First Arts Endowment Grants of 2001: Albany Symphony

The Albany Symphony received a $25,000 Creativity Grant to support Composing the Future, a multi-faceted project celebrating American composers and their music. During 2001-2002, the Albany Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and two smaller ensembles made up of ASO musicians will commission, present and record for national distribution the music of established and emerging American symphonic repertoire. The Orchestra’s two smaller ensembles are Dogs of Desire, an 18-member group that Music Director David Alan Miller describes as “the classical garage band of the future,” and Yo Peter, Yo Wolf, an interactive school project ensemble.

“Composing the Future is very much what it sounds like,” Miller explained. “We’ll be focusing most of our efforts on championing contemporary American composition.” In the 2001-2002 season, the Albany Symphony will perform 36 American works, including Virgil Thomson’s rarely heard ballet The Filling Station. Half of the American pieces are being commissioned by the Symphony from such composers as Todd Levin and Pierre Jalbert. They will also be recording Paul Creston’s fourth symphony, along with seven other works.

“In the proposal [for the NEA grant], our contention was that the American orchestra of 2001 should be as much about our own time and place as possible. The Symphony spends only about half their time on standard repertoire, spending the rest of the time “renewing and generating new repertoire.” This season, for instance, they are “re-discovering” works by Schuman, Harbison, Persichetti, and Steven Stucky, and playing commissioned works by Gabriela Frank, Pierre Jalbert, and Bruce Roter, among others.

In March, the Symphony will hold the third-annual month-long American Music Festival, which Miller thinks may be the only ongoing festival of its kind anywhere in the country. The Festival will include a family concert, a subscription concert, a recital by pianist Alan Feinberg, and a Dogs of Desire concert planned in conjunction with The Great New York Motorcycle Show at the New York State Museum. The subscription concert will include five American works, three by living composers: Persichetti’s fourth symphony, Robert Helps’s second piano concerto (with Feinberg as soloist), Steven Stucky’s Son et Lumière, Lopatnikoff’s Russian in America, and the premiere of Bruce Roter’s T.R.: A Bully Portrait. The Dogs of Desire concert will feature eight new works by young composers. Four of the pieces on the subscription concert will be recorded for future release on the Albany label.

“We’ve done 20th century American music for so long that contemporary offerings are built into everything we do,” Miller commented. “All of our new music initiatives are embedded into our general budget and are covered by year-round fund-raising. Commissioning, recording, and performing are all part of our mission.” Miller is in his ninth season with the Albany Symphony.