ALBANY — One of the best perks about being music director of an orchestra is that you get to choose which pieces you want to play and what artists you want to work with. So it is for David Alan Miller, the music director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, whose gala season opener on Saturday is a case in point.
“Viet Cuong’s ‘Re(new)al’ was such a spectacular piece for the Dogs of Desire [at the 2017 American Music Festival] that I asked him if he could reimagine it for a whole orchestra,” Miller said. “It’s a great chance to introduce it to a larger audience.”
The work involved the percussion ensemble Sandbox, which played everything from tuned crystal glasses and compressed air containers to xylophone and snare drums with the 17-piece Dogs. How could Cuong, a doctoral student in composition at Princeton University, keep the work’s intimate yet theatrical quality?
“It was pretty tricky to adapt it to 70 players,” Cuong said. “But I found that the orchestra’s lack of amplification and controlling how loud the drums could get helped pare down the sound. And the effect of the crystal glasses can be echoed by the harp and some string pizzicato.”
A few other tweaks were made, and Sandbox will still play.
“The piece is not exactly the same, but I think it’s more powerful with all the people,” Cuong said.
Miller has also for years wanted to perform Brahms’ Violin Concerto, considered one of the great masterpieces of the solo repertoire.
“But it takes a certain deep, profound kind of player, almost intellectual, to do it,” Miller said. “The piece asks for a brain/heart introspection. I wanted a player who had depth and understanding. There’s so much about the music that is hard. It’s not about a virtuosic display.”
Miller found the right candidate in violinist Stefan Jackiw, who fans might know from his two sensational recitals on the Union College Concert Series.
“He’s such a patrician, refined kind of violinist with a brilliant technique,” Miller said.
Jackiw, 33, has often performed the Brahms, but considers it one of the most challenging concertos as the composer, who consulted with the great violinist Joseph Joachim on the violinist’s part, still went ahead with what he wanted to musically say.
“Brahms went with the spirit of Joachim’s suggestions, not his technical ideas,” Jackiw said. “There are awkward passages that don’t lie easily. And the pitfalls of the first movement can sound like disconnected dramatic blocks. I must make them fluid, which is a challenge, and I hope I’ve gotten better at that since I first began working on the piece at 13. The finale must also have drive with a rhapsodic Hungarian gypsy feel.”
This will be Jackiw’s debut with the orchestra, something he’s become used to with his international career.
“I’ve always worked hard — I’ve never been called a prodigy, but I want to feel I’m prepared, with a clear concept of what I want to do even note by note, and be secure enough to be flexible [with a new conductor and orchestra] with new ideas,” he said.
The program also includes selections from various operas by Wagner, Bizet and Verdi.
Miller will give a preview at noon Friday at the Albany Public Library on Washington Street. The gala will be on the Palace stage immediately after the concert.
If you go
WHAT: Albany Symphony Orchestra
WHERE: Palace Theatre
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $19-$60 concert only;
$135-$175 gala w/out concert
MORE INFO: 518- 694-3300; www.albany
Oct. 13: Miller, Stefan Jackiw;
Palace Theatre, 7 p.m.
Nov. 10: Miller, Albany Pro Musica, Cathedral of All Saints Boys; Proctors, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 15-16: Miller; Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 5-6: Miller, Tessa Lark; Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 7:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Feb. 9-10: Miller, Orion Weiss; Troy
Savings Bank Music Hall, 3 and 7:30 p.m.
March 9: Miller, Colin Currie; Palace Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
April 6-7: Loh, Chee-Yun; Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 3 and 7:30 p.m.
May 4: Miller; Palace Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
June 1: Miller, Philip Fisher, Hila
Plitmann; EMPAC, 7:30 p.m.