AHA! A House for Arts

S6 E4 | FULL EPISODE

AHA! | 604

See Cuban born American artist Lydia Rubio's investigation of nature. Chat about music with the conductor of the Albany Symphony, David Alan Miller. Listen to a cello sonata from Beethoven to celebrate the composer's 250th birthday with pianist Young Kim and cellist David Beebee.

AIRED: March 03, 2020 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

(lively orchestral music)

- [Lara] See a Cuban-born American artists' investigation

of nature.

Chat about music with the conductor of the Albany Symphony.

And a cello sonata from Beethoven.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA, A House For Arts.

- [Announcer] Funding for AHA has been provided

by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include

the Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

The Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M+T Bank, we understand

that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M+T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.

(energizing orchestral music)

- Hi, I'm Lara Ayad and this is Aha A House For Arts,

a place for all things creative.

Cuban-American artist Lydia Rubio's recent abstract work

suggests movements and patterns in nature,

from the microscopic to the cosmic scale.

For Lydia, art provides refuge

from the turbulence she sees within today's world.

We visited her studio in Hudson, New York to learn more.

(mellow jazz music)

- I find that there is an excess,

or of course we are under an excess

of a bombardment of images and noise.

Myself I am retreating into a world of contemplation

and more silence than anything

and that, I want my work to reflect that piece

that I think we need.

(glass clinking)

And that's how I've got into a process of abstraction.

That is to me I want to make it delicate.

I want to make it transparent, translucent,

there is light coming from the paintings.

But there is this harmony

which is based on a way of composing

which I have taken from many previous artists before.

The knowledge of how to achieve something

that is peaceful in a work of art.

There is a method of doing the egg tempera.

The egg has to be pulled out, the egg yolk.

And then you drain it into a prepared container

that you have.

And then you take distilled water and that's a binder.

Now if the binder, using the egg yolk,

the raw pigment that is like a Venetian yellow

and then I'm going to mix a little bit of this.

But this, what happens is that this is like gouache,

it can be thicker, it can be thinner, is the principle

of water-based paints.

So as the binder the pigment and water,

water-based paint, then you can use it.

Well actually this drawing has been done

with those pigments applied with a sponge.

This drawing here belongs to the series of Patagonia

and it suggests movements of water and islands

but it's not exactly realistic,

it's something that is an interpretation of that landscape.

I have done a considerable amount of paintings.

And I have also done large public art pieces.

Sculptures that at the beginning of the 80s and 90s

I produced a lot of paintings in series

and showed in many galleries in New York and Miami.

And then after that I started in the year 2000,

a series of commissions of public art

that kept me busy for 10 years.

And now I am back again to a process of painting,

or I have been back through the years,

I've never stopped the studio work.

I never did stop fully drawing and painting

because that to me is the source of the ideas

that I develop in every other way.

And again, it's like a dance,

it's like jazz, it's improvisation.

You work one section and then you look at it

and then you decide that you need to balance the composition

or the feeling of the piece.

And here we have something that may suggest a totality now.

I have to look at it then leave it, tomorrow come back

and say, "Hey, what is missing?"

Well what's missing is maybe another layer.

And the layer I can do a layer,

now I thought about the layer that I have to do

and it's a layer in pastels.

I'm going to show you.

What I might need is a soft feeling of color.

(pastels rubbing) (exciting electronic music)

The whole thing started for me,

in the process of art in New York and Boston.

I was basically, at the beginning

I was trained as an architect and that has influenced

a lot of my way of thinking about art in a way.

I tried to get rid of everything

that had to do with architecture at the beginning

and I did by quitting my job and removing myself

from all that world

because I thought really that my head had to be changed.

In 1980, I decided to give full dedication to my painting

and my process of development as an artist.

Also the idea of having people participate in a process

is to me very important to the point

that I have done now these other pieces

that are related to the Hudson River and the ecology

and those are interactive paintings.

So I asked the public to come

and erase an image that I had painted.

Erase it so that they would become aware of the problems

that we're having of pollution and the ecological problems,

climate change, that are affecting the beauty

of what we have out there.

(eraser swishing)

It's similar to the work that in a sense an architect does

that they envision things that are not visible.

So I have that planning idea inside me.

And then of course, there's the whole thing of intuition

and poetics that take over in the process

so that it is impossible to define everything

in a work of art from the start.

And that is the magic of it.

I want to get beyond the immediate reality.

(peaceful chiming bells)

- Grammy Award winning conductor David Alan Miller

has been the music director of the Albany Symphony

since 1992.

Continuously exploring unusual repertoire

and positioning the Albany Symphony

at the forefront of American symphonic music.

What makes Miller's repertoire so unusual?

Let's find out.

