Winter and Spring season 2015 preview


First autumn settled into the ground. September, October and November slid by, and now their leaf piles sit composting under layers of frost. Their stiff edges and frozen stems are so distant in form from the delicate green membrane of the spring buds. An invigorating wind has blown in the snows. Winter settled. The holidays have interrupted briefly this turn toward dormancy. Hand-warming fires, woolen hats and steaming cups of cocoa cast away the chill for a moment.
Now that the New Year has stepped into place, it may feel like an overwhelming long haul to spring. But rather than settle into a mid-winter depression or crawl under the covers, the time has come to enter into the vibrant creativity abounding in the Capital Region. Though the local arts scene may be associated with summertime festivals and holiday concerts, in truth, the performing organizations are entering the pinnacle of their 2014-2015 seasons. Let the arts enliven you for spring and shake off sullen winter dormancy.
Notes from the Music Scene
Albany Symphony Orchestra
Albany’s resident, professional symphony orchestra provides an expansion of its so-far exciting season, which has been integrating beloved greats of the classical canon with mind-tingling new American works that completely extricate themselves from tight musical traditions.
January 17th offers a concert featuring virtuosic solo percussionist Colin Currie in a Scottish-themed program. Solo percussionists are rare enough—with percussion encompassing an entire instrument family, these performers must be proficient at everything from booming timpani (think kettledrums), to pianistic marimba, to regionalized world folk instruments. Curie is noted for daring and athletic playing. These qualities emerge in a program that includes Mendelssohn’s great “Scottish” Symphony and music of the modern-day British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, as well as Julia Wolfe’s “rISE and fLY for Percussion and Orchestra.” Wolfe’s work is essentially a concerto for the body, with the soloist using innovative handclaps and body-slaps to create percussive, staccato patterns.
If you’re looking for kid-savvy concerts, there are two coming up. On February 1st, ASO will be at Skidmore for “Mozart’s Magic Dream.” This program introduces kids to the theatrical side of music with one of Mozart’s most fairy-tale-like operas, “Magic Flute.” March 8th is “Spacedance,” which presents activities for the slightly more active child, and an integration of the arts of motion and music. Strauss, Bach, Bernstein, Tchaikovsky and Brahms will set the auditory scene for a wild afternoon of dance. Both events will include an instrument petting zoo.
February 21st and 22nd offer a rare treat for brass enthusiasts, in a program highlighting the humble tuba. Often seen as a back-row presence, it calls for extraordinary dexterity in the hands of Carol Jantsch, the principal tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Despite being an infrequent solo instrument, ASO has included two tuba concerti in the program: the Vaughn Williams “Tuba Concerto” and a concerto by Andrew W. Mellon Mentor Composer Michael Daugherty titled “Reflections on the Mississippi.” This concert also will feature Elgar’s romantic “Serenade for Strings” and Brahms’ richly textured Third Symphony.
For aficionados of choral music, March 21st and 22nd bring in a symphony of voices for “All Amadeus,” a program of Mozart’s choral music including the chilling “Requiem,” which was left uncompleted by the composer’s death. Also on the program is “Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618,” a hymn set in a motet, a popular form dating back to Medieval times. A select group of arias will balance out the larger works, while giving soloists an opportunity to be heard. The chorus will be Albany Pro Musica, an ensemble of high-level professional and community musicians.
April 18th brings “Time for Three,” a strong trio of cross-genre musicians whose strings and bows feel just as comfortable with classical precision as with folky nonchalance or bluegrass intensity. Zach DePue and Nick Kendall are the violinists/fiddlers, and Ranaan Meyer rounds out the group on an extremely agile double bass. While student musicians at the Curtis Institute, the three began mixing traditions. The violinists brought in classical and bluegrass/country, while the bassist provided a route into the improvisational freedom of jazz. This indie group promises a vibrant and wide-open treatment of Copland’s “Billy the Kid Suite” and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, while also embarking on a contemporary concerto written for the group by Jennifer Higdon.
The season wraps up on May 16th with ASO’s 2015 American music festival, titled “Migrations.” The idea of restless motion inherent to American history sets the scene for a program containing many different routes. Two migration-themed pieces from Andrea Reinkemeyer and Clint Needham will make their world premiere, along with a jazz-orchestra “Migration Series” from Derek Bermel. The highlighted piece in the program will be the winsome and haunting “Trail of Tears” concerto for flute and orchestra by Michael Daugherty. Soloist is flutist Amy Porter, whose intense, unexpected musical grit is appropriate to so heavy a historical inspiration.
