Shai Wosner’s Symbolic Debut to the Albany Symphony This Saturday

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TROY — Shai Wosner just stepped outside his home in New York City when he received word that the Albany Symphony had postponed its show for what was then an emerging novel coronavirus spreading across the globe. The acclaimed pianist was prepared to trek 150 miles north to join the orchestra on stage, and with a ring of his cell phone, it was done.

Now — 20 months later — he’s going to follow through with that plan. He’s to make his Albany Symphony debut, and for him, he finds the show to be “almost symbolic.”

“Coming to play with the Symphony is especially meaningful to me right now,” Wosner said. “Not only because I am looking forward to working with David Alan Miller again and with the orchestra for the first time, but also because our previous plan together, back in March 2020, was my first concert that got canceled as everything shut down.

“So, as we are all longing to regain normalcy, it feels almost symbolic that we get to pick up where we left off.”

The Albany Symphony returns to Troy Savings Bank Music Hall for the first time since January 2020 for concerts at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13. The program features Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, “The Miracle,” the East Coast Premiere of fan-favorite composer Viet Cuong’s Next Week’s Trees, and Wosner playing Johannes Brahms’ monumental Piano Concerto No. 1.

Wosner hasn’t been sitting on his hands. Last year he released “Schubert Piano Sonatas.” It was released on Onyx Classics just as the pandemic hit, too. Off which he has been described as “Schubertian of unfaltering authority and character” by Gramophone. Of course, he’s performed the works of other classic composers. He’s said it’s best to appreciate a composer’s work through all incarnations — concertos, recitals, and chamber music.  But, of all of them, Franz Schubert is his favorite. He can’t explain why. “It’s easier to describe something you like,” he said. “It’s impossible to explain why you love something.”

Wosner spent his 2020, like everyone else, doing online talks with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and New York Philharmonic; the latter of whom he eloquently described how to perform while “in the zone.”

Everyone appreciates the phrase that succinctly describes that surreal feeling of total immersion in the act. He takes it another step, helping students understand how to achieve such a state. In a Frank Herbert kind of fashion, he lays down the act of listening in three acts. There’s the act of envisioning the sound of the key before it is played, the subsequent action of listening to the note as it resonates through the room, and the ability to recall the texture of that sound to play it later.

“I guess I noticed over time that it’s inevitable,” he said. You have to [listen ahead, listen in the moment and listen back] to have a scope of the piece. And when the piece is more than just a minute or two, then immediately you’re talking about somehow planning your way through it,” he said.

When Wosner takes the stage on Saturday night, he is to play Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1. It was the German composer’s first orchestral piece performed and widely approved by an audience. It may also be the Albany Symphony director’s favorite concerto.

Shai Wosner
Photo: Marco Borggreve

“Brahms’ First Piano Concerto may just be my favorite concerto in the entire repertoire,” said Miller, “the work with which young Brahms burst upon the musical scene, revealing all his glorious gifts, his powerful sense of drama, aching lyricism, an absolute explosion of the most beautiful musical ideas imaginable.

“The chance to hear it in the gorgeous, acoustically perfect Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, alongside a sparkling Haydn symphony and a great new piece by Viet Cuong is my idea of musical heaven.”

Cuong’s “Next Week’s Trees,” inspired by a poem by Mary Oliver, was premiered earlier this year by the California Symphony, where Cuong is composer-in-residence. His previous collaborations with the Albany Symphony include the 2017 premiere of “Re(new)al,” a work for percussion quartet and the genre-bending Symphony ensemble Dogs of Desire.

The evening performance of this program, along with all Albany Symphony subscription concerts this season, is also being streamed live online to increase access for patrons who cannot attend in person or live too far away to come to the concert hall. Tickets (including live stream access) start at $20 and are available at albanysymphony.com.

In accordance with local guidelines and in coordination with our partner venues, the Albany Symphony has adopted health and safety protocols for the wellbeing of all patrons, musicians, and staff. From now until the end of November 2021, patrons will be required to present proof of full COVID-19 vaccination and matching ID upon arrival, or, alternatively, proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result taken within 48 hours of the event. Patrons will be required to wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. These measures are being implemented for the safety of our patrons and may be extended or amended at any time if guidance or regulations change. Visit albanysymphony.com/covid for details.

The Albany Symphony celebrates our living musical heritage through its adventurous programming, commissioning and recording of new work, and broad community engagement beyond the concert hall.

Recognized as one of the American’s most innovative and creative orchestras, the two-time Grammy Award-winning Albany Symphony is renowned for virtuosic performances featuring classic orchestral favorites, lesser-heard masterworks, and diverse array of new music from leading and emerging voices of today. The Symphony has received more ASCAP Awards than any other orchestra in America, as well as several Grammy nominations, including the orchestra’s most recent win in 2021.

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