The Albany Symphony Orchestra will perform one of its most traditional programs on Saturday: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and Joan Tower’s “Made in America.”
“The suggestions came from both sides. It was like a dance,” said Daniel Hege, who will make his debut as guest conductor. “It was David’s [music director David Alan Miller] call. It’s his orchestra. I just wanted it to fit into the seasonal mix.”
Hege might be known to some audience members who have lived in the Syracuse area. He was the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra’s music director for 12 years, until it disbanded in April 2011.
“I lived in Syracuse and I worked with the Rochester Philharmonic and the Buffalo Philharmonic. So I’m just checking off the list of all the Thruway orchestras. Albany was next,” he said with a laugh.
Albany Symphony Orchestra
WHERE: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton St., Albany
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $60-$19
MORE INFO: There will be pre-concert talks at noon on Friday at the Albany Public Library at 161 Washington Ave. and at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. 694-3300, www.albanysymphony.com
Hege, the music director of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, and Miller have known each other for at least 20 years, from when both men lived in Los Angeles, Hege said.
Miller extends an invitation to a guest conductor every season to allow the ASO to work under someone else. According to staff, Miller will be in town during the concert — not off guest conducting somewhere else.
Written for consortium
The program will open with the Tower piece. Written for a consortium of more than 50 orchestras, it was given its world premiere by the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra in 2005. The title “Made in America” not only plays on the consortium idea, the 12-minute work weaves “America the Beautiful” in as a theme throughout.
“Tower wrote it with an American vernacular. It’s very clever,” Hege said. “I’d conducted it in Syracuse. It’s not a large instrumentation but it’s very smart and works . . . it makes it sound grand. The length is also right and with the American folk tune, it has a populist appeal. It’s also not complex but it has texture and shimmers. It makes it sound intricate.”
Because of its color, splash and American view, Hege said, it will set up the work of the two European composers.
The Mozart concerto will feature David Shifrin, one of the pre-eminent solo clarinetists working today and one of the few wind players to receive the Avery Fisher Prize. He will play on the basset clarinet, the instrument Mozart wrote the piece for.
“The clarinet was a brand-new instrument in Mozart’s time,” Shifrin said. “Haydn didn’t use clarinet, there were none in the baroque and Mozart didn’t use them.”
By the early 1790s, musicians began to take a serious look at it. One of those was Anton Stadler, a good friend of Mozart’s, who played it at the Vienna State Opera.
“Mozart loved its sound. So he and Stadler began experimenting to find notes that didn’t exist on it,” Shifrin said.
Development of clarinet
Mozart wrote the concerto, but his publishers didn’t think anyone would play it and what with the instrument being unwieldy even then, the work never really was performed. Once the modern clarinet had evolved by the 19th century, however, the piece started to find an audience. But because many of the work’s low notes didn’t exist on the clarinet, players would put those notes up an octave or repeat them — something that is still done, Shifrin said.
In the 20th century, instrument builders became more adept and, coupled with their intrigue with the earlier clarinet, they realized they could build them. Then, in the 1970s, scholars found a portion (about 10 minutes worth) of Mozart’s manuscript for the concerto and from that reconstructed the work. That’s when Shifrin got interested.
“I played it a number of times as a student,” he said. “Even then, no one played this version.”
The basset clarinet was still awkward to play. Although most of the fingerings were the same as for modern clarinet, the low notes (four below the modern range) were tricky. So in 1985 Shifrin had a basset clarinet made that allowed him to play seven different keys with the pinky of one hand and six keys with the pinky of the other, he said laughing. It was just in time for him to record the concerto with the Mostly Mozart Orchestra — it later received Record of the Year from Stereo Review Magazine.
Shifrin said the basset clarinet’s sound is more mellow than a modern clarinet, and has a deeper, more contralto tone especially in the low notes. The instrument looks similar to a modern clarinet, just a bit more extended.
Because this will be his debut with the ASO and he’s playing on an instrument that the orchestra may not be familiar with, Shifrin said he will try to listen harder than usual and play his part with clarity so everyone understands his intent. Fortunately, he’s worked with Hege before.
“We’ve done the Nielsen [clarinet concerto] but not Mozart,” Shifrin said. “But I like Daniel. We’ll have a unified approach and it’s a universal method once rehearsal begins — and the Mozart is a standard piece of the repertoire.”
Hege said he’s looking forward to hearing the piece as Mozart conceived it. As for the Beethoven, he said he can trust the orchestra to play its best. Miller has conducted the work twice with the ASO in the past 20 years.
“It will sound fantastic,” Hege said. “As for me, it’s coursing through my veins, I’ve done it so much. But it’s as fresh as if it were written today. I won’t take anything for granted and I’ll be probing for what Beethoven is trying to say.”