David Alan Miller of Albany Symphony in 30 seasons and over



It’s been 30 seasons, around 500 concerts and two Grammys since Albany Symphony Music Director David Alan Miller arrived in the Capital Region. But to him, he doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.

Miller arrived in the Capital Region in 1992 from Los Angeles to take the reins of ASO as a conductor. He replaced Geoffrey Simon, who resigned his post in 1989.

“As a young conductor you always try to prove yourself,” he said. “You are in front of this group of musicians, many of whom have many years of experience. As a conductor, you are supposed to guide them through these masterpieces that they may know very intimately. And that’s a tough challenge for a young person.

The start was intimidating for Miller. At only 26, he spends most of his time trying to hide his inexperience. Now, with age and years under its belt, it’s not a victory lap, but a greater sense of curiosity, what Miller calls “backward evolution”.

“The older I get, the more questions I ask,” he said. “The more I behave the way I should have behaved when I was 20. I think life is a bit like that, you learn as you go, mentally you get wiser and wiser. So now, I feel like there is so much I want to know, and I am much less afraid to ask.

It’s a wisdom that the veteran chef does his best to tell newcomers, not to be afraid and to stay open to learning more. According to Miller, the best conductors of any age are the curious, the people who always ask questions.

“Even though I have done Beethoven’s Third Symphony several times before, I am deeply involved in asking questions about Beethoven,” he said, “and trying to get to the bottom of it. what he had in mind, and that’s what is so important. exciting to struggle with great works. You can always come back to them and find out more.

In 1991, during his acceptance speech at the Palace Theater for his new post, Miller listed a number of projects, ending with a simple wish: “I hope you will dream with me.”

These plans included a series of family concerts that would introduce new audiences to music, a summer classical season, a chamber orchestra festival, and a community-wide Haydn festival. He then discussed an annual choral collaboration, pop series and school music program with local school districts. Finally, he wanted to take the ASO on tour and do a retrospective recording project over several years.

It’s safe to say that Miller has achieved each of these goals.

Jerel Golub, the chairman of the ASO board of directors who has worked with Miller for 25 of his 30 years, thinks so too.

“From my perspective, David is a lot like the Pied Piper,” Golub said. “He draws you in with this incredible combination of love for music, his knowledge, great communication skills, his incredible enthusiasm and a magnetic personality. And he’s guided us all on this incredible journey of growth and discovery over the past 30 years and it was truly a pleasure to be a part of it.

Miller credits the environment in which he thrived.

“I believe the community and I have grown together,” he said. “The Capital Region I work in today is so different from the Capital Region when I arrived, but a lot of things are similar. It was always a community of very interesting educated and sophisticated music lovers.

As for ASO, the past 30 years have been less of a job than a marriage, he said.

“Relationships deepen, understanding deepens. And you don’t have to say the same to be understood sometimes, ”he said. That is, if it is a healthy relationship, the different parts somehow understand each other intuitively. So I find that I can do a lot more in rehearsal and in concert with less effort.

He is “still sweating balls” in the first few rehearsals, he says, repeating compulsively and doing his best to be as prepared as possible. But with each rehearsal, her confidence is built, as does a silent and tacit intimacy with the musicians.

“I feel there is a beautiful communication,” said Miller, “because the musicians and I know each other intimately enough to have worked so closely together. They know my general thoughts on the style of the piece. a very nice non-verbal ability to communicate, which is basically what a conductor does anyway. “

Anna Kuwabara, executive director of ASO, who has worked with other orchestras in Chicago and St. Louis, says that while an orchestra is a big old institution, under Miller, the ASO felt light and airy. , in step with time without difficulty.

“The orchestras I have worked with have been a bit like ocean liners,” said Kuwabara. “Very big, little difficult to turn around. And I would say the Albany Symphony is like a sailboat. It’s flexible, it’s responsive, it can really run in a hurry. And it is largely David.

In the past decade alone, they’ve racked up two of the five Grammy Awards they’ve been nominated for, two Leonard Bernstein Awards for Education, an ASCAP Morton Gould Award for Innovative Programming, 26 other ASCAP Awards for programming. adventurous, two John S. Edwards Awards for the strongest commitment to new American music.

They were also the only orchestra to have been invited to Carnegie Hall’s Spring for Music Festival more than twice and were invited to the SHIFT Festival at the Kennedy Center.

Miller kicks off his thirtieth season on Saturday, with the aforementioned Beethoven’s “Eroica” anchoring an evening of music at the Palace Theater. It’s a full season, in person, a celebration that comes after the virtual 2020-21 season. This season, like its predecessors, has that expected “Miller mix” of classic and contemporary. Along with old names like Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart, there are newer ones like Jessie Montgomery, Viet Cuong, Erina Yashima and Hannah Kendall. The whole symphony has been eagerly awaiting this, performing for audiences both in person, while retaining the life flow option that was introduced last year. For a full schedule, go to albanysymphony.com.

As a Capital Region flute player, captain of this musical vessel, and metaphorical wife of the orchestra, Miller has many roles and laurels to his name. But for him, unlike a piper, sailor or spouse, the key, he says, is to let go.

Miller spends most of his time before a performance isolating himself and keeping to himself, a step that has become necessary with the pandemic. Immersing yourself in the music, the context and the story it took place in is a crucial part of the process, he said.

This week, that thought is reflected in her Bethlehem home, where CDs sit casually next to spices on the kitchen counter and music books stacked next to a huge piano in the living room. This week’s reading is a textbook on Beethoven’s “Heroic” by Thomas Sipe in preparation for the next concert.

“I like to go deeper into the piece and internalize it as much as possible,” he says, sitting at his piano, a well-stamped copy of the piece in front of him, covered in pencil scribbles.

“You want to know the piece like you are playing it, but the key is to let go and let the musicians do it, because at the end of the day you are just the conductor, you are helpless, ”he said.

“Helpless” is hardly a term one would use to describe Miller, who has managed to keep the Capital Region captivated with every flick of the baton from his conductor.

“My job is just to inspire and empower,” he says of musicians. But if the last three decades have proven anything, it is that he has succeeded in doing it for the whole region.

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