In this 2009-10 season, the Albany Symphony Orchestra has taken us on its imaginative excursions. We've been skipping here and there from "Romantic Russia" to "Baroque Germany" with an out-of-the-way stop to "Colorful Latin America."
This last stop in "Classical Vienna" made us wish that this pleasant journey could continue but we passengers were forced to realize that, alas, we must return home to eagerly anticipate another season.
Here we heard three fine masterworks - among the best efforts of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Heading the program was Schubert's D major Overture "in the Italian Style." Schubert was an amazing young man. In his brief 31 years of life he managed to compose over 600 song, (anecdotal imagination says that he even wrote them on napkins while dining with his friends) 2 song cycles, 9 symphonies and so much more. These lieder (songs) are among the finest ever composed. Even in his last 3 years suffering from syphilis and depression he was still producing masterpieces at breakneck speed. Did he ever have a job? Well ... yeah, sort of. He was a part-time teacher in his Dad's school ... when he worked. "I live and work like a god," he once quipped. He was happiest around his friends of similar attitude; poets, writers, musicians, et. al., who were eager to know, hear, perform his latest creation. These get-togethers were later to be called "Schubertiades" so dominant was his personality and their inquisitivity about what new thing(s) he had created. Dover Music has published what it calls his complete works. The project comes to 10 thick volumes. We have in Franz Schubert a pure hedonist and an incomparable genius.
Haydn's Symphony No. 90 in C Major is a prescient example of his influence upon both Schubert (65 years Schubert's senior) and Beethoven (38 years old when Beethoven was born). All were active in and around Vienna at the same time. Haydn firmly set the form and structure of the symphony: four movements with contrasting tempi and formal inner workings, with a suave minuet preceding a big Finale.
Beethoven followed this, by now well set procedure, beginning with his first symphony, a gingerly first step but already showing signs of the genius abiding within, then painstakingly unraveling the spool of his prodigious imagination until he reached the mountaintop of creative expression in this genre with his incandescent ninth in which he was forced to call to his aid mixed chorus and soloists to complete it.
The last work on this night's program represented for Beethoven a kind of detour, on his way to the creative destiny that he was to claim. The Triple Concerto in C Major for Violin, 'Cello, Piano and Orchestra introduced us to three young most accomplished musicians: Moonkyung Lee, violinist, Amit Peled 'cellist and Kyungeun Kim, pianist. Together with Maestro Claire Fox Hillard and orchestra they brought to life this brilliant music. Here, as in other such works, Beethoven tested the mettle of everybody individually, in solo ensemble, in the orchestra's solo playing as well as its ability anent instrumental color contrasts, dynamics, rhythmic execution, etc. Beethoven assigned to the 'cello the lion's share of the solo work and Israeli 'cellist Amit Peled simply relished the challenge, bringing forth a performance not to be believed unless witnessed. All three soloists gave their fair share in cooperating with the orchestra and its master in bringing this imaginative work to life.
And so ended our pleasant season's journey; on the high note that has become a hallmark of this fine band of musicians and their imaginative leader. They always leave us in happy anticipation of the season to come.
James Marquis is a composer and emeritus professor of music, retired, at Albany State University.