No question: David Alan Miller rocks! This energetic, excessively talkative music director of the Albany Symphony sparks the ISO to incandescence every time he returns here to guest conduct.
The ISO presented the U.S. premiere of Michael Torke's 'Rapture.'
Known for his advocacy of new music, Miller"s conducting prowess in the standard repertoire is remarkable enough on its own. Last weekend, he pulled from our players the most exciting Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony (in E Minor, Op. 64) I"ve ever heard in a live performance. All four movements breathed new life, as Miller carried the Providence motif - the work"s signature - from the opening clarinet passages to the triumphal close, with every voice being heard in context, every phrase dynamically and rhythmically shaped to penetrate the depths of the composer"s tortured soul. The audience could not contain themselves. By itself, this was a five-star performance in every way. Miller"s opening work, Strauss" tone poem Don Juan, Op. 20 (1889), also distinguished itself with an intensity equally revealing the young composer"s first fully mature path breaker in scintillating instrumentation and a structural mastery he never surpassed and scarcely equaled among his seven succeeding genre works. However, this concert"s hype went solely to American Michael Torke"s (b. 1961 in Milwaukee) Rapture - Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra - the work"s first U.S. performance. It was written for and played by Colin Currie, a 27-year-old Scotsman who"s an obvious master at striking a huge phalanx of drums (first movement), metallic sounders - including an automobile brake drum (third movement) - and a gigantic marimba (second movement), all positioned across the stage front. In the pre-concert Words on Music, Torke described his work as having constant rhythmic pulses that support a repeating set of melodic lines on the percussion devices, augmented by their pitched counterparts among the remaining instruments. Regrettably, it didn"t work. The pitches on the percussion devices passed by too fast to be discerned, and the percussion battery completely drowned out the strings, winds and harp - though we saw them all busy sawing, blowing and plucking away to no avail. Except for some audible Debussian passages in the slow movement, the 28-minute work not only failed to pull me up into a "rapture" but left me on the ground: damned, disconsolate and disillusioned.