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Artwork, artists join Albany symphony

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- It may be the case of where a picture is worth a thousand musical notes.

The Albany Symphony Orchestra will continue its "The Pride of Our Community" concert series with a trifecta of sorts -- a multimedia performances that salutes the Albany Museum of Art and features two Albany musical talents -- classical guitarist Robert Sharpe and the late Wallingford Riegger, an early 20th century American pioneer composer.

Titled "Hear a Work of Art," the 7:30 p.m. performance will include projected images of three well-known paintings by Italian artist Allesandro Botticelli (1145-1510) -- "The Birth of Venus," "The Adoration of the Magi" and "Primavera."

It's the second concert in a series that is a departure for the symphony as it brings incorporates new experiences into its classical setting. The images will be projected in the Municipal Auditorium while the symphony performs Ottorino Respighi's "Trittico Botticelliano (Boticelli Tryptich)."

"These images are very familiar to people," Symphony Music Director Claire Fox Hillard said. "These are Respighi's interpretation of the works in music."

The orchestra's concert in September focused on water and the Flint RiverQuarium and each performance focuses on an Albany arts organization or educational institution. Saturday's concert shines its light on the Museum of Art.

"The Museum is thrilled to be part of this partnership with the Albany Symphony and to be the featured attraction," Museum Executive Director Nick Nelson said. "Music and visual art go hand-in-hand, one inspiring the other, and this concert is proof of that."

The "Trittico Botticellano" segment ends the concert, which opens with a suite from "El Amor Brujo (Love the Magician)" by Manuel de Falla, which sets into motion the Latin-flavored sounds that will fill the evening.

That will be followed by Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra," which will feature classical guitarist Robert Sharpe. The Westover High School and Darton College graduate is pursuing his doctorate in guitar performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music after earning a B.M. in music performance from Columbus State University.

Hillard said Rodrigo is Spain's "most famous composer in the classical realm, though he was blind from birth. This is his big piece."

It's also a piece that fits in nicely with the talents of Sharpe. "Here's someone, an Albany native, that was nurtured at Westover High School," Hillard noted. Sharpe is also making his debut as a soloist with a full orchestra on Saturday.

"This is really the first time I've done something like this," Sharpe said in a phone interview Wednesday. "This actually is pretty much my solo debut."

Sharpe noted that the opportunities for a guitarist to perform with a full symphony are rare. Few conciertos are written with guitars in mind.

"It's in three movements and it really works for the guitar because of its Spanish quality," Sharpe said. "The guitar was the national instrument of Spain, and so there is a lot of very good idiomatic guitar music from Spain because of this.

"Rodrigo understood this and he decided to write a concierto for the guitar, which is a very difficult thing to do because the guitar in those times -- and even up to pretty much the '80s and early '90s -- was not amplified. You had to be very careful how you orchestrated the piece or how you put other very loud instruments or sections of instruments with the guitar. For instance, if you have the strings playing at full volume and you have the guitar playing a single melody, you're not going to hear the guitar without amplification."

Rodrigo was perhaps the first composer to accomplish the delicate balance, he said.

"He made a unique piece of music that highlights what a guitar can do with an orchestra," Sharpe said. "And he's probably one of the first composers who successfully did that. Others attempted it, but were not as successful I think."

Sharpe said the piece he'll perform with the orchestra has three movements. "It's a lively first movement, a very lyrical second movement and a third movement which is very spirited, and also lively and rhythmic and a virtuosity for the guitar."

The second movement, he said, "has this tragic, almost heartbreaking opening melody and it just sounds so Spanish. It's lovely and it follows this melodic idea throughout the piece."

Sharpe's performance with the orchestra will be followed by intermission, and the Riegger's "Romance for Strings, Op. 56a." More of Riegger's work will be performed in the symphony's third subscription concert in February, but Hillard said he wanted one piece at least in this performance as well because Riegger was born in Albany.

"I'm really looking forward to this and I'm glad I'm making my debut with Albany," Sharpe said, "especially because a lot of people have asked me, 'Do you ever play with an orchestra?' This is the one instance where, yes, guitar does play with orchestra. So, it's exciting to be able to play this piece and answer that question.

"It rarely happens with guitar. There are not many conciertos in our repertoire that we have to choose from where we can play with an orchestra and it's also considered to be a good piece. This is one of the few times a guitarist is allowed to play with the orchestra."