Saturday night at the Palace Theatre was a celebration for the Albany Symphony Orchestra. Not only was it opening night for the orchestra’s fall season and a live concert for an audience — all masked — of about 1,100 people plus an online audience that watched the streamed concert, it was also the beginning of music director David Alan Miller’s 30th season with the orchestra. This prompted Albany Mayor Cathy Sheehan to proclaim October 9 as David Alan Miller day prior to the music making.
What with huge applause and several thank yous from Miller, the mood was festive even before the concert began. It was also like old times: a printed program and an intermission — both missing this last year.
Once things got settled, Miller told the crowd that Jessie Montgomery, whose piece “Coincedent Dances” was up first, had just been appointed composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — a real coup for any composer.
Her piece was notable for its high energy, unpredictable rhythms, lots of colors, bits and pieces of motifs that were repeated but no melodies. The full orchestra sounded unsettled, most likely because it’s the first time in almost a year that all or most of them have played together in concert. The American Music Festival did not involve all the players and last season, it was only a chamber-size group. In this first piece, they showed that they hadn’t yet found their connections to listen and breathe together.
That was apparent also in the next work by Jean Sibelius, “The Swan of Tuonela,” from his “Lemminkainen Suite.” The slow, long and majestic lines with their poignant beautiful theme is evocative of a swan, which is a solo for the English horn played nicely here by Grace Shryock. Lines need to be seamless to evoke the swan’s serene movement, volumes must be subtle.
Things just didn’t meld, but they did wonderfully in the next selection, “Lemminkainen’s Return.” Festive, expansive, loud, energetic with busy strings and lots of brass. The orchestra was in top form: tight, on cue, fabulous.
The orchestra continued to make headway and came together in terrific style for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”). Miller set a vigorous, vibrant tempo in the first movement that heightened the music’s vitality. It sped along with laughter and light to show off how life-affirming the music sounded. The second slow movement, which is marked as funereal, has a wonderful theme. But phrases tended to die out rather than connect with some unusual sudden dramatic accents. The third movement’s Scherzo, however, was lightness itself with a bright tempo and ended much too soon.
The Finale had plenty of play and great forward movement that Miller maintained. The strings sounded especially rich.
The orchestra got a standing ovation with many staying for a Q & A while others departed to pick up the complementary cup of cider and donut in the lobby. The next concert is 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 13 at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in a program of Haydn, Cuong (premiere) and pianist Shai Wosner in a Brahms concerto.