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Schenectady Symphony Orchestra
The Schenectady Symphony Orchestra (SSO) continues its 81st season: “Old Masters, Rising Stars.” The masterful compositions of Vivaldi, Albinoni, Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Grieg will continue to be realized through the instrumental voices of young, emerging soloists.
The January 11 concert will be “A Festival of Strings,” featuring the popular Madalyn and Cicely Parnas. Madalyn will perform the Felix Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Cicely will follow with the Dmitri Shostakovitch Cello Concerto. The sisters will join together for the Miklos Rozas Sinfonia Concertante.
March 29 will see an excellent program that is “Mostly Baroque” in nature. A concerto by Albinoni, a contemporary of Vivaldi’s, will sit ensemble with a concerto grosso by Handel, as well as a concerto for  four violins by Vivaldi and the third of Bach’s famed Brandenburg Concerti. The sole non-Baroque component will be the whimsical “Toy Symphony” by Mozart, which employs numerous “toy” instruments in the score, creating a most unusual orchestra. Violin soloists are Michael Emery, a local performer and instructor; Noah Luft-Weissberg, a self-described “freelance violinist”; Alyson Slack, whose musicality ranges from classical to Appalachian fiddle; and Elizabeth Kilpatrick, a local chamber and orchestral artist and educator.
SSO’s season concludes on April 26th with the mighty forces of Beethoven and Edvard Grieg. Of course, Beethoven is an undeniable presence in the general conscience, as even the most unmusical person can hum Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony “da-da-da-dum.” In this case, it is his Seventh Symphony that will be heard in its entirety. The other composer, Edvard Grieg, was a Norwegian whose pieces, none withstanding their romanticism, tingle with a musical geography of craggy fjords and snowy mountains. His A Minor Piano Concerto and “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1” will delight and balance the heaviness of Beethoven. Piano soloist Christopher Reynolds brings with him a bold playing style that will effortlessly translate into the composer’s artistic ideas.
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Other Arts in the Spotlight
Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company
The Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company (ESDC) is preparing its special annual performance in January, followed by participation in March in the Ulster Ballet’s dance festival.
The home-base performance on January 31st will take place at The Egg, accompanied by specially-commissioned music from composer Devash Chandra (Artist Associate in Tabla at Williams College). A world premiere is promised, as well as revivals of the company’s pieces “Sea Ghosts” and “Speaking Duchamp.” Ulster Ballet’s celebrated annual dance festival takes place March 15th at Ulster Performing Arts Center. Although the final 2015 line-up has yet to be announced, ESDC will be one part of the festival’s diverse programming.
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Capital Repertory Theatre
“The Rep” continues its season with a fine equilibrium between classics and brand new (world premiere) works. Given the theatre company’s deeply-held philosophy of the critical nature of arts in education, this line-up promises to fulfill all expectations of sustaining great theatre traditions—and introducing them to multiple generations.
The world premiere production of “How Water Behaves” by Sherry Kramer will run from January 20th through February 8th. This quirky play follows the misadventures of a couple who create a fraudulent charity to cover excessive Christmas shopping. A sharp, lively treatment is likely, given that the director is internationally-active Gordon Greenberg. Greenberg is a writer and director whose smart revivals promise quick-stepping dialogue and narrative arc.
The following production, “Souvenir” by Stephen Temperley, runs March 3rd through March 22nd, directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. The story is based on the true life of Florence Foster Jenkins, an operatic soloist severely lacking in musical talent. With the assistance of Cosme McMoon, accompanist, voice teacher and friend, Florence attempts to make it to Carnegie Hall. A humorous, bittersweet premise that promises laughter and tears.
The Rep’s final production, Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” will run April 21st through May 10th. The director will be Kevin McGuire, a Julliard-trained actor who was artistic director of Hubbard Hall Theater Co. for nine years. “Hamlet,” like “Macbeth,” is one of Shakespeare’s deepest explorations into the inner recesses of the human psyche. Murder, treachery, incest, madness, philosophy and love interweave into this intense, classic tragedy of human existence and relations. McGuire has deep experience in both directing and acting in “Hamlet,” so if you attend but one production this year, this is the one!
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