Saturday night’s Albany Symphony Orchestra concert at the Palace Theatre was a prelude to bigger things, as it will perform May 7 at Carnegie Hall as part of the 3rd annual Spring for Music festival.
Based on what the large crowd heard at the Palace, the orchestra, which was under music director David Alan Miller, should have no worries when it hits New York City. It was in fine fettle and played the difficult program with technical brilliance and much éclat. It helped that pianist Kevin Cole, a George Gershwin wizard, was lending his hand. Nothing succeeds like playing something a crowd knows and loves.
The concert began with John Harbison’s Suite from his 1999 opera “The Great Gatsby.” A small stage band, which included a banjo, drum trap set, and a saxophone provided the color of 1920s style tunes with concert mistress Jill Levy, who was part of the band, bowing away in perfect period café style.
What was unexpected apart from the catchy, flirtatious tunes and tangoes was that barely midway into the first section, flashing white lights proclaimed a fire alarm. While many members of the balcony began to head to an exit, the orchestra played on, unaware. Then, the lights suddenly went off. By then the music had moved into a lyrical tuneful section only to evolve into a foreboding, dark climax that might have echoed the story line. Talk about eventful.
Cole was the star in Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody (1932), which had Gershwin’s signature tight, jazzy rhythms and harmonies. The piano part, which was very difficult with much crosshand passages, interspersed between fireworks and great sweeping melodies. Cole was brilliant and the orchestra was strongly supportive.
But Cole wanted to play more, so he gave the crowd an electrifying medley of Gershwin tunes that showed off not only his technical and compositional brilliance but was an homage to Gershwin’s genius. It was totally fabulous and the crowd roared its delight.
Morton Gould’s Symphony No. 3 (1948), which is a Miller favorite, was unexpectedly inventive, brilliantly orchestrated with dense layers, dramatic, colorful, jazzily rhythmic, and very bold work in four movements that allowed every section of the orchestra to have a chance to shine. The music vibrated with edge and anguish with only occasional departures into dreaminess and sunshine. The speedy, taut coda at the end of the third movement was especially brilliant. The whole piece was like the dawning of an age. All sure to bring the Carnegie crowd to its feet.