Review: Albany Symphony Orchestra shines online

Music Director David Alan Miller leads the Albany Symphony Orchestra in this photo from June 2019. (Gazette file photo)
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Music Director David Alan Miller leads the Albany Symphony Orchestra in this photo from June 2019. (Gazette file photo)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, Entertainment

The Albany Symphony Orchestra is scoping out new territory with its live streaming virtual concerts. On Saturday night, the second concert of the ASO’s season, fifteen musicians under music director David Alan Miller performed from the Universal Preservation Hall stage in Saratoga Springs.

Despite one system glitch that lasted several seconds and took everything offline, the playing was excellent and well balanced, and showed that perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties can produce superior results.

The program, which included works by Claude Debussy and Gustav Mahler and a world premiere by Andre Myers, was done without intermission — a testament to everyone’s ability to concentrate.

The musicians were spread out across the stage each of them spotlighted with a mic nearby. Some wore masks, including Miller. Camera work moved from soloist to group and occasionally blended the two. Pictures relevant to the Debussy and Mahler made a brief appearance.

Except for the Myers work, Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major were chamber versions. So, probably for the first time, everyone including the audience could actually hear exactly what each instrumentalist was playing. With no lush string sections to hide in, the players had to be at the top of their game. And they were. Interestingly, Mahler wrote no trombone parts for this symphony but the chamber version included one. For ASO principal trombonist Greg Spiridopoulos, it was a chance of a lifetime.

The concert began with the Debussy, which opens with that famous flute solo. The ASO’s new second flutist Matthew Ross was excellent throughout the piece with beautifully nuanced lines. The work, always languorous and atmospheric, was magical. Volume levels were subdued, but these were eventually corrected.

Myers’ “Black & Alive” was inspired by the composer’s own “unrest in my soul,” he said in a pre-concert chat with Miller. The premise of the ten-minute piece is that African-Americans can thrive in America. Some of his inspiration also came from a James Brown song, “The Payback.” However, the music was a contrast to expectation.

Rather than anything discordant, spiky or harsh, the opening and closing segments were pastoral and lyrical and very Coplandesque. Solos were lovely, melodic. They sandwiched a perky, rhythmic march that had Stravinsky references, especially in the percussive use of the strings. Nowhere was there a sense of strife or struggle, only peace and resolution. Perhaps another work title?

The Mahler was an undertaking. All began well until a bit into the first movement the offline glitch occurred. Some of the more than 200 listeners disappeared, but once that was corrected, many came back. It was worth it. The musicians played with passion and commitment. Not together for months, it must have been sheer joy to be together again and with such grand music. For Miller, too, the concert must have been a delight. He conducted with a focused clarity, expansive gestures and made excellent cues.

The final movement was based on one of Mahler’s own songs from his “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (“The Boy’s Magic Horn”) collection. As sung by the lovely soprano Chelsea Fingal DeSouza, the “The Heavenly Life,” which is a child’s vision of heaven, was sunny with dark undertones. Her German diction was outstanding, and fortunately, its English translation was provided at the bottom of the screen.

The concert over, it was time for a Q&A with subscribers texting in. The concert will be available online for another month, sans the pre-concert chat.

The next ASO concert is Dec. 12: “Beethoven’s Birthday Bash — Forever Young” to be broadcast from the Palace Theatre with works by Michael Torke, Viet Cuong and Beethoven. To register, go to www.albanysymphony.com.

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