You're the conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra,

four time nominee for Grammy's and you won once.

Welcome to the show David.

- It's great to be here Lara, thanks for having me.

- Yeah it's a pleasure to have you.

So I'm curious to know

what inspired you to become a musical conductor?

And also too, are there any other conductors

either the present or from the past

that have inspired you as well?

- Sure, I grew up in Los Angeles in a very musical family.

My dad was an opera singer actually as a young man

and a high school music teacher

and a cantor of a large synagogue in Los Angeles.

And so music was kind of ubiquitous,

it was everywhere in our family

and we all played instruments.

And when I was 15 or 16, I just thought

that conducting seemed like a really cool thing

and I told my dad that I want to conducting lessons

and so from that point on

he found this wonderful old German conductor

with whom I studied.

And then I went to University of California Berkeley

and to Julliard and did a Master's in Conducting.

And then went back to LA

and worked with the Philharmonic there

and then came here to Albany.

And there are many conductors I've loved and admired,

mostly dead ones.

The dead ones are always my favorite.

I grew up with Leonard Bernstein and people like that,

so he was one of my favorites.

- People often don't understand what it is conductors do,

we always see these images of people dressed in black,

waving their sticks in the air

and oh well the music's already written

so what's the big deal?

What do conductors do?

- Wow, how much time do we have? (laughing)

Well all the real work,

the biggest work goes on long before the public ever sees

what happens, so that's in the rehearsal,

in the practices and that's when the conductor

is really critical 'cause the composer writes all the parts

but every instrumentalist has a different part.

And the whole idea

is that to create a unified whole you need to really work

and solve musical problems to make everything blend

and balance and make sure the right people come in

at the right time and that the sound matches the style.

It's very much like a film director,

or like any kind of theatrical director.

So I'm doing all this refinement work in rehearsal

and then the wonderful thing about conducting is,

in the concert the conductor,

unlike the director of the film,

gets to actually be in the show.

And so in real time,

I'm guiding a huge amount of what's going on.

So the orchestra players all play beautifully

but at some level it's kind of like having a giant metronome

or traffic police cop up there.

Or on a much deeper level

it's about creating a unified interpretation

of a great piece of art.

- Right, so that's really helpful David

'cause it's kind of like when you're thinking about script

for a film

but then you have the director pulling everything together

and making sure the execution really comes through

and that there's a harmony there.

- Right when you think of it it's always--

- I mean no pun intended (laughs).

- It's always so funny though

because we often think to ourselves,

"Why do you need a director?

"The actors can speak the words, you've got the script."

But it really is always the director who gets talked about

how she or he shaped the drama and created,

almost like a co-creator to the writer of the script.

Similarly I'm kind of a co-creator,

not quite a creator 'cause I'm purely interpretive.

But I'm really helping

to realize the vision of the composer.

- Yeah, so in terms of thinking about the vision

of the composer and what your role is as a conductor

in relation to that, what would you say

is the most challenging part of conducting?

- Well there are sort of two sets of challenges.

One challenge is really having a clear idea

of how you believe the piece should go.

And to me that's really interesting

because as you know as an art historian,

every style is different, every period things change,

there are different priorities of creative artists

in different eras.

So approaching a Mozart symphony

would be a totally different experience

from approaching a Tchaikovsky symphony

or a Stravinsky symphony or a modern symphony.

And so style is something that I work on a lot.

So getting clear in my mind

how I believe piece should operate is one whole area.

And then the other whole area is helping the musicians,

or convincing the musicians, or charming the musicians

into adopting your plan, your unified vision.

And then of course that other issue,

that kind of ephemeral issue

of how you project it to the public

is something else as well.

A little more hard to nail down abstract.

- Right, yeah.

And there's certainly in terms of public perception

of symphonies and orchestras

and classical music in particular,

there seems to be this perception

that classical music is kind of stuffy.

- Oh, I haven't heard that.

- Or inaccessible.

- Where did you hear that? - Well--

- That's strange.

- I do get that impression at least from some other people

- Well you must not go to Albany Symphony

because the Albany Symphony

we do everything to break down that ridiculous idea.

- Yeah, so tell me a little more about that.

- It's very-- - What is it that you do?

- Well first of all, we're very committed

to the music of our own time. - Okay.

- So we're not just playing dead white male Europeans.

We're playing a lot of living, young, vital, vibrant, women

and people from different cultures

and different backgrounds.

It's a very broad panoply

of great creative artists we're featuring

and we really believe that our role,

every bit as important if not moreso

than championing the great works of the canon,

is to really nurture and foster the great voices of today

and tomorrow.

And so I think that's really why

we're such a well known orchestra,

relative to our budget size.

A relatively small city in America.

We really punch above our weight.

