Saratoga Springs

SPAC 2020: Beethoven, ‘Swan Lake,’ ‘Star Wars’ are summer highlights

Classical season announced by Saratoga Performing Arts Center
The New York City Ballet performs Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”
The New York City Ballet performs Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s summer classical season will be a blockbuster.  

“It has our fingerprints all over it,” said SPAC executive director Elizabeth Sobol with a laugh. “I’m really thrilled with the season.”

Topping the list will be the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performances of all nine of Ludwig van Beethoven’s symphonies under the baton of music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin during the orchestra’s second week, something that Sobol said was not being done anywhere else in the world.

“It’s spectacular,” Sobol said. “Yannick is doing the cycle at Carnegie Hall and in Philadelphia but it’s over a season. It’s rare to do it in four nights.”

Beethoven’s presence will also be heard at each of the six Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s concerts also in pieces never heard on the series before.

Before all that, New York City Ballet fans will get three presentations of one of the greatest story ballets ever: Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” complete with the company’s marvelous sets, costumes and the terrific ballet orchestra.

“We wanted a story ballet,” Sobol said. “Balanchine’s one-act version had been done sixteen times here but the full-length ballet had been done only three times. It’s expensive with all the sets and load-in time, but we thought it important to do.”

And that’s not all. Movie fans have come to enjoy seeing some of their favorite flicks with the Philadelphia Orchestra playing the movie scores.This summer there will be three movies: “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”; Bugs Bunny and friends in some of the rabbit’s legendary moves; and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

“This will be the third time we’ve done Harry Potter and people are thrilled by the films,” Sobol said. “Bugs Bunny is something the orchestra is doing in Philadelphia and was excited about doing; and after we took a break from doing one of the ‘Star War’ films, we brought another back.”  

How does a season such as this happen?

“The programming is a conversation, a collaborative effort,” Sobol said. “We started on this season about a year and a half ago. We wanted to avoid repetitions such as that the “William Tell Overture” had been performed eleven times in thirteen seasons. Once we got 50 years of programming digitized in 2018 — it had been on index cards, we noticed that the Mozart Requiem and Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” had never been performed at SPAC. So in 2019 this ability to analyze what had been performed bore fruit.”

That’s why this season there are iconic masterpieces along with new works. This season’s theme is also women’s suffrage, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, so more female composers and choreographers are involved. Ancillary events connected to this theme will be announced closer to the season, she said.

Pre-concert talks will also be held but in the new pavilion — weather permitting, which is scheduled to be finished by May 1.


“Swan Lake” tells the tragic story of a beautiful princess Odette, who an evil sorcerer turns into a swan during the day but at night she resumes her human form. One night she meets a prince and they fall in love. But the sorcerer has other ideas than to let his swan queen go. This is a Peter Martins production, which was last seen at SPAC in 2006 and features acclaimed Danish artist Per Kirkeby’s sets and costumes and lighting by Mark Stanley, the NYCB Director of Lighting.

The company will also present three SPAC premieres from principal dancer Lauren Lovette, resident choreographer Justin Peck and a rarely performed one by George Balanchine never done at SPAC. Another evening/matinee will feature three favorites: one from Merce Cunningham not seen since 1967; a Jerome Robbins collection; and “Rubies” from the three-act ballet “Jewels” collaboration between Igor Stravinsky and Balanchine.


Conductor Stephane Deneve, in his final season as principal guest conductor of the orchestra, opens the first week on Wednesday with the festive fireworks of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” complete with live cannon and a SPAC premiere from composer Lena Auerbach based on the myth of Icarus along with works by Stravinsky and Paul Dukas.

Thursday will feature the charismatic Time for Three (two violins and bass) in Kevin Puts’ Triple Concerto – an East Coast premiere. Friday hosts violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Jeremy Denk in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto.

