Composers, women are focus of ASO festival

Free concert Sunday evening in Troy Riverfront Park
David Alan Miller conducts the Albany Symphony Orchestra last June at EMPAC at RPI.
David Alan Miller conducts the Albany Symphony Orchestra last June at EMPAC at RPI.

Categories: Entertainment

Every year, Albany Symphony Orchestra music director David Alan Miller tries to put a different slant on the American Music Festival.

This year, the festival, which begins today and runs through Sunday, has two themes.

“Composer and Yale professor Christopher Theofanidis begins a week-long composers’ workshop for 12 local student composers [today]. It’s the first time ever we’ve done this and it reflects the festival’s theme to cultivate a new generation of composers,” Miller said.

The other theme is a focus on women, both as composers and performers. The composers are Reena Esmail and Loren Loiacono, both with world premieres on Saturday; and the venerable Joan Tower, who is receiving an entire concert of her music on Sunday. The performers are all singers: Lucy Dhegrae, Lucy Fitz Gibbon, Nancy Allen Lundy, Hila Plitmann, and Saili Oak.

While people can attend Theofanidis’ masterclass, the real action begins tonight with the “First Draughts Reading Session and Beer Tasting.” That’s right, beer tasting.  Hear new works from three young composers and savor some brews from local beer crafters.  Miller received 90 scores and had to choose only three.

“The skill level is extraordinary. It’s very impressive,” he said. “I had to choose which pieces showed a unique voice.”

The composers are Baldwin Giang (U. of Pennsylvania), Natalie Dietterich (Yale), and Patrick O’Malley (U. Southern Califronia).

On Friday, three female singers grace the stage with the Dogs of Desire. Lundy will be featured in David Del Tredici’s  “Dracula,” a melodramatic score from 1999. Fitz Gibbon will share with Dhegrae in at least two of the world premieres by Carlos Simon, Derrick Spiva or Annika Socolofsky. Because it’s new music, there are more challenges than traditional vocal music.

“Sometimes there’s clapping in polyrhythms while we’re singing or we must pluck a note out of the air,” she said. “The ranges test how long to sing a phrase or sing a very high or very low note. There are microtones that imitate Egyptian music or scattering syllables — wild and wacky things. Working with an amp is new and novel for me. My concern is that the microphone not pick up my breathing.”

Fitz Gibbon, who is making her third appearance with the ASO, has a long history of giving world premieres.

“I love new music for its possibilities: there are no recordings so you can find the truest expression of the piece; there are new combinations of tones that can tell a new truth of human existence; there are gnarly things that pique my interest; and you have a composer you can ask as to why he is doing it a particular way,” she said.

Fitz Gibbon will also be featured with Hindustani singer Saili Oak in Reena Esmail’s “My Sister’s Voice” that combines western with Hindustani vocal techniques.

“We’ve sung together before so I know her voice,” Fitz Gibbon said. “The neat thing is that Reena uses rags, so there’s sliding between pitches and she incorporates Hindustani scales. It’s like a balance of cultures.”

The climax of the festival is Saturday night with the orchestra, Plitmann, Oak, Fitz Gibbon and pianist Vicky Chow in works by David Del Tredici and the three world premieres from Esmail, Loiacono and Steven Burke.

Other Saturday events include: pianist Marc Peloquin in a recital of David Del Tredici works; three singers each offering different repertoire in a noon recital (Fitz Gibbon will work with her husband/pianist Ryan McCullough); Yarn/Wire, a new music ensemble, offers George Crumb and Zosha Di Castri pieces. 

Sunday afternoon is the Tower celebration and, for the first time, a free ASO evening concert that celebrates the Hudson River with three more world premieres and performances from the local Fingerlakes Guitar Quartet, Berkshire Ballet dancers, and singers from three local colleges.

Go to for more listings.

Albany Symphony Orchestra American Music Festival

WHEN: Today-Sunday, various times
WHERE: EMPAC, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, other locations
HOW MUCH: $99 pass for all events; $40 for Dogs or ASO Saturday
MORE INFO: (518) 694-3300;

Today: Composer masterclass. 2 p.m., EMPAC
Today: Dogs rehearsal. 4:30 p.m., EMPAC
Today: First Draughts. 7:30 p.m., EMPAC
June 1: Vanguard concert prevue. Noon, Albany Public Library
June 1: Dogs of Desire. 7:30 p.m., EMPAC
June 1: Chat with composers. 9:30 p.m., EMPAC, Evelyn’s Café
June 2: Marc Peloquin plays Del Tredici . 9:30 a.m., Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
June 2: Three sopranos. Noon, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
June 2: Yarn/Wire. 3 p.m., EMPAC
June 2: Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. 4 p.m., Arts Center of the Capital Region
June 2: Talk with David Alan Miller. 6:30 p.m., EMPAC
June 2: ASO. 7:30 p.m., EMPAC
June 2: Chat with Saili. 9:30 p.m., EMPAC
June 3: Tower celebration. 1 p.m., Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
June 3: ASO. 7 p.m., Troy Riverfront Park

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