Albany Symphony Orchestra Music Director David Alan Miller conducts before a crowd at Rensselaer’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. (Photo provided by Albany Symphony Orchestra)
ALBANY — Richard O’Neill was sent off the stage with a standing ovation from the Palace Theatre audience after his viola concerto when Anna Kuwabara heard the unexpected.
“Your audience is amazing,” Kuwabara recalls O’Neill saying off stage. She asked why, and he said he didn’t expect to see such a reaction to a new viola concerto. It’s one of Kuwabara’s first memories since taking over as the executive director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra.
“They are very deep listeners,” David Alan Miller said. “A lot of musicians also who have played in New York, Boston and other cities are often struck by how serious and focused, concentrated our audience listens and how they respond to pieces. We have a really passionate following.”
Miller was named Albany Symphony’s music director more than 25 years ago. Since that time, the little orchestra from upstate New York has developed a reputation recognized throughout the music world for quality and innovative music. Kuwabara observed it from a distance while working with orchestras from larger cities in St. Louis and Chicago. “It punches above the waist,” she said. Coming in with a relatively small town budget and walking out with prestigious accolades from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or even a Grammy Award. It does this by being adventurous.
“That’s something we believe sets us apart from a great number of orchestras, generally, and regional orchestras in particular,” said Miller. “We really are pushing to try to find, invent, nurture the orchestra of the future through living composers, new kinds of projects and interaction with different kinds of artists.” Miller goes on to name the American Music Festival, Dogs of Desire and Water Music, NY as further examples. “We’re really trying to be as adventurous as an orchestra can be.”
While each season will comprise familiar pieces of work from the mainstays of classical music — Tchaikovsky, Bach and Beethoven — a year is best defined by the contemporary composers who come to play. Last month, the ASO announced details of its upcoming season at Albany’s Reel Seafood Company on Wolf Road instead of at the Palace. One, because just the week before, Miller shared with local media that his orchestra was invited to play the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. next month, so he thought a different, relaxed setting was in order. Another reason, as the ASO comes out of a water-themed season that included a tour along the Erie Canal, he has a sense of humor.
The 2018-19 season opens Saturday, Oct. 13 with a world premiere from composer Viet Cuong. The performance will mark Cuong’s return to Albany, after having premiered another piece commissioned for last year’s Water Music, NY. That piece from the young composer, now finishing a doctorate at Prince University, demonstrates the daring, avant garde production customary to the ASO.
“He had the show-stopping central event of the American Music Festival about the elements,” said Miller. “All about the elements. About sun, water and wind.” Cuong orchestrates music and visual play for live audiences. Last year, through Sandbox Percussion, four percussionists performed while standing at the four cardinal points around a single snare drum. Proceeding in unison to play the drum as they gradually walk faster around, mimicking the action of a windmill. “We just loved having him, so we invited him back. Very theatrical, his music,” said Miller.
Just what Cuong will compose next for October is anyone’s guess. Miller said the ASO only just commissioned for another piece of work. He’ll be writing the piece over the next several months.
“We’re excited to learn along with the audience,” Miller said, with a chuckle. “Hopefully a few days ahead. We love the sense of adventure, because it keeps us engaged, and hopefully keeps the audience engaged, as well.”
The 2018-2019 season runs from October through June. Concerts will be held at the Palace Theatre, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Proctors and EMPAC. Patrons can purchase a season subscription online, by phone or visiting the box office (see info below).
Opening Night: Ride of The Valkyries / October 13, 2018 / Palace Theatre
Viet Cuong, World Premiere
Brahms, Violin Concerto in D Major
Stefan Jackiw, Violin
Selections from Grand Opera, including “The Ride of the Valkyries,” “Carmen Suite,” and “Forza del Destino”
“Armistice Centennial” Britten’s Moving War Requiem / November 10, 2018 / Proctors Theatre
Britten, War Requiem with Albany Pro Musica
Classics from Vienna : Heinrich Medicus 100th Birthday Memorial Concert / December 15 & 16, 2018 / Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Benjamin Wallace, Chocolate Waltzes (World Premiere)
Bruckner, Symphony No. 6
Beethoven Seventh / January 4 & 5, 2019 / Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Steven Stucky, Chamber Concerto
Michael Torke, Violin Concerto
Tessa Lark, violin
Beethoven, Symphony No. 7
Valentines Weekend: Romantic Chopin / February 9 & 10, 2019 / Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Annika Socolofsky, World Premiere
Chopin, Piano Concerto No. 2
Orion Weiss, piano
Schumann, Symphony No. 2
Bolero! / March 9, 2019 / Palace Theatre
Hindemith, Mathis der Maler
Honstein, Percussion Concerto (World Premiere)
Colin Currie, soloist
Gould, Fall River Legend
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto / April 6 & 7, 2019 / Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Lawrence Loh, guest conductor
Rossini, Overture to “La Scala di Seta”
Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto
Chee Yun, violin
Polina Nazaykinskaya, New Work
Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 4 “Italian”
American Music Festival: June 1, 2019 (EMPAC)
John Corigliano, Piano Concerto
Philip Fisher, Piano
David Del Tredici, “Pop-Pourri”
To Purchase a Season Subscription:
Tickets for all Albany Symphony performances can be purchased by calling (518) 694-3300, online at www.albanysymphony.com, or by visiting the Albany Symphony Box Office at 19 Clinton Ave., Albany, NY 12207. Special rates are available to groups of ten or more. Contact: (518) 465-4755 ext. 35.
Michael Hallisey is Managing Editor of Spotlight Newspapers.