The second week is devoted to Beethoven. This year is the 250th anniversary of his birth Dec. 17, 1770 and venues world-wide are presenting his works. While most people have heard his name, may know something of his fifth and ninth symphonies, which snippets can often be heard in commercials or even cartoons, his other symphonies and instrumental works may be unfamiliar. This season should change that. But Nezet-Seguin has balanced each concert with a New York premiere which will make for a striking contrast.

The final week is an interesting mix of a movie, a little Beethoven, some Gershwin with singers and another movie, also with singers.


Nineteen works never performed at SPAC will be spread out over the six concerts along with the debut of the celebrated Calidore String Quartet in its 10th season in the first two concerts. Members of the Philadelphia Orchestra will also perform, including principal clarinetist Ricardo Morales, principal French horn Jennifer Montone. Series co-artistic directors pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel also perform on several of the concerts.  

SPAC 2020

   July 14: “Swan Lake” 8 pm
   July 15: “20th century masterpieces”: “Summerspace” (Feldman/Cunningham); “Piano Pieces” (Tchaikovsky/Robbins); “Rubies” (Stravinsky/Balanchine) 8 pm
   July 16: “20th century masterpieces”  2 pm
   July 16: “SPAC premieres”: Haieff Divertimento (Haieff/Balanchine); “The Shaded Line” (Tan Dun/Lovette); new Justin Peck  (Muhly/Peck)  8 pm
   July 17: “Swan Lake”  8 pm
   July 18: “Swan Lake”  2 pm
   July 18: Gala:  “In G Major”  (Ravel/Robbins); “The Man I Love” pas de deux  (Gershwin/Balanchine); “Rubies” (Stravinsky/Balanchine) 8 pm
   Aug. 5: Stephane Deneve: Auerbach, Dukas, Tchaikovsky (1812) 8 pm
   Aug. 6: Deneve, Time for Three soloists: Bernstein, Kevin Puts (East Coast premiere), Brahms  8 pm
   Aug. 7: Deneve, Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis, Jeremy Denk: Beethoven Triple, Strauss 8 pm
   Aug. 8: Lucas Richman – “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” 8pm
   Aug. 12: Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Carlos Simon (NY premiere); Beethoven symphonies 8, 4, 7  8 pm
   Aug. 13: Yannick: Jessica Hunt (NY premiere); Beethoven symphonies 2, 3   8 pm
   Aug. 14: Yannick: Iman Habibi (NY premiere); Beethoven symphonies 5, 6  8 pm
   Aug. 15: Yannick, four vocalists, Albany Pro Musica chorus: Gabriela Lena Frank (NY premiere), Beethoven symphonies 1, 9  8 pm
   Aug. 19: George Daugherty  (Bugs Bunny at the movies) 8 pm
   Aug. 20: Louis Langree, Jonathan Biss: Beethoven piano #5, Tchaikovsky  8 pm
   Aug. 21: Marin Alsop, four vocalists, Morgan State U. Chorus: Frank, Montgomery, Gershwin (“Porgy and Bess” highlights)  8 pm
   Aug. 22: Justin Freer, Morgan State U. Chorus: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”  8 pm
   Aug. 9: Beethoven, Dohnanyi, Dvorak  3 pm
   Aug. 11: Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert  3 pm
   Aug. 16: Beethoven, Dvorak, Korngold  3 pm
   Aug. 18: Beethoven, Schumann, Tower, Franck  8 pm
   Aug. 23: Debussy, Beethoven, Beach 3 pm
   Aug. 25: Mozart, Beethoven  8 pm

NYC Ballet/Philadelphia Orchestra:
Matinee: $63-$28; lawn, $18
Evening: $113-$43; lawn, $34-$29
Gala: $128-$68; lawn, $58

Chamber Music Society:

— Children 15 and under, free on lawn except for Gala and American Girl Night
— Children 15 and under, 50% off in ampthitheater, evening; $5 off, matinee
— SPAC members 15% discount if purchased before day of show

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Saratoga County

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