Morris Arts: One more Zoom gala and then… Giralda festival to return, with NJSO, in August

Panorama of the Giralda Music & Arts Fest, June 25, 2017. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Panorama of the Giralda Music & Arts Fest, June 25, 2017. Photo by Jeff Sovelove


The Giralda Music & Arts Festival, sidelined by the pandemic last June, is poised for a comeback, with a late summer outdoor concert by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

If Gov. Murphy continues easing COVID-19 restrictions, you and your lawn chair can start planning for Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021 (rain date: Sunday, Aug. 29), on the rolling expanse of Giralda Farms in Madison.

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at the Giralda Music & Arts Fest, June 25, 2017. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at the Giralda Music & Arts Fest, June 25, 2017. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

“I’m thrilled to be planning an event that can bring our community together again – to enjoy beautiful music in the great outdoors,” Tom Werder, executive director of Morris Arts, said on Wednesday.

“It brings me hope that this event and many others that will start to reappear throughout New Jersey are a signal that we are returning to a sense of normalcy,” he said.

Tickets will go on sale over the summer. Established 37 years ago, the Giralda festival is one of two major annual fundraisers for Morristown-based Morris Arts, which supports arts programs across Morris County.

The nonprofit’s other big bash — Great Conversations — happens this Thursday, April 29, 2021. Pre-COVID, it was a banquet where paying guests chose a table hosted by one of about 30 celebrity “conversationalists” from the arts, business or science.

For the second straight year, those tables are Zoom chat rooms. Great Conversations at Home proved surprisingly popular last October.

Steadfast sponsors, reduced overhead, and a healthy virtual turnout of art patrons combined for a record evening, raising about $215,000.  Morris Arts organizers are hoping Thursday’s 13th edition will be lucky, too.

“The beauty of Great Conversations is that it’s all about the conversation. It’s not about presentation….And because of that, it works really well” online, said Gina Moran, development director for Morris Arts.

A few virtual seats remain. Although it may be too late to choose your table host, odds are good that your $150 pass will park you with someone interesting.

Video preview: Great Conversations at Home 2021:

The roster includes sculptor Willie Cole; Billy Joel saxman Mark Rivera; best-selling author Diana Henriquez (who co-starred in the film version of her best-selling book about late con man Bernie Madoff); and Quest Diagnostics infectious disease expert Ruth Clements.

Celebrity chef David Burke no doubt will share tantalizing tidbits about his Topgolf restaurant, coming soon to the Morristown Green. And David Stanchak of RH (Restoration Hardware) is sure to have plenty to say about the pending transformation of Morris Township’s historic Alnwick Hall (“The Abbey”) into a world-class furniture showplace.

In “normal” times, Moran has nearly a year to recruit conversationalists. But the coronavirus pushed last spring’s event to the fall, compressing her work this year. Yet these strange times have worked in her favor: Stars who were too busy, or too far away, now have free time, and are as near as their computer screen.

“I’ve been trying to get Mark (Rivera) for five years. And he’s always booked because he’s playing with Billy Joel,” Moran said. “But because of the pandemic, he knew he was going to be available this year.”

Screens can’t replace the scrumptious meal and networking opportunities of earlier years, of course. But they do foster more intimate conversations, by eliminating the clanking of 300 sets of silverware.

“Last year, I surveyed a lot of people, trying to figure out how long do we make this event, how long do we make the conversation,” Moran recounted.

“And we made it 70 minutes. And what we heard was, that wasn’t long enough. People were really getting into it, and they didn’t want it to end that early. So the conversations are 90 minutes this year. Isn’t that amazing?”

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