coursing.

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The central dance, “Lonely Town: Pas de Deux,” is all forlorn longing of trumpet and clarinet, later uplifted by hopeful strings. Separating the jaunty first dance (“The Great Lover”) from the quick-skipping third (“Times Square, 1944”), its languid simplicity is a perfect foil to all the frolic, a moment of contemplation.

Piazzolla’s tribute to Vivaldi

The central program piece, Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla’s “Cuatro estaciones porteñas” (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires)—tango rhythm pervading the four movements—ingeniously quotes passages from Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” which Piazzolla obviously admired. Breathtaking is the third season, “Spring,” with its calm, whispery hush. The movement gorgeously fades into silence, again, leaving you holding your breath.

Virtuosic Sarah Chang

Sarah Chang’s lyrical yet passionate playing was not above the widgey-gidgey string-scraping effects or the “dying” violin cadences plunging into nothingness, which abound in the second ‘Seasons’ movement.

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Enraptured by the 25 surrounding string musicians, their music swept her along, rocking and swaying, at times dancing her own steps, including the tango’s characteristic quick kick, without missing a note. An extremely arched back and thrown-back head on a falling cadence gave the notion of being dipped by an invisible dance partner.

Fashion fixation

Ms. Chang shined both musically and quite visually, entering first all aglitter, bespangled in a stunning, form-fitting, rich teal gown with plunging neckline. After the interval, she returned for the second half in a bare-shoulder gown of fuchsia accented by streaks of deep purple.

Gypsy rhythm and plangency

Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane, Concert Rhapsody,” is a manifold marvel, first due to the Frenchman’s exact impersonation of Hungarian folk tunes and its most important dance, the “czardas,” with its slow, lyrical beginning and frantic finale. In its five-minute violin solo opener, Ms. Chang balanced louder passages with those of scarcely audible softness.

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The orchestra’s hushed, magical entry with harp arpeggios and shimmering cymbals propelled her toward the piece’s steadily building dramatic climax.

Mold-breaking maestro

Teddy Abrams, the tall, slender maestro, age 29, dripping with energy, sported a black suit of the latest fad, the trousers of which are so skinny-tight as to resemble leotards. Much like Leonard Bernstein, Maestro Abrams is hyperkinetic on the podium, jabbing and jousting with baton work that at times sweeps as wide as 180°, and he is prone to hopping, hunching shoulders and stretching to tiptoes—quite an aerobic workout. Even so, he got wondrous results from the Orchestra.

Ready to dance

As mentioned Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo” dances concluded the program. The central, gentle dances contrast nicely with the bookended rumbustiousness of the first and fourth. To get you to kick up your heels, even if only metaphorically, there’s nothing like a “Hoedown,” the final movement’s title. From almost crouching, Maestro Abrams practically launched into space as his left arm sailed straight upward, eliciting a hearty hoot from the musicians—quite a cue, eh?

This week conductor Gemma New leads Stewart Goodyear and the Orchestra in Edvard Grieg’s “Piano Concerto” and “Symphony No. 2” by Jean Sibelius.