• The Albany Symphony Orchestra with music director David Alan Miller made its long-awaited Carnegie Hall debut, after 81 years, with an innovative, all-American program called "Spirituals Re-Imagined."
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    The Albany Symphony Orchestra with music director David Alan Miller made its long-awaited Carnegie Hall debut, after 81 years, with an innovative, all-American program called "Spirituals Re-Imagined."
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • American baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers performs songs from "The Spirituals Project" with the Albany Symphony, conducted by  David Alan Miller at the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, New York on May 10, 2011.
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    American baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers performs songs from "The Spirituals Project" with the Albany Symphony, conducted by David Alan Miller at the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, New York on May 10, 2011.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • The concert also included Aaron Copland's ballet Appalachian Spring, heard in its complete and fully orchestrated version.
    Hide caption
    The concert also included Aaron Copland's ballet Appalachian Spring, heard in its complete and fully orchestrated version.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • David Alan Miller leads the Albany Symphony Orchestra, along with baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers at the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall.
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    David Alan Miller leads the Albany Symphony Orchestra, along with baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers at the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • Baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers performs songs from "The Spirituals Project." Conductor David Alan Miller invited some of his favorite American composers from varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds each to, as he puts it, "select his or her favorite spiritual and clothe it in his or her own unique orchestral fabric."
    Hide caption
    Baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers performs songs from "The Spirituals Project." Conductor David Alan Miller invited some of his favorite American composers from varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds each to, as he puts it, "select his or her favorite spiritual and clothe it in his or her own unique orchestral fabric."
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • Audience members for the third of seven Spring for Music concerts at Carnegie Hall. The orchestras in the series were chosen for their innovative programming.
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    Audience members for the third of seven Spring for Music concerts at Carnegie Hall. The orchestras in the series were chosen for their innovative programming.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • The Albany Symphony and music director David Alan Miller are known for championing American music. Tonight's "Spirituals Re-Imagined" concert was an all-American program.
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    The Albany Symphony and music director David Alan Miller are known for championing American music. Tonight's "Spirituals Re-Imagined" concert was an all-American program.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • A view from the back of the famed Issac Stern Auditorium, as David Alan Miller leads the Albany Symphony at the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall.
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    A view from the back of the famed Issac Stern Auditorium, as David Alan Miller leads the Albany Symphony at the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • Albany Symphony fans --some 600 of them — made the journey to Manhattan's Carnegie Hall to hear their hometown orchestra play in the Spring for Music festival.
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    Albany Symphony fans --some 600 of them — made the journey to Manhattan's Carnegie Hall to hear their hometown orchestra play in the Spring for Music festival.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • Conductor David Alan Miller became music director of the Albany Symphony in 1992. He has brought a mix of well-known and unusual repertoire to the orchestra.  His innovative programming landed him a spot in the Spring for Music festival.
    Hide caption
    Conductor David Alan Miller became music director of the Albany Symphony in 1992. He has brought a mix of well-known and unusual repertoire to the orchestra. His innovative programming landed him a spot in the Spring for Music festival.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • Baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers is congratulated by music director David Alan Miller after receiving a standing ovation for his performance of "The Spirituals Project" with the Albany Symphony.
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    Baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers is congratulated by music director David Alan Miller after receiving a standing ovation for his performance of "The Spirituals Project" with the Albany Symphony.
    Melanie Burford for NPR
  • Baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers reacts to a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall's Spring for Music festival.
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    Baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers reacts to a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall's Spring for Music festival.
    Melanie Burford for NPR

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Classics in Concert

Spring For Music: Albany SymphonyWQXR-APM

Everything old is new again. David Allan Miller, the music director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, thinks so. Almost 10 years ago, the conductor was surprised to find that orchestral versions of American spirituals with solo voice were almost nonexistent.

So, starting in 2004, Miller launched a project to commission 14 composers to write new works that re-imagine this great American genre through a contemporary lens. Eight of the settings will be performed — along with Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring ballet — when the Albany Symphony arrives at Carnegie Hall Tuesday night as part of Spring for Music.

The spirituals on the program are by composers of many heritages, including Haitian (Daniel Bernard Roumain), Chinese (Bun-Ching Lam), Cuban (Tania Leon) and Jewish (Stephen Dankner). "Eclectic" is the watchword. Roumain, for example, took the spiritual "Sinners Please Don't Let This Harvest Pass" and brought it together with the strings and funky rhythm sections of soul greats Barry White, Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes. "It's just about how you introduce a character," Roumain says.

Other works on the program range from John Harbison's joyful and assured treatment of "Ain't Goin to Study War No Mo'" to Bun-Ching Lam's mournful "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" (with its apocalyptic outbursts from the orchestra) to Kevin Beavers' angst-ridden setting of "Deep River."

"Spirituals Re-Imagined" was constructed as a way to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War — on April 12, 1861 — yet its roots go back more than a decade to when Miller was hired to guest-conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. That program was built around Dvorak's "New World" Symphony and the spirituals that influenced it. While scouting around for orchestral settings of spirituals, he discovered that few were appealing or compelling.

"I decided to invite some of my favorite American composers from varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds each to select his or her favorite spiritual and clothe it in his or her own unique orchestral fabric," Miller says.

Along with the Albany Symphony commissions, Tuesday night's program will include George Tsontakis' Let the River Be Unbroken. The 1994 work was written for the Alexandria Symphony and inspired by the Potomac River — the dividing line between North and South during the Civil War. Weaving together more than a dozen Civil War songs, it begins with a fiddler in the back of the house who plays as he walks down the aisle.

To close the program, the orchestra presents Copland's complete Appalachian Spring, in the seldom-heard version for full orchestra. While this work is a veritable warhorse by the standards of the Spring for Music festival, in this context one hears Copland's connection to folk melodies, most notably the famous Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts."

Personnel
  • David Alan Miller, music director
  • Nathan De'Shon Myers, baritone
Program

Spirituals Re-Imagined

  • George Tsontakis: Let the River Be Unbroken
  • "The Spirituals Project":
  1. John Harbison: "Ain't goin' to study war no mo'"
  2. Donal Fox: "Hear de' lams a-cryin'"
  3. Bun Ching Lam: "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"
  4. Tania León: "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel"
  5. Daniel Bernard Roumain: "Harvest"
  6. Kevin Beavers: "Deep River"
  7. Richard Adams: "Stan' Still, Jordan"
  8. Stephen Dankner: "Wade in de' Water"
  • Copland: Appalachian Spring (complete ballet)
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