TROY – The versatility of the Albany Symphony Orchestra was on full display this weekend for the American Music Festival “Sing Out! New York” held mostly at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC). A plethora of concerts and events were themed around women’s suffrage and the gay rights movement even as composers worked with other disciplines to create new frontiers in visual and aural explorations for the huge crowds. It was all cutting edge.
On Friday night, the 16-piece Dogs of Desire under music director David Alan Miller’s expert direction and assisted by superb singers Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Lucy Dhegrae reveled in letting loose with tonally accessible, classical-style sounds with a bit of rock, rap, and pop. All pieces were world premieres.
Composer Loren Loiacano’s “Petticoats of Steel” used five women from Capital Repertory Theatre who enthusiastically delivered speech segments from suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton as interludes in a long, rambunctious, rhythmic and sometimes funky score that could have been shorter and still be effective.
Rachel Peters’ “If You Could Prove That I Should Set You Free” used sly humor and dance-able tunes to offset the strong words employed by her five women. Andre Myers invoked rap in “Studies in Hope: Frederick Douglass” from Albany High School’s Chamber Choir in strongly punctuated, fast movements before settling into a solemn chorale. Clarice Assad also used young singers from Girls, Inc. in “Ain’t I A Woman” in call and response music that sometimes swayed darkly into rock.
Only Viet Cuong chanced to try dancers from the newly named Hudson Dance Collective in “Transfigured.” Their colorful costumes and use of long colored sashes as they spun, rolled, and intertwined mirrored the pop-y, charming, laughing score.
A handful of lucky patrons and media got to view the new film, “Anatomy of a Symphony: Of Rage and Remembrance: A Portrait of John Corigliano.” In the film Corigliano, a deeply sensitive and brilliantly creative composer, talked with Miller about how he composed the symphony even as the ASO performed this eloquent work.
On Saturday night, the ASO was in sensational form. The world premiere of Tanner Porter’s “Knit/Purl” was a magical, feathery song with deep underpinnings to honor the suffragettes. The composer sang like a chanteuse and molded Vanessa Moody’s lyrics with joy often soaring above the orchestra. It was the first time the ASO has featured her work and the crowd loved it.
John Corigliano’s Piano Concerto (1968) with British pianist Philip Fisher was and still is a strikingly fresh, bold, driven, fiercely uncompromising work. Its four movements challenged the fantastic pianist even as it pulled the audience in with its loud aggressive passages that would give way to lush melodies. This got another standing ovation.
In contrast was David Del Tredici’s highly theatrical “Pop-Pourri” (1968) based on “Alice in Wonderland.” Actress/soprano Hila Plitmann in a fabulous blue sequin gown spun out a tour-de-force seeming to pluck high notes out of the air. Del Tredici’s mordant wit permeated the work using to effect electric guitar, two soprano saxes, sighs, clangs, whispers, chimes and two screaming piccolos. Wildly inventive but perhaps an acquired taste.
Principal bassoonist Stephen Walt, retiring after 38 years with the orchestra, received a signed framed photo of the orchestra, a bouquet, and many admiring comments from Miller.