Spring For Music: Albany Symphony 10 years ago, conductor David Allan Miller had a dream to hear new takes on traditional spirituals. Hear his dream come true as Miller and the Albany Symphony Orchestra make their Carnegie Hall debut.

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."

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

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)
[+] read more[-] less

More From Classical

Gurtman and Murtha Artist Management

Ruth Laredo On Piano Jazz

Hear "America's First Lady of the Piano" explore the boundaries between classical music and jazz with host Marian McPartland in this 2004 episode.

Ruth Laredo On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/562620476/562624249" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Dancers in "Stalactites," a video by Mark DeChiazza, based on Orpheus Unsung, a theater work composed by Steven Mackey, with Jason Treuting. Mark DeChiazza hide caption

toggle caption Mark DeChiazza

Orpheus Reborn With Dancers, Drums And Electric Guitar

A new video, featuring a score by Steven Mackey with Jason Treuting, retells the ancient tale of love, loss and the power of music.

Penguin Cafe performs a Tiny Desk Concert on May 2, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Penguin Cafe

Penguin Cafe folds in sounds from around the world and throughout music history — Africa, Kraftwerk, Brazil and Franz Schubert.

Composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir revised her piece Aura especially for The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. David Holechek hide caption

toggle caption David Holechek

Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Volcanic Transmissions

As members of the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet bow their vibraphones, brush their gongs and message their bass drums, the composer's evocative music oozes from blackness.

Ludovico Einaudi, performing live for KCRW. Larry Hirshowitz/KCRW hide caption

toggle caption Larry Hirshowitz/KCRW

Ludovico Einaudi, 'Petricor' (Live)


Watch the pianist and composer, joined by a full band, in a stunning live performance for KCRW.

Back To Top