ALBANY — The Albany Symphony Orchestra made some magic Thursday night at the Palace Theatre with a program that featured a world premiere and the remarkable artistry of legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Any concert with Ma is a celebration: He waved to the near-capacity crowd, who were hooting and applauding loudly when he came on stage, he connected to the orchestra as old friends, and he projected a focused joy when he played. Right away, the audience was drawn in and remained rapt for the entire Elgar Cello Concerto.
The piece, which is in five continuous movements, is a nostalgic, achingly searching and autumnal work that a cellist must connect to on a personal level to make it work. Ma exceeded anyone’s expectations. His long lines were heavily and eloquently nuanced. He lingered, he sped up, he dug in for rich tones or he spun the notes out like a fragile spider’s web. Because he took a lot of liberties with the part, music director David Alan Miller had to keep an eagle’s eye to keep missed connections to a minimum.
The orchestra’s sensibility level came up a few notches to match the depth and richness of Ma’s tapestry. After sustained applause, cheers and whistles, Ma played the Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 6.
Before that, the orchestra belted out Wagner’s “Prelude to The Meistersinger.” What it lacked in subtlety, it made up for in a big, powerful sound, a strong dynamic range, and brisk tempos.
The string section did a very good job with Dvorak’s marvelous “Serenade for Strings.” Miller called the work “daunting,” which is easy to understand because there’s so much happening in it. Dvorak was a master orchestrator and had a genius for creating melodies. This is one of his most beautiful pieces. Miller set excellent tempos. The enthusiastic ensemble was good, although pitch occasionally wavered.
The orchestra was in its element with the world premiere of Conor Brown’s “Range upon Range.” It’s a terrific piece full of color, rhythm, hints of Celtic or Arabic melody, and interestingly orchestrated from the opening’s eerie high strings against a lone soaring clarinet to big hunky brass moments. Brown told the crowd the piece was a “dream journey with no plot. It’s just music for music’s sake.” He succeeded eminently.
The next ASO concert is Jan. 7 in Corigliano and Tchaikovsky with pianist Ilya Rashkovskiy.