ASO American Music Festival 2024

Polish bisexual painter

Albany Symphony Orchestra Music Director David Alan Miller leads the Dogs of Desire during the Albany Symphony’s 2023 American Music Festival. Photo by Gary Gold.

The Albany Symphony Orchestra has held the American Music Festival for several years. But my wife and I had never attended it before this year when my wife decided we should go. Then she couldn’t attend the first concert because she had a work conflict.

On Friday, June 7, my old work friend Mary and I went to EMPAC, the  Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. It is a “multi-venue arts center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, which opened on October 3, 2008. “

The orchestra playing tonight was Dogs Of Desire. “Dedicated to exploring and celebrating the intersection between the raucous terrain of American popular culture, traditional Western instrumental music, and music traditions from around the world, the ASO’s 18-member new music ensemble… has commissioned and performed more than 200 new works by America’s most exciting emerging composers.”

This was true of this program. Refuge by Juhi Bansal, Crossway by Nicky Sohn, Memorial by Francisco del Pino, Underneath the Structure by JURAKHAN, and All On A Summer’s Day by Dai Wei were all world premieres.  All except Bansal, who had been injured, were present.

The voice as an instrument

Performing in all of the songs were soprano Britt Hewitt and mezzo-soprano Devony Smoth. But mostly, their vocals were incorporated into the texture of the compositions. On Dei Wei’s composition, she joined Hewitt and Smith.

I enjoyed elements of all pieces, though I enjoyed the first and the last the most.

Interspersed between the new pieces were arrangements of hits by NY-born songwriters, including Just the Two of Us, a Dixieland-infused version of If I Had a Hammer, and more, arranged by long-time ASO collaborator Jack Frerer.

Because we were tired, we passed on the “late night lounge,” featuring the sultry Brazilian rhythms of the father/daughter duo of Sergio and Clarice Assad.

The next morning, my wife and I didn’t attend the 10:30 a.m. emerging composers hearing their compositions played for the first time.

Show tunes

My wife’s first music opportunity to attend was Great American Song! at 3 pm. It was at Bush Memorial Hall, but the GPS was sending us to the office address across the street. Fortunately, a security guard called to us and several others. Then a young woman asked if we were there for the music.

As it turned out, the woman was the singer Lauren Blackman. She started with The Sound of Music, and I feared it’d be too much the Great American Songbook. But her next song was a Rosemary Clooney song I didn’t know. She told stories about snowmobiling in Iceland with her competitive father. When she was a stand-in for the ill Sutton Foster on The Music Man, she filled in as Marian the librarian, and got to kiss Hugh Jackman.

A second singer was Nicholas Ward, who sang on his own and in a couple of duets. He had a deep voice, the type that could do justice to Ol’ Man River.

Art deco

Blackman and Ward met in a production of a Broadway musical called Lempicka, which had previously played in Williamstown, MA, where it went through several revisions, and La Jolla, CA.

The Broadway previews began with 27 previews starting on March 19. It officially opened on April 14 but closed on May 19 after 41 performances. I guess that a story about Tamara de Lempicka, a Polish bisexual painter of Art Deco portraits, didn’t sell well enough.

More likely, nine shows opened in April 2024, right before the Tony deadline, cut off the oxygen. Shows with more familiar elements, such as Hell’s Kitchen, featuring the music of Alicia Keys, and Suffs, with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Malala Yousafzai as producers, were released the same week.

Nevertheless, Lempicka was nominated for three Tonys: Best Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role In A Musical –Eden Espinosa; Best Performance By An Actress In A Featured Role In A Musical – Amber Iman; and Best Scenic Design Of A Musical – Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernández and Projection Design by Peter Nigrini. The Tonys will be on Sunday, June 16.

Blackman and Ward sang a couple of songs from Lempicka, which I enjoyed. The Original Cast album is being released on June 12, which I might purchase.

After the show, my wife and I went to a Korean restaurant with a woman whom we had just met named Zelda.

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