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Previewing Albany Symphony's Next Performance with David Alan Miller
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Credit: Gary Gold

Rob Brown: I'm Rob Brown. This is WMHT. The Albany Symphony (Facebook) season continues from Saturday, April 22 - Sunday, April 23. With one of the all-time favorite symphonies, plus very new work by Michael Daugherty. Music director David Alan Miller joins me now to talk about it. Thank you. How are you?

David Alan Miller: Hi, Rob. I'm great. How are you? 

RB: I'm doing great, thank you. A couple of good friends to the symphony return for this performance. 

DAM: Daugherty and Beethoven. 

RB: Daugherty and Beethoven. 

RB: Well, I was singing violinist Anne Akiko Myers, but Beethoven, too. 

DAM: We've never worked with her before, actually. 

RB: Really? I thought you had. 

DAM: No, we never have. But I knew her when she was 13 years old at Juilliard Pre College. She was in my orchestra. She's a wonderful, wonderful player. 

RB: No kidding? 

DAM: Yeah. No, we've never had her here before. 

RB: But you knew her as a 13-year-old at Juilliard? 

DAM: Yes, she was 13. I was an old man. I was probably 23. I don't know. I was ancient. 

RB: Well, tell us about the piece. Michael Daugherty's very new work. Not the world premiere, but just a couple of months outside of the world premiere, Blue Electra. 

DAM: Blue Electra. It was premiered by the National Symphony and commissioned it and premiered it. And it is fantastic. It is a violin concerto, obviously, but inspired by the story of Amelia Earhart. 

And it really, in a way, kind of traces her life. Four movements and it ends. I don't want to ruin the ending for you, but she dies. She never made it back from Around the World tour. We think she's somewhere in the Philippines still enjoying the sun, I hope. No, she had a tragic end, but she was quite a path-breaking aviator and an incredibly colorful person. And the piece is just charming and brilliant, as are so many of Michael's works. 

I have to say, I've known Michael through both of our entire careers. He's just a little older than I am, and I've played his music from the time we were in our twenties. And he's been writing a number of concerts in the last few years. 

His piano concerto and of course his tuba concerto and his flute concerto and they're just wonderfully evocative pieces. And this piece is exactly that. You really feel like you've lived with Amelia Earhart for a half hour. 

We're thrilled to be able to be making the commercial recording for Naxos as a result of these performances. And we're doing a session on Monday after the concerts. But it's just great. The second movement is Parisian, almost like a Stefan Grapelli kind of movement. And the first and third movements are a little more serious. And it's just beautiful, beautiful music and totally accessible. And he's just a wonderful musical storyteller. 

RB: And Anna Kiko Myers is dynamite, has been dynamite since she was a preteen. 

DAM: She is. I'm looking forward to seeing her again. It's been many years. I look forward to that as well. 

RB: For all of the information, performance on the 22nd and 23rd,, from those soaring heights with Amelia Earhart to Beethoven's 9th in that room at the Troy Savings Bank music hall with all those forces, tell us a little bit about the music and the performance coming up. 

DAM: Well, I'm not sure the music needs that much of an introduction. I mean, we're delighted to be joined by our good friends at Albany Pro Musica again. And we have four wonderful young soloists. I'm really excited to have them work together for the first time. 

I really had lobbied to play the piece in the music hall. Usually for a piece this popular would do it in the palace where we have actually more than double the seating capacity. But I think it's one, because we were recording the Daugherty. 

But also it's just wonderful for us to be able to play these great classical masterworks in a hall like the Troy Music Hall that is so perfectly suited to that size ensemble. So it's a little bit of a squeeze for the chorus, I have to say, to get everybody on, but we're using a somewhat more classical-sized orchestra, not tiny, but a little on the smaller side because that would be stylistically correct. 

But the piece I've been reading, it's so funny. This is a piece I've done a few times, and I have done it a few times here, in fact. And I love it deeply, as I do all the Beethoven symphonies. And it is, you know, one of the absolute iconic, life-changing works in the history of certainly, orchestral music, particularly because of this unique introduction of voices into the finale of a symphony which had really never happened before. 

