SPAC offers major treat of the season

Every year about this time I have the feeling of our being very lucky to live where we do, and I hav

Every year about this time I have the feeling of our being very lucky to live where we do, and I have it again now, at the end of the first week of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer residency at SPAC.

Yes, the Philadelphia Orchestra — right in our little corner of upstate New York. Does everyone realize what a treat that is?

For $18 you can sit on the lawn with a picnic supper and listen to one of the great orchestras of the world conducted by one of the great maestros of our time, backing up one of the great soloists of all time, like Yo-Yo Ma or Joshua Bell or Andre Watts.

True, it costs more if you sit inside, where you are more enveloped by the sound, but you can get a vibrant enough experience outside for no more than the price of admission to the Saratoga County Fair plus two fried doughs.

OK, you say, you don’t like classical music and you actually prefer the Saratoga County Fair and especially the demolition derby part of it, and if that’s the case, I won’t argue with you. De gustibus, etc.

But for a lot of us the first week of August is the most exciting week of the year. It’s the week when the world comes to us, or at least that’s the feeling I had on opening night when Yefim Bronfman walked on stage to play a Brahms piano concerto under the direction of Charles Dutoit.

This year I was especially pleased to see what a large crowd turned out for the occasion, mindful as I am that both the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra have long been money-losing operations. That is, ticket sales have fallen about $1 million short of covering expenses in each case.

If the ballet got cut back from three weeks to two to lessen the losses, the same or worse could happen to the orchestra.

But with perfect weather and a star attraction, there was a formidable first-night turnout, and my fears were at least temporarily assuaged. The amphitheater was full, and so was the lawn, thanks maybe in part to the presence of a Hollywood actor doing a narration.

Thursday night, with no actor but merely the great pianist Andre Watts, the crowd was somewhat reduced, while last night only a fair-sized crowd turned out to hear Joshua Bell play Mendelssohn’s violin concerto.

I confess that I skipped Friday night, when the orchestra applied its talents to movie music. I have nothing against movie music, but if I must pick and choose, that’s the program I skip.

If it were up to me, I would broaden the orchestra’s appeal by including the symphonies of Mozart and Haydn and cutting back on Ravel and Respighi — I sometimes think if I have to listen to Bolero one more time I’ll commit an act of violence — but I understand that Maestro Dutoit, culturally French as he is, has an affinity for such impressionistic indulgences, and it’s what he does best. I take what I can get and am grateful for it. I take his fountains, his thunderstorms, his avalanches, and draw the line only at Bolero.

Then there is chamber music played by members of the orchestra in the Spa Little Theater, which is an ancillary treat of the season. The same wonderful performers playing more intimate music in a more intimate setting. For my money, it’s the finest thing this side of the Union College Chamber Music series in the winter.

Categories: Opinion

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