Women composers and performers are the focus of the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s season, which opens Saturday. None of the concerts typify that more than opening night’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
“It’s the idea of portraits,” music director David Alan Miller said. “They’re visual stimuli in the creation of music.”
Besides Leonard Bernstein’s Suite from “On the Waterfront,” which connects to film, and Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which is about a stroll through a museum, there’s the local premiere of Valerie Coleman’s “Phenomenal Women” with the Imani Winds (a Grammy-nominated woodwind quintet). The work premiered in 2018, and was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and the American Composers Orchestra.
The work is in five movements, with each dedicated to a woman of color who has overcome adversity: the poet Maya Angelou; tennis great Serena Williams; NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson; former first lady Michelle Obama; and Olympic gold medalist boxer Claressa Shields.
Each member of the Imani will be featured: flutist Brandon Patrick George; oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz; French hornist Jeff Scott; clarinetist Mark Dover; and bassoonist Monica Ellis.
“The work is charming and interesting,” Miller said. “Each movement is like a miniature concerto. It’s an unusual and wonderful idea.”
Other kinds of pictures will be on display opening night. There will be a party (5-7p.m. for $75) at the Arcade Building, where principal trumpet Eric Berlin’s photography will be displayed. Over the years he’s shot pictures of the orchestra, the guest artists and the halls the orchestra has performed in. This is a curated show of 85 of his prints, which have also been gathered into a book.
An unusual concert will take place Saturday, Nov. 9, when theremin player Carolina Eyck will give the world premiere of Dalit Warshaw’s “Sirens — a Concerto for Theremin.” The electronic instrument was invented in 1924 by Leon Theremin, a young Russian scientist — the first of its kind. It looks like a small, rectangular wooden box with a vertical antenna on the right side and a horizontal loop on the left that emit an electromagnetic field.
As the right hand moves toward the antenna, pitch goes up; as the hand moves away the pitch goes down. The loop controls the volume. The closer the hand is to the loop, the softer; the farther away, the louder. Its almost violin-like sound is otherworldly.
“The orchestra as an ecosystem has not generally embraced electronic instruments,” Miller said. “But the theremin is the mother of all.”
General Electric in Schenectady manufactured up to 500 theremins. But by 1954, Robert Moog had become fascinated with its concept and invented his synthesizer, which is like a keyboard and can sound like any instrument in the orchestra. This instrument has become a staple in jazz, rock and pop bands.
Eyck, who is one of a small group of international soloists who specialize in the theremin, was introduced to the instrument at age 7 by her parents. She already played piano and violin, but fell in love with the theremin and by her teen years began performing professionally. It meant missing a lot of school.
“As a kid I didn’t think it was special,” she said. “I wasn’t nervous when I performed. I thought I was doing magic. It gave me freedom and confidence onstage. I knew that people couldn’t judge me because no one could do it right.”
The instrument is difficult to master, and Eyck had to develop her own techniques.
“By 17, I’d become satisfied,” she said.
Warshaw’s concerto is in three movements and is very lyrical and colorful with much intensity, Eyck said. This concert is part of her U.S. tour.
Also on the program is Borodin’s Overture to “Prince Igor” a favorite of Miller’s, and Rachmaninoff’s lush, gorgeous Symphony No. 2, which the ASO will perform for the first time, he said.
Saturday, Dec. 7, includes Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”; Barber’s “Knoxville: Fall of 2019” with soprano Talise Trevigne; Andre Myers’ “Studies in Hope: Frederick Douglass” with Albany High School’s Chamber Choir, which premiered it in May with Dogs of Desire; and Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (“Linz”).
Miller will give his usual Friday at noon talks at the Albany Public Library as well as onstage one hour prior to each concert. A new round-trip shuttle service is available from the Bethlehem area for $15. (Call 518 694-3300).
Albany Symphony Orchestra
--Saturday, 7:30 p.m.: Palace Theatre
--Saturday, Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m.: Palace Theatre
--Saturday, Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m.:Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
--Sunday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m.: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
--Saturday, Dec. 14, 3 p.m.: Palace Theatre (“Magic of Christmas”)
HOW MUCH: $20-$62
MORE INFO: 518-694-3300; www.