Albany Symphony’s American Music Festival ‘a gold mine’ for young composers

David Alan Miller, left, and the Dogs of Desire at a past performance. (Gary Gold)

David Alan Miller, left, and the Dogs of Desire at a past performance. (Gary Gold)

The Albany Symphony Orchestra’s annual American Music Festival, which begins today and runs through Sunday, is different from previous years.

“It will be singular and unique this year as it’s an early opportunity to see and hear what artists are expressing coming out of this pandemic,” said music director David Alan Miller. “It’s an amazing first experience post-pandemic and all events are free and features all the things we care about.”

The four-day event kicks off with composer Christopher Theofanidis giving a composers’ workshop to 10 to 12 student composers about their compositions that the orchestra will later perform on Sunday.

“Students will study different approaches to writing for orchestra and review what they’ve done regarding orchestration,” Theofanidis said. “It’s a gold mine for them to observe how an orchestra rehearses and what their works sound like live.”

On Friday, the Dogs of Desire take the stage at the Palace Theatre. Six composers’ works will be featured, including several composers new to the Dogs or works by composers the orchestra has performed but will be the first time for a Dogs’ piece. The composers include Jack Frerer, Bobby Ge, Tom Morrison, Kerwin Young, and long- time favorites Carolyn Yarnell and Ted Hearne.

“The pieces we’ve commissioned are a wonderful mixture of poignant beauty, humor and suffering that are a wonderful preview of a post-pandemic art and with fascinating presentation,” Miller said.

On Saturday the orchestra takes over. The size of the group will be about 45 members. There will be a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m. with Miller and the two guitarists from the L.A. Guitar Quartet who will perform Clarice Assad’s double guitar concerto called “Folk Tales.”

Also on the bill is Nina Shekhar’s world premiere of “Above the Fray,” which Shekhar has said was written in reaction to how the field of classical music has responded to social issues of the day by thinking that playing Bach solved everyone’s problems. She focuses on Bach’s Prelude from his first cello suite in a comedic way. Alexis Lamb’s world premiere of “Serotiny” will also be performed and is about how the results of a forest fire are both destruction and regrowth.

Theofanidis and Molly Joyce collaborated in the world premiere of a re-working of Joyce’s songs. Joyce, who is a former student of Theofanidis, writes music in an Indie pop vein and often performs her songs in clubs. She will sing them here, too.

“I saw a couple of her concerts and was moved by her music,” Theofanidis said. “I thought it a neat thing to have a different sensibility in approaching her music as I write in a more romantic way. Molly thought that with orchestra her songs would have a different feel. I love these songs.”

On Sunday, the two guitarists from the L.A.Guitar Quartet, William Kanengiser and Scott Tennant, will give a special solo and duo concert from the Palace Theatre at 10 a.m. Later that day at 7:30 p.m., will be the First Draughts Reading Session of the student composers’ works.

Also scheduled are: 11 a.m. on June 10, Joyce and Shekar talk about creativity, resilience and embracing differences with Maureen O’Brien of the state’s Industries for the Disabled (NYSID) and Greg Sorrentino from the Center for Disability Services.

At 2:30 p.m. also on June 10, Joyce and Theofanidis will discuss their collaboration.

At 11 a.m. on June 12, Lamb will lead a family activity at the Pine Hollow Arboretum in Slingerlands where participants gather objects in nature to create music.

All events are free and will be streamed through the orchestra’s website: 

American Music Festival

WHO: Albany Symphony Orchestra and the Dogs of Desire
WHERE: Palace Theatre streamed
WHEN: Thursday, June 10 – Saturday June 13
Thursday: 3 p.m. Composer Workshop Masterclass
Friday: 7:30 p.m. Dogs of Desire
Saturday: 7 p.m. pre-concert talk; 7:30 p.m. ASO concert
Sunday: 10 a.m. Guitar recital; 7:30 p.m. First Draughts Reading Session
HOW MUCH: All events are free and will be streamed through the orchestra’s website:

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