ASO Review

10.22.10
David Alan Miller
The Saratogian

By Judith White
 
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Albany Symphony Orchestra has asked its audiences to “Listen Adventurously” for several seasons now, and the orchestra’s demanding and enormously creative program on Thursday at the Zankel Music Center forced just that response.

Music Director David Alan Miller deserves enormous credit for combining the forces of the ASO with a chorus of female voices from area colleges and schools, a team of Shakespearian actors and two soprano soloists, all to perform the full, seldom-heard, “super-sized” version of Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Most of us are familiar with Mendelssohn’s Overture to the Shakespeare comedy about the fairy world’s adventures with mortal lovers (lost and found); we’ve heard it in concert or on the radio, and sometimes even in television ads.

Mendelssohn wrote that fantastic overture in 1826, at just 17. Many years later, he was commissioned to write “incidental music” as the background for scenes from the full play, and thus we have the overture, four big movements, and a bunch of musical episodes that highlight the action in the story — altogether, the super-sized “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Now, most of us know that you don’t go messing with our beloved classical repertory. It was fine for the late George Balanchine to choreograph Mendelssohn’s overture and some of the incidental music for the New York City Ballet, but Miller went a step further, commissioning three very young composers to write their own music to some of the remaining unset text in Shakespeare’s play.

The composers were selected and guided by George Tsontakis, one of the ASO’s composers-in-residence, who teaches composition at Bard College where those commissioned have been students.

The compositions are by Lukas Olejnik, Shen Yiwen and Benjamin Pesetsky, and amazingly, despite stylistic differences and purposes associated with the individual texts, the three short pieces seemed balanced. All three seemed to fit well, each in its own way.

Wisely, Miller programmed these new compositions to be performed in the first half of the program, rather than within Mendelssohn’s work, which was performed in its entirety following intermission.

What was accomplished by the commissions? Perhaps the understanding that even a prodigy such as Mendelssohn cannot lay claim to a sole and exclusive creative treatment of a subject. There is always room for imagination, and re-imagination.
 
Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill directed the cast for the somewhat laid-back reading of the comedy: Liam Calvin Bobersky, Hillary Parker, Stephen Pelletier, Brenny Rabine and Kevin Craig West.
Two sopranos with impressive credentials and even more impressive voices spoke and sang as Fairy I (Deborah Selig) and Fairy II (Sarah David).

The theatrical effort suffered from inconsistent amplification and audibility, particularly when the actors spoke while the 44-member orchestra performed. Whole lines and phrases were lost, although it seemed some in the audience knew the text so well that they laughed aloud as the rest looked at each other with a blank expression.

The lower voiced actors seemed to suffer more sound loss than higher ones, and West’s falsetto voice as Flute (playing the female role of Thisbe in the play-within-a-play) came through clearly, although his baritone as Oberon was sometimes lost.

Brenny Rabine adopted a rather odd accent — perhaps Tennessee — for Snout, within that same play, while 16-year-old Bobersky was an ernest Puck.

The actors were necessarily placed to a far side of the stage, behind the musicians, in order to have eye contact with Miller, although the two fairies on the opposite side of the stage were positioned closer to the stage apron. Their lack of eye contact with Miller was evident when they joined their voices a half-beat late with the Fairies Chorus, out of synch for a couple of entries while smiling straight out at the audience.

The chorus itself was wonderful — light and pure, with Miller achieving a wonderful balance between orchestra and chorus.

Directed by David Griggs-Janower, it was composed of about 55 young women from University at Albany Chamber Singers, Skidmore College Vocal Chamber Ensemble, College of Saint Rose Choral Ensembles and Emma Willard School Choral Ensemble.

Of course you’ve heard Mendelssohn’s Wedding March at dozens of weddings, but perhaps you’ve never heard it sound quite as triumphant is it did in this concert, performed in its entirety by the ASO, with its thrilling trumpet fanfare.

Another brass instrument, the French horn, also shone in this performance, in the burnished beauty of the Nocturne’s melody.

Get out your old Shakespeare anthology, put on a recording of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and enjoy a dose of the sublime