The Albany Symphony Orchestra presented an entire evening of music by American composers Saturday as the final offering of its annual American Music Festival at the Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center.
It showed not only how skilled and inventive these composers have become in the last 30 years, but that they are creating music that appeals. The capacity crowd seemed to enjoy every note.
There was the world premiere of Ted Hearne’s “Resourcery (Vol I),” Christopher Rouse’s Piano Concerto with the estimable Orion Weiss in the solo part; and works by two of Rouse’s former pupils: Michael Torke and Kamran Ince. Except for Ince, who was in Turkey, all the composers were present and spoke about their pieces.
Music director David Alan Miller had his hands full in many of the works as they changed meters, tempos, and moods in the blink of an eye, but he easily handled all demands. So, too, did the orchestra, which was in exceptional form, particularly for the Rouse — a truly challenging orchestral work.
Hearne said he was exploring the technique of sampling to use fragments of already existing music to mix and match them in out-of-context ways. He did just that to use a bar of Baroque to a little Debussy or to a bit of Stravinsky and Barber. Along the way, he interposed rhythms, brass or percussion punctuations, a solo viola, tempos that went from very slow to very fast and other business. The last many bars had unsettling loud dissonant chords, which went on too long. Hearn obviously knows how to write a beautiful line — there were a few. But is this not interesting enough? It all ended in a whisper.
Weiss was filling in for Emanuel Ax, who had a pinched nerve, and had to learn the incredibly difficult part in less than a month. He did a superb job. Miller has said the work is one of the greatest contemporary piano concertos in the repertoire. It is certainly one of the most interesting, with novel colors, great unpredictability and a complex tapestry that includes snippets of Schumann’s magical Piano Concerto.
Everything went swimmingly. Today, Weiss and the orchestra record it for Naxos.
The program began with Torke’s “Ectastic Orange”(1985), a splashy, busy, high-energy piece, which challenged the orchestra and the listener with its rhythms, counterpoints and driving pace. There were a few delicate moments for the strings and woodwinds, but the brass would have their assertive way. It was orange, but more like the brassy neon orange that takes no prisoners.
In total contrast was Ince’s “Domes.” With its ethereal, serene, slow haunting strings with only a few harsh tones, it allowed the crowd to settle, relax and dream. Its beautiful lyricism slowly melted away like a sigh.