But it's very late Beethoven, 1824 or so, the very end of his life and career, and he's really choosing to make this big, monumental statement about humanity and about brother and sisterhood and about celebrating the joy of existence. 

It's a very, very powerful message, but it's a very daring piece. And every time I work on the piece, I read extensively scholarly things about it. And this time I've been so struck because most of what I've been reading is about how Beethoven really reconsidered after the premiere and was planning to get rid of the choral finale and put in a purely orchestral finale. 

In fact, he told his student Carl Czerny, the great piano pedagogue, if you ever played the piano, you've worked on Czerny exercises. And Czerny was probably Beethoven's most celebrated student, he said. and he told a couple of people, you know, I really want to replace it. I don't think it's quite right, which is so interesting.

Obviously, he ultimately decided not to replace it, much to our great benefit. And he also worked on that theme, the Ode theme, the ba-da-da-da-da-da-da. He worked on it so extensively to make it simple enough that anyone could recognize it, that it was hummable, singable. And in a way, it's almost like he had a premonition that it would be universal. He was trying to make it universal.

But I think the piece is kind of like a whole world piece. It's a whole kitchen sink piece. And it was very daring of him to introduce text into an otherwise purely orchestral form. And I think he probably got kind of cold feet afterward, like maybe symphonies shouldn't have voices in them, because voices introduce a whole literary element that symphonies don't have, but it's to our great benefit that it stayed this way.

And it is kind of an odd, I don't want to say an odd duck, but in the world of symphonies, it's a very odd creation, because there's these three wonderful movements that do sort of lead us toward the finale, and the finale, which is almost like its own oratorio. So it's this amalgam of these two somewhat disparate things, and yet it's glorious in its own messy, fabulous way.

So it's always a treat to bang one's head against it. I always love the opportunity to do that, and I know the musicians and the singers do as well. So we're looking forward to sharing it with everybody, and I promise it will be as exciting as ever. We'll really try to do some interesting new views of it.

RB: You say you've conducted a number of times, is there a favorite moment that you have that you always find yourself anticipating?

DAM: Well, there is that incredible moment in the chorus where they sing, Seid umschlungen Millionen, and it's all about be embraced all you millions, you know, and also there's this, there are just wonderful things in the last movement, Ihr stürzt nieder, we lie prostrate before you, oh Lord, there's just some incredibly magical moments in the finale.

And to me, by virtue of text, it's chilling in a way that as great as the instrumental music is, it's just, it takes you out of your body, it's quite, and you know, there's this whole thing that the, just before the big fugue of Über Sternen muß er wohnen, above the starry canopy, must God dwell, and those moments to me are just thrilling when the choral parts really get going.

RB: And in that room you're going to feel that in your soul.

DAM: Oh yeah, it's just incredible.

RB: Speaking with David Alan Miller, performances with the Albany Symphony music of Beethoven and Michael Daugherty coming up Saturday, April 22nd, Sunday, April 23rd, with concerts at 7:30pm and 3pm with pre-concert talks before and an hour before each of the performances for all of the information., that's in April, you also have a little, may the force be with you moment coming up.

DAM: I think it's actually May the 7th this year, isn't it? But we've got a big Star Wars program. We've done different John Williams programs, you know, through the years, every couple of years. I thought this time it would be fun to do just all the music that's available from Star Wars. It's not the complete Star Wars because, I mean, John Williams has been wonderful about letting orchestras have access to buy and rent different sections. It's a good 65 or 70 minutes of Star Wars music, including the famous cantina scene and we actually hired some saxophones specifically for that. So it's a very thrilling journey through the entire Star Wars galaxy. It'll be a lot of fun.

RB: Too much fun. For all of the information, again concerts on the 22nd and 23rd at the Troy Savings Bank musical, music of Beethoven and Michael Daugherty. David Alan Miller. Thank you so much.

DAM: Thank you Rob for having me.