It was a celebration Saturday night at the Palace Theatre as the Albany Symphony Orchestra gave the season finale in its first live in-person concert in more than a year.
And it was the first review this reporter has done of a live concert in the same amount of time. The concert was part of the ASO’s annual American Music Festival and featured four pieces of which three were world premieres.
Not unexpectedly, the orchestra under music director David Alan Miller was in its milieu and tackled the music with adept resolution and an economy of gesture.
About 150 people attended all spaced-out, socially distanced and wearing masks, as did most of the 43-piece orchestra except for the wind players. Bottles of water were provided as there was no air conditioning.
The concert opened with the world premiere of Alexis Lamb’s “Serotiny.” The title is actually the name of a pine tree whose cones need extreme heat to propagate. This was the inspiration behind the work which detailed a fire begun by a lightning strike, the bursting of the cone’s seeds to the earth, where quietly, secretly, they take root and become little pine trees or in other words: from destruction comes rebirth.
The music successfully depicted all these images in an atmospheric way ranging from a blazing beginning of threatening lower brass to quiet hopeful harmonies and a tinkling triangle. The seeds burst in massive flurries of piccolo, brass, woodwind cries that subsided into a bit too long period of silence as everything took root and then soared into melody.
Nina Shekhar’s “Above the Fray” (world premiere) for strings was supposed to express how different everyone is and basing this concept around fracturing the prelude of Bach’s first cello suite. How that worked out was hard to tell as bits and pieces of motifs scurried around without direction and nowhere even a fragment of the Bach could be detected.
Composer and amazing singer Molly Joyce did a number by herself to introduce her collaboration with the Grammy-winning composer Christopher Theofanidis in their piece “Form and Flee.” She worked with a toy electric organ and sang “I Was a Figure” with lyrics by Marco Grosse and herself.
Her soprano has great range and she uses it without vibrato, more like an instrument to touch a pitch. The effect was ethereal, eerie, magical. Then, what Theofanidis did against that floating sound was to create a hip, subtle, rhythmic orchestra space that never intruded but always supported with repeated motifs, lots of color and with great style. The result was very seductive. The crowd loved it and gave a standing ovation.
The final work was Clarice Assad’s double guitar concerto “Folk Tales” for strings and guitarists William Kanengiser and Scott Tennant of the L.A. Guitar Quartet. It was a three movement work with guitar cadenzas. Despite the obvious expertise of everyone concerned, the guitarists and the strings never seemed to connect. They were almost always a hair off. Assad, who comes from a guitar family, knows how to write for guitars and had them here often dovetailing scales and patterns. Only the second movement worked and blended with pretty melodies and more typical Spanish styles. The third movement had some catchy, festive rhythms.
What was even stranger was that in the encore for just the guitarists of Pat Metheny’s “Letter from Home,” which they were scheduled to perform on Sunday morning in their recital, things didn’t jibe.
The concert can be replayed virtually all this month at www.albanysymphony.com
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