With seven commissioned composers in the mix, there were influences aplenty at a fast-moving Dogs of Desire concert at Skidmore College on Saturday night.
The concert, part of the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s Key’s American Music Festival, featured the orchestra’s 18-member music ensemble (the “Dogs”), including vocalists Kamala Sankaram and Alexandra Sweeton.
The inspiration for the music came from American literature, the bible, Celtic music, Greek poetry, an African drummer, the Folies Bergere in Paris and the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
The composers were Kati Agocs, Mark Dancigers, Kostis Kritsotakis, David T. Little, David Mallamud, D. J. Sparr and George Tsontakis.
The crowd-pleaser of the concert was Mallamud’s “Folies Requiem,” a work built around the relationships between two of the Folies’ biggest stars, Mistinguett and Chevalier.
Most of the works premiered by the Dogs of Desire were about six minutes long, but Mallamud lost track of time and this piece is about 30 minutes in length.
There were no complaints from the audience, which filled Filene Hall to capacity.
The work comes in snippets of music from the singers and the orchestra and is alternating snappy and saucy, corny, touching and tragic. The singers delivered with torchy French, cabaret-style accents, and the piece was cleverly written with lots of surprises.
The next most extensive piece on the program was Tsontakis’ “Melville Pilot,” a work including two Melville poems and a letter set to music plus two excerpts from “Moby Dick,” which was beautifully read by the composer. The work is brilliantly and logically orchestrated.
The concert opened with Dancigers’ “Crazy,” a piece combining Celtic music with American blues with less than successful results.
Despite the sliding notes, jigs and drones, the two musical forms went together like water and oil. There was too much business and complexity here, especially in the writing for percussion.
Kritsotakis’ “Voices of Alexandria,” next on the program, combines two poems by the Greek poet Constantinos Cavafys, who lived in Eygypt.
The words are both spoken and sung, and the work is haunting, exotic and Eastern in texture throughout.
The piece starts sparsely and builds into a great crescendo like a sandstorm.
Little’s “Asche” was written as a memoriam to the late African master drummer Baba Olatunji.
That being said, it is not as percussion-heavy as one might expect. It is not a subtle piece, either.
It opens with a reflective chorale, which becomes a bit Philip Glass-like with its emphasis on layers of repeated figures.
Sparr’s “Ahi va!” is a busy and rather noisy work that brings to mind the running of the bulls with lots of clapping, string strumming and trumpet fanfares. With all of that, it still didn’t have enough of a Flamenco flavor.
Agocs’ “By the Streams of Babylon” was the most pensive work on the program.
The piece is a setting of a psalm, the lament of a people in a foreign land who can no longer bring themselves to sing the hymns of their homeland.
The piece is haunting and reflective and filled with devilishly difficult vocal parts, which were expertly tossed off by Sweeton and Sankaram.
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Categories: Life and Arts