Audiences who attend the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s Friday night concert will not only hear a symphony by John Harbison but a new work by 25-year-old Timothy (“Timo”) Andres, which Harbison selected for the ASO to perform.
Harbison, a much-awarded and -performed American composer, is the orchestra’s first composer-mentor partner, a relationship that is part of the three-year program called Composer to Center Stage, funded through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Next year, John Corigliano will serve as composer-mentor.
Harbison’s job for the March concert was to design a program with one of his own works as the centerpiece.
He chose his Symphony No. 4, which conductor David Alan Miller said was called “The Tragic” because it was written in 2003 during a time when Harbison’s wife, Rose Mary, was very ill.
“John wanted to do it,” Miller said. “It’s not played often and it’s beautiful and dark, even Stravinskian and spikey. The sad, slow movement [“Threnody”] is the center.”
For Gazette music writer Geraldine Freedman's review of this performance, click here.
Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, which premiered the work in 2004, the music has many of Harbison’s trademark layers and ranges of expressiveness spread over its five movements. It is one of five symphonies, four string quartets, a ballet, three operas, and numerous chamber and choral works that the 72-year-old composer has written.
Among his many awards are the MacArthur Foundation (1989), the Pulitzer Prize (1987) and the Heinz Award for the Arts and Humanities (1998). More than 90 works have been recorded on 14 labels, including his latest opera “Full Moon in March” (BMOP Sound, 2009), and a disc on Bridge Records of works for oboe.
His current projects include a setting of texts by Alice Munro for voice and orchestra (for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra); a violin/cello concerto (for the Boston Symphony); another string quartet (for Pro Arte Quartet), and a new violin/piano piece (for Music Accord).
As for the Albany Symphony, it has recorded two discs with Harbison’s works: “John Harbison” (Albany 2000) and an Albany disc in 2003 with his Cello Concerto. But it’s been almost four seasons since the orchestra has performed any of his music live, Miller said. Harbison will return in May when the orchestra will perform and record his “Suite From the Great Gatsby.”
As is traditional with many ASO concerts, Miller wanted to have a new composer’s work premiered.
“I had not heard of him [Andres],” Miller said, adding that after he saw reviews of Andres’ work and learning that he was a Harbison protégé, he was excited to hear his work.
Andres, who is also a skilled pianist, earned degrees from Yale University. His work has been premiered by such groups as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New World Symphony and the ACME quartet. His debut album, “Shy and Mighty” (Nonesuch, 2010), features pieces for two pianos.
While at Yale, he founded the Hindemith Ensemble, one of whose members was violinist/violist Owen Dalby. The ASO will premiere Andres’ “Look Around You,” which will feature Dalby, who will play both instruments. Since Yale, Dalby has premiered several new works with national groups and is a member of the prestigious Ensemble ACJW (which recently performed at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center). The chamber music ensemble is part of The Academy, a joint program of Carnegie Hall and the Juilliard School.
“Look Around You” is 10 minutes long and attempts to balance and resolve three movements’ worth of ideas in a continuous stretch of time, Andres said. It is also a virtuoso piece for the soloist, Miller said.
“I wrote on average, three seconds of music per day,” Andres said. “I’m not sure why . . . the piece was so long in gestation. It could be the odd format — a miniature concerto for a peripatetic violin/viola soloist.”
Harbison chose to begin the program with Copland’s “Music for the Theatre.” As the president of the Aaron Copland Foundation, an organization that promotes young American composers’ works, Harbison is a huge admirer of Copland’s music, Miller said. The piece also reflects Harbison’s other interest: jazz.
“He feels a great kinship with Copland,” Miller said. “Copland was the dean of American composers and I think John Harbison now occupies that role. He wears Copland’s mantle.”
The work is an early one written in 1925, when Copland was 25.
“He hadn’t yet found his American vernacular and was dabbling in jazz,” Miller said. “The piece is very jazzy and seldom heard and hard to play.”
Another composer Harbison admires is Joseph Haydn, so Miller chose Haydn’s Symphony No. 82 in C Major (“The Bear”).
“Haydn is witty, urbane, elegant, polished and a deep thinker,” Miller said. “This was written for a huge Parisian orchestra and is charming with a rollicking folk dance.”
Miller said he felt Harbison chose well.
“The concert’s variety and nuance will be urbane, elegant and sophisticated,” he said. “I’m most excited.”