lets the dogs out: conductor David Alan Miller.
The Dogs of Desire
Hall, March 26
Placing this small-group unit of the Albany Symphony in Troy’s
Revolution Hall underscored the ensemble’s mission, which
is to bring contemporary classical music beyond its usual
rarefied venues. It’s a worthy idea, even if it seems mostly
to attract the current (and, I suspect, consistent) Dogs of
Desire audience. The players are among the best the orchestra
has to offer, and conductor David Alan Miller has an obvious
affinity for the new, exuberant music that this ensemble commissions
This year’s farrago, like last year’s, comprised eight works,
most of them balancing the dense orchestral voice too often
used to distinguish “classical” music from its more easygoing
brethren with a fresher, rock-inspired sound.
Dana Wilson’s Song of Desire showed how these tools
can be most effectively used. Adding the talents of two singers,
Heather Gardner and Alexandra Sweeton, to add twin lines of
wordless vocalese, he began with what could have been a leftover
Ketelby melody and wove it into a compelling realization of
the emotion in question by a deft series of contrasts, from
solo lines on violin and cello to a more full-out brass declamation.
There was more tension in Ken Eberhard’s Channel Surfing,
a fantasia that at times saluted the rhythms and woodwind
sounds of Stravinsky, and at other times fell into movie-music
mode, but in the style of the intelligent, jazzy music of,
say, Jerome Moross. An amazing amount of contrast was packed
into this six-minute work, but it was an edgier contrast than
Wilson’s piece displayed.
With a background in musical theater, it’s no surprise that
Randall Eng would consider the theatrical possibilities of
a work like his Flowing, in 2, which gave words to
the singers (text by Matthew McGuire) and showed a wonderful
surety of style—the Bernstein influence was apparent—casting
the voices in carefully considered solos, unisons and harmonies.
What words I could follow (no printed texts were provided)
seemed to have been chosen more for euphony than dramatic
effect, which undercut the impact of the piece.
Daniel Bernard Roumain is known for music and performances
that bridge classical traditions with contemporary urban stylings,
and La, La, La, La announced from the outset, with
its rhythm-box-like opening, that it would deliver its message
with wit. Eight-bar phrases, possibly drawn from a gospel
song, were tossed from string quartet to winds and finally,
more fragmented, to full orchestra for an effective concert-opening
And the transition to Huang Ruo’s Leaving Sao couldn’t
have been more startling. “Sao” is Chinese for sorrow or sadness,
and he gave Gardner a lyric in that language sung with plenty
of pitch blending and other native vocal effects that were
mimicked and expanded in the orchestra. Much of it was keyed
to the natural music of the language; combined with a very
different harmonic and rhythmic background, the East-West
fusion is difficult to achieve without sounding trite, but
Ruo was impressively effective.
Dan Cooper, master of the seven-string electric bass, has
written works for the Dogs before; this concert saw the premiere
of his lively Concertino, a classically structured
three-movement work that manages to be utterly charming amidst
a throbbing swirl of cacophony, all of it making unexpected
sense as the work unfolded. As soloist, Cooper afforded himself
plenty of opportunity for virtuosic display, an old-fashioned
but still pleasing concerto characteristic.
Because one of the commissioned works wasn’t ready, we had
a reprise of last year’s Puja, by Gabriel Ian Gould.
Electric bass, rock-rhythm drumming, two sopranos with a sinuous
vocal and careful use of winds and strings created the Bollywood
effect the composer wished to capture; the vocal, drawn from
a 13th-century Hindu prayer, was a surprisingly fitting companion.
Arthur Bloom proved some seasons back that an unlikely pair
of tunes can make surprisingly good bedfellows, and, in “That’s
the Way I Like It,” reprised as an encore, Sweeton sang the
song from KC (uh-huh) and the Sunshine Band as the
orchestra found moments of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto
No. 2 to weave in.
Bloom was back with another concept piece: Orchestrobics,
which, as I discovered to my slothful horror, called upon
the audience to follow Mary Anne Fantauzzi’s lively aerobics
while the ensemble accompanied it with jagged but danceable
rhythms and jazzy snatches of tune. Many of the exercises
required the audience to mime musical instrument playing,
to the delight of those orchestra players who could grab glances
at their imitators.