Thanks to New York State’s dialing back of some of the longest-standing COVID capacity restrictions, the arts are starting to make a major comeback in the Capital Region. And one of the first major events on the calendar comes from the now two-time Grammy-winning Albany Symphony.
The symphony orchestra, under the baton of Music Director David Alan Miller, will be launching its 2021 American Music Festival, which returns following its cancellation last year due to COVID. The festival starts on Thursday, June 10, and runs through Sunday, June 13, with performances taking place at the Palace Theatre in Albany, with a number of limited-capacity, in-person events (tickets will be available to Albany Symphony subscribers only). The four-day event will feature performances by William Kanengiser and Scott Tennant of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, as well as performances of works by composers Clarice Assad, Molly Joyce, Christopher Theofanidis, Alexis Lamb, Nina Shekhar and a number of others. The festival will also include a performance by the Albany Symphony’s own Dogs of Desire; the First Draughts reading session, which gives the public a glimpse into the weeklong Composer Workshop for emerging creators; outdoor neighborhood performances; and family activities.
“It is an honor to have William Kanengiser and Scott Tennant of the L.A. Guitar Quartet join us to perform this beautiful work by one of our favorite composer-partners, says Miller of this year’s American Music Festival lineup. “This has been an incredibly challenging, yet beautiful and life-affirming season, and we are so excited that it culminates in our American Music Festival. So many people from throughout our community and beyond have given us so much love and support during the past year; we couldn’t be more appreciative. This upcoming series of concerts speaks to the core of who we are, and we are thrilled to provide access to everyone to join us for this great musical adventure.”
Composer Clarice Assad, who has a long-standing history with the Albany Symphony, will share her piece Folk Tales, a double-guitar concerto performed by members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Assad, a Brazilian-American composer, pianist, arranger and singer from Rio de Janeiro, has previously served as composer-in-residence with the Albany Symphony. Assad took inspiration from her father and uncle of the renowned Brasil Guitar Duo in writing Folk Tales, which was commissioned by a Polish arts organization in 2018. “I was asked to write a piece that would explore similarities between the music of my native country Brazil and Polish music,” says Assad. “However, I did not have the easiest time making the connection, as so much of the music from Brazil is syncopated, which is the opposite of music from Eastern Europe. So I began thinking about meter, instead of musical styles, and regions rather than specific countries.”
Also on the docket will be the world premiere of Songs, a collaboration between composers Christopher Theofanidis and Molly Joyce. Theofanidis’ Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra was the featured work in the orchestra’s Grammy win for Best Classical Instrumental Solo. Joyce studied composition with Theofanidis at Yale University. Inspired by Joyce’s songs, Theofanidis asked if he could orchestrate them. Joyce’s left-hand is impaired from a car accident when she was young, and she has adapted by playing unique instruments such as the toy organ. She will be the vocalist for Songs.
Composer Nina Shekhar’s piece, Above the Fray, was written in reaction to how the field of classical music has clumsily tried to respond to the social issues of today by clinging to their canonical heroes and attempting to solve everyone’s problems by playing Bach. Her piece pokes fun at this phenomenon by warping and distorting Bach’s famous Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1, unraveling its passages into threads that transform, detune, and degrade at different rates for different performers over the course of the piece. “Unlike Western art tradition which believes that classical music is a one-size-fits-all solution, this piece challenges that notion and asserts that we each have infinitely unique identities that morph differently under different circumstances, and that art itself is not a static monolith, but rather something dynamic that we can allow to breathe, reshape, decompose, and reincarnate into new life forms over time,” says Shekhar.
Composer Alexis Lamb first appeared at the American Music Festival in 2019, where Bard College’s IAMIAMIAM Collective premiered a vocal quartet she wrote. Lamb, along with Shekhar and Jack Frerer, was a featured composer in the Dogs of Desire Hot w/ Mustard project this past summer. Her new work, Serotiny, is based on the importance of fires as a natural part of forest regrowth and maintenance. “While the destruction of a natural area can seem disturbing, there are species that actually rely on the heat from the fire to reproduce, namely trees that produce serotinous cones,” she says. “In some ways I think that many of us have had our own regrowth over the last 14 months as well, so I am hoping that this work will embody both experiences.”
The four-day series will also include the Dogs of Desire, the orchestra’s own genre-bending new music ensemble, which will present commissioned world premieres by Jack Frerer, Bobby Ge, Tom Morrison and Kerwin Young.
Also part of this year’s festival will be the Composer Workshop, subtitled “Orchestrating for the 21st Century,” which provides an invaluable opportunity for a select group of rising composers to work with Christopher Theofanidis, who is on faculty at Yale and the Aspen Music Festival. The First Draughts Reading Session, on the other hand, gives the composers and the audience a chance to experience the first hearing of a brand new work.
The final day of the festival will include a recital of solo and duo works by acclaimed guitarists William Kenengiser and Scott Tennant of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.
Check out the full schedule below:
Thursday, June 10: Palace Theatre
Composer Workshop Masterclass (3pm–4pm)
Free/No ticket required
Christopher Theofanidis and others work with rising composers to hone their craft.
Friday June 11: Palace Theatre (7:30pm–9:30pm)
Dog of Desire – Streamed Live
Jack Frerer – New Work
Bobby Ge – New Work
Tom Morrison – New Work
Carolyn Yarnell – Dreamer
Kerwin Young – New Work
Ted Hearne – Is it Dirty
Saturday June 12: Palace Theatre (7pm-10:30pm)
American Music Festival Concert (streamed live)
Pre-Concert Talk (7pm)
David Alan Miller, Conductor/William Kanengiser & Scott Tennant (L.A. Guitar Quartet)
Nina Shekhar: Above the Fray (world premiere)
Clarice Assad: Folk Tales, Double Guitar Concerto
Molly Joyce/Christopher Theofanidis: Songs (world premiere) (Molly Joyce, vocals)
Alexis Lamb: Serotiny (world premiere)
Post-Concert Q&A (9pm)
Sunday June 13: Palace Theatre
Guitar Recital (streamed live at 10am)
Acclaimed guitarists William Kanengiser and Scott Tennant from the L.A. Guitar Quartet present a special program of solo and duo works.
First Draughts Reading Session (streamed live at 7:30pm)
Interested parties can access the American Music Festival concert livestreams here, beginning on June 10.