TROY — The Albany Symphony Orchestra gave a groundbreaking concert Sunday afternoon at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Not only was the program unusual for its choices, but there were two world premieres and, for the first time, the orchestra recorded the concert live. This concert was a repeat of Saturday night’s concert also at the hall.
Music director David Alan Miller told the near-capacity crowd that the recording was for a Joan Tower disc, one of three planned (the others are for George Tsontakis and Christopher Rouse) that will spotlight music by living composers. That’s unusual, said Tower, whose work “Still/Rapids” with pianist Blair McMillen was to be premiered.
Orchestras these days are not recording new music, she said, and although “Beethoven is God, classical music has to move on.”
To that end, Tower’s work and then Conor Brown’s “Bablook: Planet of Hands” were performed. Tower’s titles perfectly indicated what she wrote. “Still” was Debussy-an with atmospheric jazz harmonies and pastel colors drawing a blue sky, still lake, and pretty rippling arpeggios in the piano. “Rapid,” which was written in 1996, was fast, loud and hard-edged with tone clusters, cascading lines, syncopated rhythms, and lots of very fast scales in the piano with both hands working closely together. McMillen nailed it all and the crowd cheered.
Brown’s piece successfully described his otherworldly and exotic title, which he said he’d made up. Eastern European scales and rhythms, undulating motifs under soaring strings, multi-meters that Miller conducted with great clarity, inner lush melodies and watery-sounding moments with a solo xylophone followed by machine-like propulsive motifs were all played with much skill and intensity. The crowd roared its approval — and this was only Brown’s second piece for orchestra.
There was more newness. The concert began with Stravinsky’s Octet for Winds (1923), a chamber work not usually heard on an orchestral concert. The reading was a vivacious one.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”) stunned his audiences in 1805. They’d never heard anything like it. A critic of the day called it “a mass of unconnected and overloaded ideas,” according to the program notes.
Today, it is admired and loved as one of Beethoven’s most lyrical. Miller asked for very quick tempos and attention to details. The ASO responded with excellent ensemble and played the four movements with passion. The music sailed along. The Funeral March was especially intense. Not a dollop more of grief could be wrung. It was first-rate stuff.
The next ASO concert is April 5 with the Albany Pro Musica in Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater.”