Albany Symphony ‘Beethoven Birthday Bash’ Promotes Youth

On December 12, the Albany Symphony performed works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Michael Torke, and Viet Cuong. The concert was centered around these composers due to their age; they were all under 30 when the pieces were written.

The conductor, David Alan Miller, held a pre-concert talk where he discussed the Beethoven pieces and talked with Torke and Cuong. In the discussion with Torke, he talks about the inspiration for his piece, Ash. Written in 1988 after his mother’s death, the piece is one of Torke’s characteristic “color pieces”, aptly named for the colors he associates with key signatures due to his synesthesia. The piece is in f-minor, a darker key, to match the title.

Miller’s next interview was with Viet Cuong, a rising young composer. His piece, Extra(ordinarily) Fancy, is a sequel to his 2017 piece, Extra Fancy. The double oboe concerto utilizes multi-phonics, an extended technique on the instrument. He was inspired by Baroque music, specifically Vivaldi. Cuong also talked about his use of Shepard tones. In short, it is an audio illusion that makes the music feel like it is constantly rising. He was inspired by the endless stairs from Super Mario 64. This concert was supposed to premiere a large orchestral work by Cuong, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is now planned for next fall.

The Concert

The concert started with the Overture and finale to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus ballet. The dramatic beginning is greatly contrasted by the rich melodies. The finale is strikingly similar to Beethoven’s Third Symphony as he used the same melody in that finale as well, a staple of Beethoven.

They next moved onto Torke’s Ash. The piece has an obvious darkness that is aided by the key. There is a lush texture to the piece with many rich harmonies as well. The middle section modulates to A-flat major, also utilizing syncopation to give the piece a different feel. It also utilizes a technique similar to Beethoven. By using octaves and unisons in the strings, it adds intensity and builds tension within the piece to lead to the climax. Beethoven pioneered this technique, and Torke uses it to its full extent.

Photo Credit: Bryan Hainer

The concert then went to Cuong’s Extra(ordinarily) Fancy. The harpsichord shows that Baroque influence that Cuong talked about in his interview. The piece is very conversational, having one oboe be “fancy” and one be “extra fancy”. The use of multi-phonics here is genius as it creates a whole new voice that can mimic the first oboe, but is decidedly different. The conversation between the two soloists is common, but Cuong brings it to a new level using the extended technique.

Photo Credit: Phil Parsons

The concert ended with Beethoven’s First Symphony. As his first symphony, Beethoven builds on the great composers before him: Haydn and Mozart. Written at the turn of the nineteenth century, Beethoven began to break away from the traditional classical form, establishing himself as the preeminent composer in Europe.

For more information on the Albany Symphony and their upcoming events visit their website.

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