Every year, Albany Symphony Orchestra music director David Alan Miller looks forward to the American Music Festival when he gets to conduct new music by living American composers. The festival, which starts today and runs through Saturday, will feature the work of 13 composers with seven world premieres.
What makes this year’s festival different from past years is that many of the composers are women and two of the new pieces are collaborations with dancers.
“There are not so many women composers internationally as men,” Miller said, “but there are a lot of women in this festival. I’m proud to feature these very gifted women, many of them emerging or up and coming.”
Two of those women — Indian composer Reena Esmail and Portuguese composer Andreia Pinto-Correia — wrote works that collaborate with dancers. Esmail explores traditional Indian dance with the Bharatanatyam dancer Sisira Gorthala and Pinto-Correia celebrates flamenco with one of Spain’s greatest flamenco dancers, Omayra Amaya.
Pinto-Correia, who started her performing life as a jazz saxophonist before she moved into composition in 2007, had wanted to write a project based on Federico Garcia Lorca’s first book, “Impressions and Landscapes,” for several years.
American Music Festival with Albany Symphony
WHERE: EMPAC, RPI, Troy
WHEN: Today, 7:30 p.m. Reading Session, free
Friday: 6 p.m. reception with Miller and Glennie — $35 (reception only) $25 with concert
Friday: 7:30 p.m. Dogs of Desire, $25
Saturday: 7:30 p.m. $62; simulcast $20; $10 students
MORE INFO: 694-3300; www.albanysymphony.com
“I was waiting for the right time,” Pinto-Correia said from Wyoming a few weeks ago where she was doing a residency at the Ucross Foundation’s retreat. “The piece was a challenge in visual terms with the dancer and for its dramatic architecture. I think this is a very theatrical, sensorial work, very atmospheric.”
Her “Impressions and Landscapes” is divided into six sections or landscapes with Amaya doing her own choreography. The 18-piece Dogs of Desire, which will give the premiere tomorrow, will also provide a few whispers and speak some of Lorca’s words.
“The magicality of his words will be put into a visual abstract,” Pinto-Correia said.
Other premieres on Friday’s program will be Conor Brown’s new piece inspired by Turkish music and dance; Esmail’s work; and a new piece from a favorite Dogs composer David Mallamud, which will be recorded as part of a disc of his music. The Dogs will also play some past gems including “Orchestrobics” by Arthur Bloom, which hasn’t been played in years, Miller said; Daniel Worley’s “Tongues” — a six-minute classic about snake healers speaking; and Carolyn Yarnell’s “Dreamer” — a very early Dogs.
Tonight, however, composers get to hear their own new pieces. For the fifth year, the ASO will play three works as part of the Composer to Center Stage Reading Session that includes a rehearsal for each piece, performance and final critique. Each composer also gets a recording of their work. More than 50 composers, most of them under 30, sent in pieces to be considered.
“I look at them blind — I don’t know who the composers are,” Miller said. “I’m looking for an interesting voice that would create a world within their piece, and a composer’s craft. Is the piece playable, can it be put together well since we have only a small amount of time to rehearse it. If the piece is extremely complex it’s not feasible.”
Miller chose Michael-Thomas Foumai’s “Nataraja”, Evan Fein’s “Newton’s Clock” and Tucker Fuller’s “It Moves Us Not.”
“They are all lovely, skilled and appealing,” Miller said, adding that only after he selected the winning scores did he realize he knew Fuller and Fein and that Fuller had written a chamber piece for Dogs in a previous festival.
“Other orchestras do reading sessions but they’re not on the level of the ASO, and working with David Alan Miller is amazing. He’s really interested in new music. It’s not common,” Fuller said from New Orleans.
His piece is for a small orchestra similar to Mozart’s — a sound he said he’s obsessed with, that uses traditional form with repeated sequences and melodies merged into contemporary structures.
“It’s very clear and you’ll hear the development,” Fuller said.
His title is from Wordsworth’s poem “The World is Too Much With Us.” The piece is also his first orchestral work in several years and was written last August. He submitted it to the ASO in December and heard by email in February. He can hardly wait to hear it.
“I’ll be excited but also terrified,” Fuller said with a laugh.
As for Saturday’s concert with the full ASO, it will be a chance to welcome back percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, who will perform Joan Towers’ “Strike Zones,” which will be recorded for a Tower disc.
“It’s a monumental, 25-minute tour de force and Glennie will be mesmerizing,” Miller said. “She’s also a major international superstar and for her to come to the ASO and record this piece is a special treat for us.”
Also on the program is Clarice Assad’s “Scattered Concerto for Piano and Scat Singing” with Assad playing piano and doing the vocals; and two John Harbison works that will also be recorded: “Dark Bloom: An Overture for an Imagined Opera,” and a song cycle based on an Alice Munro story called “Closer to My Own Life” with soprano Mary Mackenzie.
Other festival events include a free Glennie masterclass at 3 p.m. today; a reception at 6 p.m. on Friday prior to the Dogs concert with Miller and Glennie; a Dogs party after their concert; a meet and greet at 11:30 a.m. with Assad and a few musicians at Troy’s Farmers Market on Saturday. A simulcast of the Saturday concert will also be available in the smaller EMPAC theater.