ALBANY — The person most looking forward to the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s first concert of the season on Saturday, which will feature acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell, is the orchestra’s music director, David Alan Miller.
“I’ve only worked with Joshua twice before, here, with the orchestra,” Miller said. “What’s so exciting is that it’s a group experience. Everyone sits up straight and engages with a different level of performance. Artists like Joshua elevate the whole capability of the group. We attain it [his level] in a strange kind of way. He makes us all play like superstars.”
What makes Bell’s short stay with the orchestra most memorable for Miller, though, is the conversations he’ll have with him before the first rehearsal.
Bell is scheduled to perform Bruch’s romantic Concerto in G minor, a work that Miller has conducted many times before — just not with Bell.
Albany Symphony Orchestra
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6
WHERE: Palace Theatre
HOW MUCH: $90, $70, $45. All other concerts $59-$19. Gala $150, waiting list only
MORE INFO: 694-3300, www.albanysymphony.com
“Most great artists are known for their consistency,” Miller said. “I’ll listen to Bell’s recordings of the Bruch to get an idea of his concepts. It’s a courtesy and it tells me how he preferred to play it in the past.”
But, Miller said, he’ll take it all with a grain of salt. Too many times artists have told him that they hated the recording he listened to because the conductor took it too slow or fast or something was off.
Instead, Miller will go over the score with Bell to find out what his “pet peeves are, what he likes, what works.”
“Josh is wonderfully conductorial [he conducts the chamber music group the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields from the concertmaster position]. And he’s so intelligent. It’s almost like getting a conducting lesson. I love it,” Miller said.
The opening concert will also introduce Clint Needham’s “The Body Electric.” Needham is this year’s composer-in-residence and composer/educator and will work with the Hackett Middle School’s sixth-to-eighth-grade students to compose a piece that will possibly be heard during May’s American Music Festival.
Needham, who currently teaches at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music in Berea, Ohio, has been much awarded and his work has been extensively performed throughout this country, Europe, Brazil, Japan and Australia. Critics have called his music “wildly entertaining,” “well-crafted and arresting,” and “brilliantly orchestrated.” But until three years ago, Miller had only seen two of his pieces.
“He’d sent a piece to a reading session and I wondered why because he had such a reputation. But I thought the piece so terrific I put it on the Yo-Yo Ma gala,” Miller said. “It was a huge sensation. Now, the work has been played everywhere.”
What impressed Miller was Needham’s talent and polish.
“He’s a very youthful-looking guy and his music is as fresh faced as he is,” Miller said with a laugh. “What I love about him is that he writes electrifying music. It’s symphonic but with an ear for pop music and jazz with gestures that are very American. And he’s wonderful as a teacher — disarming, interesting and caring.”
Balancing the Needham and Bruch will be Elgar’s ephemeral “Enigma Variations.”
The gala at 60 State Place will immediately follow the concert.
While the September concert will be “short but beautiful,” Miller said, the October 18 concert will be a big Russian program, the kind everyone loves. Pianist Joyce Yang, winner of the silver medal at the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and a frequent ASO guest, will play Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Also scheduled are Andrew Norman’s “Apart” and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6.
On November 22, Taiwanese-American conductor Mei-Ann Chen, music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, will do a program she designed of Golijov, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn with violinist Caroline Goulding.
December concerts will include the “Magic of Christmas” on the 7th and on Dec. 20 and 21 it will be Michael Torke’s new work, Miller said.
“We’ve premiered a lot of his works but this is his first string concerto,” he said. “I thought he had a beautiful cello concerto in him and this is it. We’re also to record a Torke disc.”
The Torke work called “The Winter’s Tale” will feature Julie Albers. Also scheduled are works by Corelli, Bach and Stravinsky.
The spring season will feature some old friends and newcomers. January 17 will spotlight favorite Scottish percussionist Colin Currie in the U.S. premiere of a new percussion work by Julia Wolfe, who was a Bang on a Can founder.
“The piece was inspired by urban/street music and will have Colin using percussion on his body,” Miller said.
February 21 and 22 will be the debut for Philadelphia Orchestra tubist Carol Jantsch in Vaughan Williams’ Tuba Concerto, which is the first time Miller has worked with either. Jantsch will also play ASO mentor-composer Daugherty’s “Reflections on the Mississippi.”
March 21 and 22 is unconventional in that seven composers will be re-imagining the finish of Mozart’s Requiem.
“This will be a new version with added theatricals and music. It will be an enhancing,” Miller said.
April 18 spotlights Time for Three in Higdon’s “Concerto 4-3,” which the trio played at SPAC in 2008, and the first time Miller has conducted Copland’s “Billy the Kid Suite.”
May 16 is one of the concerts that is part of the annual American Music Festival, whose theme will be migrations. The ASO concert will include world premieres from Needham and Andrea Reinkemeyer and a Daugherty flute work with Amy Porter.