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Albany Symphony, Pro Musica joining in tribute concert

Thursday, April 3, 2014
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Albany Pro Musica members rehearse at the University at Albany last year.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Albany Pro Musica members rehearse at the University at Albany last year.

It’s not often that two large organizations get together to perform a piece that is new to them and to have that concert be in memory of a devoted supporter.

Such will be the case this Saturday when the Albany Symphony Orchestra and the Albany Pro Musica join forces to perform Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater” at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

“It’s a special concert,” said ASO music director David Alan Miller. “It was inspired by the wishes of Gerry Herman, who is the son of Bob Herman, who was a much-loved ASO board member and a great friend of mine. Gerry loved the Dvorak piece — it is his favorite, and he wanted to fund the concert as a tribute to his dad, who died last year at age 93.”

Miller wanted the concert to stand alone rather than be part of the orchestra’s subscription series.

“This is 80 minutes of a beautiful, mystical, heart-felt religious work that goes beyond its liturgical text, which is about the sufferings of Mary,” he said. “And, since it is around the Easter holiday, I hoped it would find an audience.”

Annual joint ventures

For many years, the ASO and the APM have done something together annually. When Herman came to Miller with the idea at least a year ago, Miller in turn went to APM’s then-artistic director David Griggs-Janower.

“I was expecting David to be the choral master when we programmed the piece,” Miller said.

Albany Symphony/Albany Pro Musica

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 125 Eagle Street

HOW MUCH: $35

MORE INFO: 694-3300, www.albanysymphony.com

Sadly, Griggs-Janower died last August.

“It’s been a difficult year and one of transition,” said Karen Hitchcock, APM’s board president. “But we’ve been blessed with wonderful guest conductors and we were able to continue the season and all the concerts David had planned.”

That included the Dvorak. Because Miller will conduct the concert, Woody Bynum, who directs the Cathedral of All Saints Choir of Men and Boys, was asked to prepare the 100-member chorus.

Bishop Howard Hubbard gave his approval to have the concert held at the church.

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) began sketching the work in 1876 as a reaction to the death of his daughter Josefa. While other obligations forced him to put the orchestration aside, his other two children died. Only then did he complete the score in 1877. The work premiered in 1880 in Prague.

“It was his way of grappling with his own grief,” Miller said.

Four soloists

Written in 10 parts, the work features four soloists: soprano Inna Dukach, mezzo-soprano Lucille Beer, tenor Matthew Plenk, and bass Ben Wager. Except for Beer, who is a local star and has often worked with the ASO, the soloists came through recommendations. All have sung the work before.

“The ‘Stabat Mater’ is a 19th century choral work that is not heard often and it’s a departure for the ASO to do,” Miller said. “So I chose soloists who were new to me but had experience with the piece.”

They’ll be the only ones who know the work because Miller hasn’t conducted it before and neither the orchestra nor the chorus has performed it.

“I don’t expect to have any difficulties,” Miller said. “I’ll be meeting with the soloists and Woody to talk over my ideas. Having a unified vision may be a challenge, and there’s always the need to have enough stamina and play with great conviction, but it should all be a delight.”

While this concert is a memoriam for the Herman family, for the APM it’s part of a season-long dedication to honor Griggs-Janower.

“David left such a legacy,” Hitchcock said. “The chorus has stuck together and is committed to advancing that legacy.”

Seeking successor

Knowing this season would be one led by various guest conductors, a search committee was formed last fall to find an artistic director.

“It was a tremendous loss but David had a national reputation, so we’ve had a strong pool of candidates from all over the United States,” Hitchcock said. “We’re hoping that by the end of this season to have an artistic director to plan next season.”

The church’s doors open at 7 p.m. and there is limited free parking in a nearby lot and throughout the neighborhood.

 
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