TROY — The wild and wonderful world of the Dogs of Desire was in full force Friday night as part of the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s annual American Music Festival at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. On Saturday night, it was the ASO’s turn. A total of seven world premieres and two of David Del Tredici’s wonderfully theatrical works were performed. Both groups were in excellent form.
It was also two nights to remember for the huge enthusiastic crowds and heaven for ASO music director David Alan Miller, who conducted everything.
The Dogs is an 18-piece ensemble bolstered by four impressive female singers — Lucy Fitz Gibbon, Lucy Dhegrae, Heather Jones and Nancy Allen Lundy. Friday’s show opened with Carlos Simon’s “In the Pocket” with Fitz Gibbon and Dhegrae singing nonsense syllables to Simon’s jazzy, hard-driving, rhythmically complex score. There were elements of a big band style and plenty of groove.
Annika Socolofsky sang her own lyrics to her “Lullabies Unsung,” which was an intense personal statement that was discordant and intense. In complete contrast was Derrick Spiva’s “In Sight of Atsia,” which used Ghanian-inspired repeated rhythmic motifs with sunny harmonies. The two Lucys provided color and clapping.
Evan Mack’s “Preach Sister, Preach” — whose text was several funny quotes from celebrated women — was sung superbly by mezzo-soprano Jones. Mack’s deftness at writing music to fit each lady was impressive. It was a skillful romp.
Eighty-one year old Del Tredici gave a sly preamble about his “Dracula” that supposedly connected him to the famous vampire. This set the stage for Lundy’s eloquent speaking/singing/acting role as a vampire-to-be. A wind machine and a theremin lent the score eerie overtones.
Saturday opened with Steven Burke’s foreboding, colorful and very cinematic “The Betrayal of Three Oranges.” Strong pulses, a big sound, interesting percussion choices, and the liquid tones of a vibraphone were like a sci-fi flick exploring alien worlds.
Loren Loiacono’s Piano Concerto with the brilliant pianist Vicky Chow hinted at 19th century themes briefly, but the challenging score had a lack of integration. Chow’s own cadenza in the third movement was sensational, however, as it explored some lyricism even as she executed intricate abstract technical displays. Because of the way the score was also written, balances favored the orchestra, which was plenty loud.
Reena Esmail conceived a beautiful amalgamation in “My Sister’s Voice” with the Hindustani singer Saili Oak and the always impressive soprano Fitz Gibbon. The work’s marvelous lyricism, its superb string writing and equally perfect balances allowed Oak’s rough-edged but earthy voice and Fitz Gibbon’s lush tones to blend and soar. The audience jumped to its feet, cheering and applauding loudly.
The finale was Del Tredici’s “Adventures Underground” with the daring singer Hila Plitmann, who spoke and sang over a hugely demanding range. The busy score had dark harmonies, multiple textures and unexpected resolutions.