The Albany Symphony is passionately committed to telling the stories of our time, place, and history through collaborations between composers and fellow artists, and through the creation of new music. In the summer of 2017, for example, we presented "Water Music/NY," in which our orchestra traveled down the Erie Canal playing collaborative concerts in communities along the Canal to celebrate its 200th Anniversary. In less than a month, from May 30 to June 9, we'll shine a light on New York State’s leading role in social justice history through our American Music Festival and four-concert outdoor free concert tour, "Sing Out, New York!"
I got very interested in the history of the suffragist movement last year in advance of the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. I discovered that many of the seminal events of the movement happened right here in New York State, starting with the legendary 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and featuring Lucretia Mott and the great Frederick Douglass as participants. During the 19th and early 20th century, New York was THE hotbed of the movement, and figures like Sojourner Truth, born into slavery one hour south of Albany, and Susan B. Anthony, raised in Washington county and based in Rochester for most of her adult life, led the nation in the fight for equal rights. Frederick Douglass’ role in championing both the abolitionist and the suffragist causes (even when competition between the two movements became racially charged and ugly) would merit a festival all in itself. At the same time, I knew that June 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, when members of the LGBTQ community stood up as a powerful group in public and demanded equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation. To me, these two powerful social movements personify the critical role New York State has played throughout its history as a leader in social progress. I wanted to use these two movements to frame an artistic discussion of the rich cultural history of the fight for inclusion and equality in New York State. By exploring these and other movements together, we send the message that the fight for social justice never includes just one interest group, but applies to all of us.
How to do it? To begin, we drafted a broad team of emerging composers who represent our richly diverse community and partnered them with creative artists and community partners from myriad disciplines, including dance, theater, choral music, film, new technologies, collaborating with schools, community groups, youth groups, advocacy organizations, etc. Then we invited them to tell stories about the heroic figures who led these movements, about critical events in these histories, about related issues they passionately wish to explore or highlight. Then, we identified existing works, like David Del Tredici’s searing homage to four gay victims of bullying who took their own lives, “Bullycide,” cross-fertilizing remarkable new work with recent works by composers who have led the fight for social justice in New York State. And finally, we designed immersive community events that celebrate the things that bring us together as New Yorkers and as human beings. And that’s how our upcoming 2019 American Music Festival/Tour, “Sing Out, NY!” was born.
— David Alan Miller