Composer Clarice Assad is trying to stay calm. Not only will the Albany Symphony Orchestra under music director David Alan Miller premiere her new composition on Saturday, but it will be the first piece on the first concert of the orchestra’s season and it will share the billing with Shostakovich’s first Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
“I don’t believe I consciously thought of this,” Assad said in an email from New York City. “But I guess it’s better not to think, otherwise one can get nervous, right?”
She is no stranger to having her work premiered. As the daughter of Sergio Assad and niece of Odair Assad, the extraordinary Brazilian guitarists who performed so brilliantly last fall at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, she has always had a ready audience for her compositions.
“My whole life I’ve been incredibly surrounded by music. I heard it every day in my living room,” she said. “Music started like a game. There were so many guitarists in the family, and I was writing early on, that it was thought piano would be better for me. I wrote little songs and would play them with my dad.”
Albany Symphony Orchestra
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany
HOW MUCH: $59-$19; discounts of $5 off, students; $2 off, seniors
MORE INFO: 694-3300, www.albanysymphony.com
Although the guitar repertoire is something she’s well familiar with, she also grew up listening to everything from baroque to jazz and especially the works of Gershwin and Jobim. Assad also discovered she could sing and fell in love with jazz in her teens, she said.
“I loved the harmonies and being able to improvise,” she said.
She was so good at singing that she combined that interest with composition to study at schools in Paris, Boston, Ann Arbor and Chicago, do workshops with famed scat singer Bobby McFerrin, and perform worldwide with members of the extended Assad family, which has three generations of musicians.
She sings on her two discs, “Home” (Adventure Music) and “Imaginarium” (to be released), and she has written a concerto for herself, “Concerto for Scat Singer, Piano and Orchestra,” that the ASO will perform next May with Assad singing.
She will also work this year as the orchestra’s composer-educator with young girls at Albany’s Hackett Middle School to create a piece for improvised voices.
“It will be girl power and very exciting,” she said.
Her love for singing is infused into her new work, “Nhanderu,” which the ASO will play on Saturday. The title is the word for God in Tupi-Guarani, a language of a group of indigenous peoples who live in the Amazon basin. It is about the relationship between the real and the spiritual world and is a musical portrait of a rain dance ritual, which focuses on faith, prayer and gratitude, Assad said.
The idea is to create a vivid listening experience with a score that calls for vocalizing, finger snapping, clapping, body tapping and percussion instruments, which imitate sounds of nature, she said.
“Writing for orchestra is so different than writing for guitar,” Assad said. “I love what it can do. It’s so rewarding.”
Violinist is ready
No less excited about the concert is violinist Cho-Liang Lin.
“I have done several premieres with great joy with the Albany Symphony and had mentioned to David that I wanted to play the Shostakovich sometime,” Lin said from Houston where he’s a violin professor at Rice University’s School of Music. “The idea grew. The concerto is not a warhorse kind of concerto but it has become mainstream enough.”
Written around 1948 for famed Russian violinist David Oistrakh, it was one of those violin concertos that teachers told their students should be played when they became older and had had a fuller life experience, Lin said.
“When you compare the technical demands against those written in the 19th century, they are not greater,” Lin said. “What is challenging is conveying the right moods and emotions.”
That and the endurance and stamina a violinist must have to play very loud and hard for almost 40 minutes without interruption. There is a famous story that when Shostakovich showed the score to Oistrakh, the violinist noted the length and difficulties of the violin part. He suggested that a small passage just for the orchestra prior to the beginning of the finale would help the violinist.
“And Shostakovich did. The third movement is linked to the fourth and the violinist gets a 30-second breather as the orchestra plays alone,” Lin said. “The concerto is very tiring to play. It’s the muscular fatigue.”
Although Lin has performed the work before, sometimes five times over a five-day orchestra schedule, this is the first time in three years he’s done it. He’ll do the concerto again in November in Orlando.
“The concerto speaks to me. When I was young, I thought it dark and brooding and was always waiting for the fireworks of the third movement,” he said.
“Now, I’m aware of the profoundly human states of Shostakovich’s aspirations, repressions and his overcoming that. Of course, I can become too involved with the Shostakovich mystique. Mainly, I’ll be trying to pace myself to have enough gas.”
Although there is no way to physically prepare to perform the work, Lin has a plan.
“I only want a good steak afterward,” he said laughing.
Miller will also give a pre-concert preview at noon tomorrow at the Albany Public Library.