By Tom Keyser
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center has announced a 2012 classical season filled with firsts.
Music fans will welcome Yannick Nezet-Seguin, music-director-designate of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who will make his SPAC debut. He will conduct the orchestra for three performances, including one that features superstar pianist Lang Lang.
Other firsts and plenty of highlights mark the summer season when the New York City Ballet (July 10-21) and the Philadelphia Orchestra (Aug. 1-18) settle into Saratoga Springs for their annual residencies — from the world premiere of a Justin Peck ballet (the first world premiere by City Ballet at SPAC in 27 years) and the return of Peter Martins’ ballet “Romeo and Juliet” to the performance by Lang Lang and other classical stars, such as Joshua Bell and Yo-Yo Ma.
See the complete City Ballet season and the complete Philadelphia Orchestra season.
In addition, City Ballet dancers will perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra on the season’s closing night, “Tchaikovsky Spectacular.” Tiler Peck, principal dancer, and Chase Finlay, soloist, will perform the pas de deux from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” on a specially erected floor in front of the amphitheater stage as the orchestra performs the scores.
According to SPAC records, this will be the first time since 1987 that an orchestra program has featured City Ballet dancers. And the Peck ballet premiere, set to the composer Philip Glass’ Four Movements for Two Pianos, will be the seventh City Ballet world premiere at SPAC since it began its summer residency there in 1966.
“The strength of our season this year is that we’re trying to make our audience more aware of the breadth and depth of what our program truly is,” says Marcia J. White, SPAC’s president and executive director. “It is the greatest ballet company in the world. It is the world renowned Philadelphia Orchestra.”
And it is, she says, the Chamber Music Festival (schedule to be announced later), Opera Saratoga, the cabaret series, wine and food festival and, kicking everything off June 30 and July 1, the 35th Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival.
“It’s important to see that we do have a broad scope,” White says. “We meticulously work with our partners to create a program that really does fit our audience and helps build a new audience.”
The French-Canadian Nezet-Seguin will assume the title of music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in September, following Charles Dutoit. When he was named to the post in June last year, The New York Times reported:
“While hardly a household name among American audiences, Mr. Nezet-Seguin, 35, has been closely watched and much sought after by orchestra and opera executives on the prowl for the next great podium talent. He joins a select crew of relatively young men put at the helm of major American orchestras in recent years: Gustavo Dudamel, 29, at the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert, 43, at the New York Philharmonic.”
Nezet-Sequin will conduct the orchestra Aug. 8 when Lang Lang performs Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (and the orchestra performs Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and Symphony No. 4), on Aug. 9 for “Italian Opera Night,” and on Aug. 10, when Arabella Steinbacher, who made her SPAC debut in 2009, performs Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (and the orchestra performs Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 and the contemporary composer Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra).
“He has a young, fresh approach,” White says of Nezet-Sequin. “His magnetic presence inspires not only the audience but the musicians as well.”
Steinbacher is one of seven soloists who will appear with the orchestra. Ma, a frequent performer in the Capital Region, will join guest conductor David Robertson on stage Aug. 16 to play Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto. (Four months later, Ma will appear with the Albany Symphony Orchestra at the Palace Theatre in Albany.)
On Aug. 15, Bell, who appeared with the ASO in December, will perform Brahms’ Violin Concerto under the direction of guest conductor Rafael Fruhbeck De Burgos. For Nezet-Seguin’s inaugural appearance at SPAC, Lang will perform Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
“There is no one else like Lang Lang,” White says. “He is a rock star in the classical world.”
She saw him perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra last fall at Carnegie Hall, and, she says, “His encore (“La Campanella,” from his CD, “Liszt: My Piano Hero”) was the most moving classical music experience of my life. It was breathtaking and spellbinding.”
The City Ballet will present five SPAC premieres, one of which is a world premiere by Peck, a City Ballet dancer who branched into choreography in 2009. Last June, he presented the world premiere of “The Enormous Room” at Skidmore College.
Peck created that ballet, danced by his City Ballet colleagues, especially for Saratoga Springs. His ballet at SPAC this summer will be part of the Ballet Gala, which will include two of the other SPAC premieres.
In addition, the orchestra on Aug. 3 will accompany the return engagement of “Cirque de la Symphonie” and on Aug. 11 will perform the score of “The Wizard of Oz” as the film is shown on cinema screens. On Aug. 17, the vocalists Montego Glover and Tony DeSare will join the orchestra for an evening of songs by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and other classic crooners.
SPAC will also continue its pre-show events, including “Family Night,” “Date Night” and “Girls Night Out,” as well as educational programs such as “See the Music,” when the conductor talks to the audience about the music, and children’s workshops led by City Ballet dancers.