LIVE: Albany Symphony Orchestra w/ Joshua Bell @ the Palace Theatre, 12/17/11
David Alan Miller makes classical music fun.
His youthful exuberance and unbridled energy is genuinely infectious. For more than two decades now, he has almost single-handedly built up the Albany Symphony Orchestra into a powerhouse collective that now occupies the very top of the second-tier of national classical orchestras.
The ASO thrives and succeeds because of Miller’s single-minded brilliance and dedication. Add to this the help of some very generous donors (Heinrich Medicus), and Miller and company can bring in the very best international talent to sit in and collaborate with the ASO.
This time out the phenomenal American violinist Joshua Bell returned to Albany to share Saturday night’s spotlight with Miller and the ASO in the Palace Theatre.
In preparing the evening’s program, Miller had wisely selected works for the two strategic sets. The first was a marvelous seasonal appetizer, and the second would be the main course with Bell as the delicious tour-de-force.
The all-too-brief, Overture to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II kicked off the festivities, paving the way for several selections from The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The perennial holiday favorite was wonderfully played using Billy Strayhorn’s arrangements originally conceived for and performed by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Under Miller’s baton, the ASO transformed itself into a mid-20th century jazz big band complete with strings.
The first half of the show concluded with selections from Georges Bizet’s lovely L’Arlesieune.
Following the intermission, Miller and the ASO launched into Chelsea Tango by contemporary American composer Bruce Maccombie. The piece successfully weaved the familiar melody line of Argentinean tango music and urban 20th century classical experimentation into a dynamic and refreshing patchwork of pulsating soundscapes.
Tchaikovsky’s epic Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35, is a monumental work filled with passion and fury. At various moments within the work, the orchestra becomes the foil to the violin and at other times its equal partner.
When Miller finally introduced Joshua Bell, the full house of ASO fans and patrons roared with approval. Many of them knew Bell’s familiarity with the Tchaikovsky piece. After all, he just performed it four times with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. But this time out it was with the ASO…
Miller’s hyper-spirited conducting style flowed superbly alongside Bell’s soulful and vigorous violin pyrotechnics. Throughout the glorious, 35-minute Tchaikovsky piece, the ASO, collectively and individually, shined on brilliantly note after note. It doesn’t get any better than this, and the full-house audience’s five-minute standing ovation can attest to that.
Kudos to Miller and the ASO for inviting Bell and delivering a world-class performance!
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Joseph Dalton’s review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Geraldine Freedman’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Not only did Bell play with inspiration and passion, but Miller and the orchestra gave him exceptionally sympathetic support and sounded terrific. Known for his dazzling technique, which is fleet, clean and wonderfully precise, Bell’s tone is refined and sweet, never harsh. He’s very musical and gave lovely lift to his phrases with strong nuances and a wide dynamic palette. He’s also interesting to watch and puts on a good show. He’s a physical player: He moves from foot to foot as he plays, he bends his knees, his hair flies. But it’s still about the music. The first movement had great bravura and some old-style portamento or slides between notes that seemed almost novel. His cadenza was inspired for its dynamic choices and pacing. The beautiful second movement was well sung, and the finale was light, playful and marvelous.”