For a Principal Trumpet, each opportunity to perform Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” is special. As conservatory students, we endlessly practice the opening “Promenade” as well as the challenging “Goldenburg and Schmuyle”, and we relish the opportunity to lead the brass section in the triumphant “Great Gate of Kiev” which concludes the work. For those not familiar, Modest Mussorgsky wrote this work for two pianos in response to an 1874 exhibition of paintings by his close friend Victor Hartmann after his unexpected death at the age of 39. Each movement is a musical portrayal of one of the exhibited paintings tied together by the “Promenade” or stroll, from one to the next. A quick google search of “Victor Hartmann pictures at an exhibition” will lead you to the paintings in question. Having heard this work before seeing the images, I will admit that they were not at all what I expected.
There have been several orchestrations of this work for large orchestra, but the most well known is Ravel’s which was commissioned by Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitsky (yes, the namesake of the Tanglewood Shed) who premiered it in Paris in 1922. Ravel’s unparalleled mastery of color in orchestration was a perfect choice to not only bring these images to life, but to paint them in colors much more exquisite and vibrant than Hartmann’s originals. I encourage listeners to enjoy the orchestral performance before seeing the images to understand what I mean.
Our opening night performance however is even more special for me. Even before I begin the opening notes of this magnificent masterpiece, pictures of the ASO will already have been on exhibition for about a month.
Several years ago, I caught the photography bug with a hand me down DSLR. Exploring considerations of depth of field, color depth, freezing or blurring motion etc. became a great new outlet for my compulsive nature. Capturing the beauty of my surroundings, whether from my deck in western Massachusetts or in the beautiful mountains of Colorado, became a sort of therapy and diversion. My camera came with me everywhere - even to rehearsals. Looking at my workplaces with an eye for capturing an image, I was captivated by what I saw. The halls themselves are magnificent structures and the activity and still life scenes surrounding me took on new significance.
Albany Times Union music critic Joseph Dalton once asked which came first, my passion for American music or my position in the Albany Symphony. Rarely does one find such synchronicity between an employee and his job. I am extraordinarily proud of the work we do in the Albany Symphony and have adopted its mission as my own. Cultivating a rich garden of new works, nurturing new composers and preserving a legacy of our thriving culture for future generations, gives our groundbreaking orchestra an oversized impact on the culture of our country. Thanks to the graciousness of my colleagues and the management of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, I have been privileged to capture moments of historical significance, as well as the unique personality of the musicians who do this important work.
Hoping to use these images for the orchestra’s benefit, I contacted some galleries in Albany and Troy to gauge their interest in a show. My first call was to the Photo Center of The Capital Region in Troy. Little did I know that Executive Director Nicholas Argyros was a fan and subscriber to the Albany Symphony. With his encouragement, we met to discuss the possibilities and look through the vast collection I had amassed. From there, we set the wheels in motion with Albany Symphony Executive Director Anna Kuwabara and our new Director of Development Sophie Moss.
The 50 images on display were curated by Nicholas and his staff to show the many facets of this remarkable orchestra. The exhibit features panoramic views of our remarkable venues, still life shots of our instruments (which are works of art themselves), and behind the scenes glimpses into the rehearsal and recording process with composers and soloists. The exhibition will run at the Photography Center in Troy from September 7 through October 13. The photos will then move to The Arcade Building near the Palace for display at the Opening Night Prelude Party prior to the October 19th opening night concert. Here they will be auctioned to benefit the Albany Symphony. An exhibition catalog including 30 additional images has also been produced which will also be for sale to benefit the orchestra.
Guest Blog Post by Eric Berlin, Principal Trumpet