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Albany Symphony Orchestra opens 2013-14 campaign in midseason form

09.21.13
Cho-Liang Lin
The Sunday Gazette

By Geralding Freedman

ALBANY — The Albany Symphony Orchestra under music director David Alan Miller was in fine fettle to open its season Saturday night at the Palace Theatre.

The concert opened with the world premiere of Brazilian composer Clarice Assad’s “Nhanderu,” which means God in the language of one of the Amazon basin’s indigenous tribes. The piece was about a rainmaking ritual and as such had some vivid effects from the percussion section, as well as having the musicians clap, click their fingers, rub their hands together and chatter. This, too, provided some visual appeal.

Assad, who is also this season’s composer/educator, used dark harmonies and colors, some lovely lush lyricism with sweeps of sound, and thick rhythmic sections. Overall, the piece was interesting in its ethnic inspiration, and the large crowd seemed to like it.

Frequent guest violinist Cho-Liang Lin was marvelous in Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor. The four-movement work is a huge challenge to a violinist not only because it demands great stamina and technical brilliance over 40 minutes, but also for its great emotional range.

The violinist makes a journey from a sad thoughtfulness underpinned with anger in the first movement to the second movement’s bold, harsh, in your face mad dance. The third movement’s soaring loveliness is followed by a huge cadenza that builds feverishly to drive into the finale’s wild ride.

To absorb all this sometimes takes the listener a few hearings because the complexity of the exchanges between the soloist and orchestra are so intricate. They are filled with much compelling drama, vitality and the composer’s ironic humor.

Miller, who told the crowd he’d never conducted the work before, especially with this orchestra, provided solid and sympathetic support. The orchestra sounded terrific, and Lin plumbed the depths and soared.

Capping the performance was a full-throttle reading of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor. Conducting without a score, Miller coaxed a thunderous sound from the big, lush dramatic sections and mellow tones in the gentler, tender areas. Tempos were good, phrasing was expansive and he stretched and pushed the romantic melodies with much feeling.

The orchestra played as one voice sparked by some exceptional solos in the woodwinds. The brass section was pretty hot, too.

At intermission, Miller accepted a check on behalf of the orchestra for more than $42,000 from Vanguard, the orchestra’s volunteer arm.