Albany Symphony Orchestra @ Palace Theatre, 3/9/13

By Mary Jane Leach

Albany Symphony Orchestra presented a colorful concert Saturday night at the Palace Theatre, using visual art as inspiration for instruments to create aural images for our ears.

The Palace’s large stage was ideal for the concert, as each piece used large sections of brass and woodwinds, as well as a full complement of strings, with many percussion instruments spread around the periphery of the stage.

The first piece, “Trama” by Gabriela Ortiz, while not inspired by a specific painting, was nonetheless pictorial, creating a tapestry of images and events from Mexico, weaving in different genres of music: folk, jazz, and classical. “Trama” is the orchestral version of a movement from “Altar de muertos,” a string quartet by Ortiz. With its skillful and expansive orchestration and its use of color, it’s hard to imagine its origin as a string quartet.

Michael Daughertys violin concerto “Fire and Blood” was next, and while not using quite as many lower brass as “Trama,” it made up for that by using five timpani placed in the back of the orchestra and two other percussionists on either side who played an unusual range of  instruments, including whips, ratchets and brake drums, often playing them to create a stereo effect. “Fire and Blood” was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and Daugherty used as his inspiration the mural “Detroit Industry,” painted by Diego Rivera, and the lives and Mexican heritage of Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo. Rivera had imagined that his mural could be interpreted by music, and Daugherty was up to the task. Equally up to the task was Ida Kavafian, the violin soloist, for whom the solo was written. She effortlessly shifted from daunting passages of triple stops to long lyrical lines.

The second half of the concert was Maurice Ravels masterful orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s piano piece “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Mussorgsky wrote this episodic piece as a response to a memorial showing of artwork by his friend Viktor Hartmann. A melody initially played by trumpet in the first section, “Promenade,” is repeated at intervals throughout the piece, creating a path through the artwork, starting off at a casual pace, and then speeding and shortening up as if caught up in excitement by the art. Ravel’s orchestration is virtuosic and demands a lot of the musicians, especially the brass and woodwinds, from alternating solo lines to thrilling chordal passages that build and peak in the last movement, “The Great Gate at Kiev.”

To single out any soloist would be unfair, as all of the soloists were excellent. And conductor David Alan Miller had firm control of the orchestra with a well-balanced sound throughout the evening, no easy task at the Palace.

Mary Jane Leach is a freelance writer and composer/performer.

Albany Symphony Orchestra
When: 7:30pm Saturday
Where: Palace Theatre, Albany
Length: 1 hour and forty-five minutes, with one intermission


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s