Symphony Orchestra’s pursuit of new and recent works brought
seven composers and six premieres to Troy last weekend for
the American Music Festival. The big event, Saturday’s concert
at EMPAC’s Concert Hall, featured three of those guests.
David Alan Miller encouraged composer James Primosch to consider
a Hudson River theme for his commission, so his Luminism
drew inspiration from the Hudson River School of painters
and musically limned their shifting light. Primosch bookended
the piece with a slow hymn from the low-voiced strings, soon
reinforced by the equivalent brass. Textural details were
provided, at various times, by brass and bells, flute and
clarinet, both violin sections, horns over strings and plenty
of exchanges between brass and the rest of the group, with
a cumulative sense of mystery.
teacher John Harbison also was on hand to introduce a suite
from Harbison’s opera The Great Gatsby. True to its
1920s setting, the opera features a dance band of the era,
performing idiomatic material also penned by Harbison. Those
players were placed out of sight, their dance music coming
to us as if from a radio. Each sequence they played was reinforced
by the larger ensemble, through contrast and occasional accompaniment.
It’s a fairly bouncy work that sneaks us into a better appreciation
of Harbison’s compositional voice by completing it with the
decades-old sound of Americana.
composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s voice was initially shaped
by serialism, then released into a sort of Sibelius-meets-Shostakovich
synthesis that’s very much his own. His Percussion Concerto
was written for and premiered by Colin Currie last year with
the London Philharmonic.
an uneasy tremolo in the strings, tympani rolls and glissandos
set a mood broken by the first marimba figures, building over
the orchestra and solo clarinet. An arpeggiated figure built
in the marimba that suddenly sent Currie to the more robust-sounding
vibes, moving from two to four mallets as the tension increased.
a slow section that gave solo time to vibes and cello, the
piece went into a whirlwind finish featuring the theatrical
aspect of seeing Currie get in time from place to place. As
is characteristic of this composer, the mood often shimmered
from unsettling to sweet, but placing percussion at the center
showed Rautavaara as a commanding—and playful—agent of rhythm.
opened with two new movements from Stacy Garrop’s Mythology
Symphony: “The Lovely Sirens” and “The Fates of Man.”
of foreboding is established by a conversation between horns
and percussion, then a sweep of low strings leads to up-and-down
violin glissandos that rise in pitch and, therefore, intensity.
Once the shipwreck occurs, the movement ends in a blaze of
Holst-like intensity. Those “fates of man” lead the man in
question to the inevitable: As the strings drop out in clusters
and a flutter-tongued trumpet sounds softly, the unhappy brass
take over to lead us to a solo cello whose lament abruptly
silences. Good thing there’s a fourth movement coming—this
would be an awfully depressing finish.
of Desire is the small unit drawn from within the ASO ranks
that performs only commissioned works geared for the unique
sound of this ensemble, which is heavy on reeds and percussion.
They opened the festival Friday evening in the EMPAC Theater.
is a smaller space than the Concert Hall, and it’s also an
acoustically splendid space for music. Yet the Dogs were amplified
to an astonishingly unnecessary—and physically unpleasant—degree.
Reynolds is a composer-violinist who collaborated with Eric
Singer, founder of the League of Electronic Musical Urban
Robots, for his new work Centrifuge. It features the
fascinating Guitar Bot, a four-stringed contraption that plays
a MIDI stream of a guitar part composed by Reynolds and fed
from his onstage MacBook. Which also fed the two Mod Bots,
percussion units that added split-second accents in a variety
of textures. These were as fascinating to watch as to hear,
yet they blended nicely with Reynolds, playing amplified violin,
and the ensemble. It was a thrilling demonstration of how
to put computer-driven acoustic instruments in the service
of live performers.
Is it dirty sets a 1964 poem by Frank O’Hara. Orchestrally,
it has a jazzy, blues-inspired feeling, while vocalists Alexandra
Sweeton and Kamala Sankaram sounded sinuous lines almost at
odds with their subject—and, in this case, all the more effective.
with a theme of technology, Patrick Burke’s Everything
Else saluted the idea of Nikola Tesla’s inventions, and
the music hummed with engaging shifts of often syncopated
activity. It was synchronized to a video display that added
nothing to the work, and was nothing more than a montage of
old photos over a background of sparking current.
new work was David Mallamud’s Electric Love: A Ragtime
Opera, offering a sardonic scenario about Edison, Westinghouse,
Tesla and competing currents. Overlong and underfunny, it
put me in mind of the annoying kid who knows one joke and
torments everyone around him by telling it again and again.
Eberhard’s Karaoke Time took the mickey out of everyone’s
favorite sing-along by offering a humorous combination of
text and images. A lightweight but lighthearted work, it succeeds
by taking itself not at all seriously.
piece, Mark Mellits’ Froot Loops, was premiered by
the Dogs in 1997 and remains a cheerful buzz of activity—but
the simple tech challenge of activating the conductor’s microphone
proved too difficult for tech staff.
out with a few tried-and-true encores. As always, I applaud
the Dogs’ audacity, and hope they’ll continue to push the