A capacity crowd of die-hard new-music fans had plenty to celebrate Friday night when the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s new music ensemble, the Dogs of Desire, gave its annual concert as part of the American Music Festival at the Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center.
The brainchild of music director David Alan Miller, the 18-member ensemble, which includes two terrific singers — sopranos Alexandra Sweeton and Martha Cluver — showed how versatile it is. Besides four pieces from what Miller calls the Dogs’ archive, there were three world premieres from composers new to the Dogs. Two of them were collaborations with filmmakers and two set to poetry. All the composers were present.
To get the crowd in the mood, the concert began with Roshanne Etezady’s “Start It Up” (2001), which was a rollicking, funky, rhythmically driving number with funny lyrics about the joys of motorcycles amid a coming of age. Etezady did a great job revving those engines with syncopated brass and bass notes. The crowd laughed and relaxed because they were in for the unexpected.
Up first was Rob Paterson’s “Ghost Theatre,” with black and white eerie images selected and created by videographer Jay Craven. While the sounds matched what was on the screen — a hand writing cryptic notes that were sung, someone walking up stairs in an empty, dark theatre, an object covered in a white sheet flitting about — the tone was unsettling and foreboding. Paterson’s colors were strong, bold and vibrant and the ensemble sounded in control, but it was creepy. Almost like a bad B movie.
Jacob Cooper’s “Serenade” to Zach Savich’s abstract verse didn’t quite connect. The range was narrow with the strings repeating the same refrain over and over with the winds punctuating as sound effects. This all would fade away and then start up again. It was also difficult at times to understand the singers’ words.
Amanda Harberg’s “Venus Unhinged” with Micah Fink’s often lustrous images of the heavens to verse by Eliza Griswold and Margaret Atwood was wonderfully orchestrated, exotic, mystical and fit together. The third movement was especially evocative and very beautiful.
The rest of the program was some of the best and most memorable of the Dogs’ repertoire and the ensemble sounded sensational. These included David Mallamud’s “Strip,” which sounded like it was right out of a strip joint; his “Last Call at the Follies Bergeres” put everyone in Paris with just the right colors, pace, spirit, exceptional orchestration and fabulous writing for the voice. Ken Eberhard’s paean to “Karaoke Time” had clever images and some exceptional singing.
Tonight, the full orchestra will play Torke, Ince, Hearne and Rouse with pianist Orion Weiss.