We have these four Grammy nominations.

We've been to Carnegie Hall twice

and to Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

We do these big projects every spring around living music,

these big American music festivals

that have really put us on the map nationally.

And it's because we really believe that orchestras

should be about bringing into the world great new art

and championing new artistic voices.

So that's really what I think is unique about our place

in Albany.

And in Albany we really feel a very strong commitment

and this again speaks to

that idea of, "The stuffy orchestra."

We believe that the orchestra's role

is to serve the community.

And by serving the community,

it's not a matter of inviting people to our concerts.

It's a matter of getting out there into the community,

doing free concerts, doing incredible education programming,

being in this schools and community centers.

So I would say that 70% of our work

actually isn't in the concert hall right now.

It's really out in the community doing all sorts of things,

positive interactions for people at all ages

and stages with music and with orchestra.

So we really do everything I was teasing you.

But we can do everything to break down that idea

that there's anything stuffy about what we do.

- Right, I mean people tend to have the same

kind of perception of visual art for instance,

so I certainly see what you're saying with that.

- Yeah but I think contemporary visual art

is sort of different

in that there's a hipster quotient to that where there isn't

maybe the same way to Rubens or to Rembrandt.

There's something really great about really new,

interesting, cutting edge art

that I think is perceived somehow

as a little bit more inclusive

because it's about our own time and place.

And so that's why we feel like

the living composers we work with

are so critical to our success

'cause they really reflect our own time.

Just as Mozart reflected his time,

or Brahms reflected his time.

- Right, so in terms of,

you seem to focus a lot on music education

that this is really important,

like classical music seems to be a tool or an avenue

for you to reach out to the community, to educate,

to help people learn more about the importance

of classical music.

You know everybody...

this is a really critical time

'cause everybody seems to be plugged into their iPhones

and social media, using screens to create,

to create everything from painting to music notes.

How do you convince younger generations

in terms of music education that playing new music

and new classical music is important right now?

What would you say to them?

- I don't really feel a need to convince anybody.

First of all

because there's just so much music creation going on

and kids all over the country and the world

are still picking up instruments and playing instruments.

And music conservatories are filled

with fabulous instrumentalists

and the level of play is higher than it's ever been.

And there are more performers as well as creators than ever.

So I think actually it almost speaks for itself.

I think people increasingly

and I know this for myself as an adult,

as not a young person

but that I crave authentic experiences,

opportunities to put my phone down

or to not do it at my entertainment center in my home.

So this idea of a bunch of people in a room,

having a communal experience

with art is actually very powerful.

And I think that it doesn't have to be sold very hard.

It's really like an antidote

to all of the things you enumerate.

And I think that young people really crave

those kinds of experiences

and once they put their phone down,

they have a wonderful time. - Right.

- To be honest, I actually hate the term classical music,

I don't even use it.

- [Lara] And why is that?

- Because I think it sort of puts it in a box.

And what we do at Albany,

I mean yes we play many of the masters of past areas,

including the classic era which is that era from about,

I don't know what is it from 1750 to 1825.

But I just don't like putting what I do in a box.

And all the contemporary music we do,

I wouldn't consider classical.

I call it concert music or orchestral music

'cause we cross over into jazz and into popular music,

we do pops.

One of our recent recordings

that was nominated for a Grammy

was a collaboration with the Julliard Jazz Orchestra

where the whole jazz orchestra was on stage

with the symphony orchestra.

So to me it's all about breaking down those barriers

between different kinds of music.

- And why do you think it is

that we're still so fascinated with Beethoven's music?

And what can Beethoven teach us today?

Even about the work of say, living composers?

- Well actually it's the big Beethoven anniversary

this year.

He would have turned 250 years old, had he but lived.

And I think there are many messages from Beethoven.

The one that I find most powerful

is that he was just the greatest innovator

in all of music history.

While he was very much steeped in the past

and knew the traditions he was very much about the future.

And he was also,

you know the image of Beethoven is about someone

who overcame great adversity.

He lost his hearing in his 20s and 30s

and yet he continued to create and created greater

and greater music the older he became.

So those two messages of Beethoven

are still very resonant today I think.

- Well thank you so much David for your time,

it is a pleasure having you on the show.

- Thank you Lara, it's been nice being with you.

- To celebrate Beethoven's 250th birthday,

please welcome pianist Young Kim and cellist David Bebe.

(cello and piano playing)

Thanks for joining us.

For more arts visit http://www.wmht.org/aha

and be sure to connect with WMHT on social.

I'm Lara Ayad, thanks for watching.

(cello and piano playing)

- [Announcer] Funding for AHA has been provided

by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include

the Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

The Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M+T Bank we understand

that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M+T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programing

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.

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