Heart of the city

New orchestral music gives voice to Albany's Washington Park

Section: Preview,  Page: P16

Date: Thursday, January 24, 2008

The beauty of Albany's Washington Park the quiet walkways and lush gardens, the lake and the monuments has been inspiring contemplation and celebration for nearly 200 years. Recently, the park inspired a composer to write a new piece of music. Peter Child's ``Washington Park'' will receive its world premiere by the Albany Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening at the Palace Theatre in Albany, in a concert otherwise noteworthy for the presence of a superstar guest, violinist Joshua Bell.

"It's a lovely place," says Child, a resident of Boston. "When I first came to Albany, I had the experience of discovering the city on my own, because I didn't know where anything was. It's amazing to walk around Washington Park and you came across the extraordinary statue of Moses and the lake and the Lake House. I love being there."

A regular visitor Child's relationship with Albany began in 2003, when on just a few months' notice, he composed a new piece for the opening of the ASO season. He has continued to be a regular visitor, serving for the past three years as a composer-in-residence with the orchestra. All of the symphony's guest composers and performers are hosted by the Morgan State House, a bed-and-breakfast located directly across from Washington Park on State Street near Henry Johnson Boulevard.

"Washington Park" is Child's fifth new work written for the ASO, and joins an ever-growing body of Albany-related orchestral works premiered during the tenure of music director David Alan Miller. The list includes Kevin Beavers' two pieces inspired by William Kennedy novels, as well as the many chamber orchestra works written for performance at specific venues like the Capitol building and the Saratoga Battle Field.

There's also Child's own "Adirondack Voices" from 2006, and last year's "Down-Adown-Derry: A Fairy Suite," based on illustrations by Dorothy Lathrop from the collection of the Albany Institute of History & Art.

Sense of place: All these past Albany-inspired works were the brainchild of Miller, who's always on the lookout for ways to engage audiences with new music. Yet the idea for a piece called "Washington Park" was completely Child's idea. It furthers the conductor's goal of creating orchestral programming with "a sense of place," but also speaks to the value of the long-term relationships with composers that Miller pursues.

Actually, the process of composition usually isn't quiet as clean and simple as (1) getting the idea to name a piece after local landmark, and (2) writing down page after page of musical notes. Child revealed in a recent discussion that he already had some music in his head before he came up with the notion of a piece called "Washington Park." It was when the music and the theme came together that he knew he had something.

"The hardest part is the tabula rasa, the infinite possibilities. As soon as it crystallizes into something specific, that's when there's momentum," says Child. "I felt there was a good fit between the music and the way I experienced the park. It became integrated and a work of art that I understood."

Locations and moods: The new piece is cast in three movements, reflecting different locations and moods of the park. A somber, pulsing opening, "Cenotaph," honors the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at the Henry Johnson Boulevard entrance to the park. The awakening of spring and the annual celebration of Tulip Fest come through in the second movement, "Floriade." And the piece ends quietly with "Still Lake," which includes an extended solo for cello.

"It's very beautiful and Ivesian," says Miller, who goes so far as to compare the piece to Charles Ives' classic "Three Places in New England," which was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood just this past summer. Both works have a three-movement slow-fast-slow structure, open with depictions of Civil War monuments, and conclude with evocations of water (the Ives ends with "The Housatonic at Stockbridge.")

Child isn't saying whether he has any more ideas for Albany-related works, but he is eager to continue writing for Miller and company. "I hope (`Washington Park') is not the last association with the orchestra and the city. It doesn't feel like that to me (just) like a summary of the relationship so far."

****FACT BOX:****

Albany Symphony Orchestra:

With: David Alan Miller, music director, with special guest Joshua Bell

Program: Along with the world premiere of Peter Child's "Washington Park," the program features Bell as soloist in "West Side Story Suite" (Bernstein/Brohn) and the Mendlessohn Violin Concerto, plus Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration."

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany

Tickets: $36.50-$63

Info: Call 465-4663 or go to: http://www.albanysymphony.com


"Corigliano: The Red Violin Concerto, Violin Sonata," Joshua Bell, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, conductor, Jeremy Denk, piano (Sony Classical)

The latest CD from violinist Joshua Bell, who appears Saturday night at the Palace Theatre with the Albany Symphony Orchestra, is a revisiting of music he recorded back in 1999 for the Francis Girard film "The Red Violin." John Corigliano wasted no time in turning his Academy Award-winning soundtrack into a 16-minute concert work, "Chaconne from `The Red Violin,' which was included on the original soundtrack CD with Bell, and has since been recorded by other artists as well. But the composer decided to flesh out the piece further and, in 2003, Bell gave the premiere of the four-movement "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: `The Red Violin,' with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop who also appear on the new disc.

The music is for the most part grandly romantic, as befits the historical sweep of the film. Bell seems right at home, especially in the "Chaconne" movement, with its wide, leaping main theme and inexorable sweep forward. The most harsh and contemporary writing comes in the finale, which has a distinctly Asian feel the movie did end in contemporary Japan. Also, Corigliano's notes explain how Bell and the orchestra violins are asked to create a crunched sound for portions of the movement, before the music returns to the grand theme of the opening movement.

Filling out the disc is Corigliano's Sonata for Violin and Piano, which was written in 1963, for his father (also John Corigliano), the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. It's a lyrical, emotional work that shows a thorough knowledge of and endearment for the violin all qualities that show up again in the concerto. The sonata does, however, get rather ponderous and caught in tangles of modern harmony. Strange that it's been recorded so many times yet seldom appears in recital. Joining Bell in the full-bodied recording is the young pianist Jeremy Denk, who was heard in solo recital in Schenectady just this past December.

Joseph Dalton is a local freelance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Union.