The 25th annual sweat seasons

Sweat at Cap Rep and more

My wife and I saw a play, a musical, and a concert in eight days.

March 9: The drama Sweat at Capital Rep in Albany. ” This stunning Pulitzer Prize-winning play exposes the devastating impact of the loss of work in America’s Rust Belt circa 2000. Based on interviews with residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, Lynn Nottage brings her breathtaking storytelling to characters and situations that have become far too recognizable in the heart of de-industrialized America. “

From Nottage’s page: “Her play moved to Broadway [in 2017] after a sold-out run at The Public Theater… Inspired by her research on Sweat, Nottage developed This is Reading, a performance installation based on two years of interviews at the Franklin Street, Reading Railroad Station in Reading, PA, in July 2017.”

The Times Union’s Steve Barnes loved it.  “The nine-member cast, under the accomplished direction of Margaret E. Hall, connects so intimately with their characters and the audience that we’re ground down alongside them, albeit with the remove of fiction, as financial turmoil ruins life, family bonds, and decades-long friendships in Rust Belt America while the Bush-Gore 2000 election unfolds.”

Sweat is about labor and the threat of exported jobs, ethnic bias, and the good old days. It’s playing through March 31 and is well worth your while.

Can you spell…

March 10: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was performed at Albany High School. The musical has been around for almost two decades, yet I had never seen it in any iteration.

As the Wikipedia page notes, “An unusual aspect of the show is that four real audience members are invited on stage to compete in the spelling bee alongside the six young characters.” 

It was hilarious but also touching, especially as the number of spellers was winnowed down and the kids acknowledged the stress of the bee. There were only three performances, and we caught the final performance.

The Albany school district page noted that “some of the show’s content may not be suitable for young children.” Probably true.

We had to go because one of our church attendees was a speller, and also Jesus. Albany High often has high-quality productions, and this continued the trend.

Here’s the Broadway cast album of the musical


March 16: That day, my wife and I picked up our daughter from college for spring break, then promptly abandoned her so that we could attend the Albany Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor David Alan Miller. It took place at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

We got the tickets from a woman at church and her husband who had another engagement. The first surprise: they have box seats! They’re kind of neat. Among other things, I can see that the music for the strings stage right of the conductor was mostly traditional, but two of them used electronic devices.

 The first piece was  Murmurations by Derek Bermel. The composer explained that a murmuration is a noun plural for a flock of starlings, which sometimes fly in unison and at other times move independent of the group. And the music does the same. Here’s the Gathering at Gretna Gardens and Gliding Over Algiers and Swarming Rome, recorded six years ago. 


The second piece is The History of Red by Reena Esmail. She says: “The first time I heard Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, it changed my life. I was fourteen years old, and as I sat under the stars at the beautiful Ford Theater on a summer night in in Los Angeles with my parents, I completely identified with the voice of the child who narrates the text of the piece – so aware of the huge, complex world that I was seeing, even through young eyes. Just trying to parse it all. I can pinpoint that one performance as a pivotal moment in my decision to be a musician. I just wanted be someone who could create that kind of beauty.

“The History of Red is borne from the same bones as Knoxville: it is also a large-scale work for soprano and chamber orchestra (intentionally written for the same instrumentation), where the singer grapples with the world around her. And yet it is different — Linda Hogan’s beautiful text is clearly the voice of an adult woman, aware not only of her own current world, but of the entire, complex history of her ancestors. Perhaps that is why her words instantly grabbed me — at this time in the world, when we are each grappling with our own complicated, intertwined histories, her journey felt so resonant to me.”

The soprano at ASO was Molly Netter. Here’s Kathryn Mueller singing from 2021. It may take another listen for me to really warm up to it.


In the pre-concert talk, David Alan Miller made an interesting parallel. He and the orchestra work closely with so many living composers, working through the best way to actualize the intent of composer and musicians. But, he claims, it happens with dead musicians as well. It’s almost like seance.

It helped that they were able to access older bows and traditional strings. Four young violinists  each played a season of  Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons:  Ravenna Lipchuk, Amelia Sie, Shelby Yamin, and Edson Scheid. The musical dialogue between solo violins and cellist were wonderful; at least one fiddler turned to face the cellist, like I’ve seen a couple rock guitarists do.  It may an old chestnut, but it was a good one, and it’s better live.

Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Voices of Music, Freivogel, Moore, Youssefian. 

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