Luzerne, Seagle festivals use down time to raise funds, rebuild, add equipment

A crane lowers a new cabin onto piers at Luzerne Music Center in this photo taken from a recent video.

A crane lowers a new cabin onto piers at Luzerne Music Center in this photo taken from a recent video.

Two local music festivals had to close their seasons last summer because of the virus. Instead, they took the opportunity to pursue either a long-held dream or make hugely successful fundraising efforts to secure durable stability.

“It turned out to be a blessing,” said Elizabeth Pitcairn, the CEO and artistic director of the Luzerne Music Center and the Luzerne Chamber Music Festival.

Because she had to close the camp, which usually hosts up to 150 young musicians/composers throughout July and August, Pitcairn opted to renovate the grounds, which included new housing for students and teachers.

“We had already refunded everyone because we had to close. But it was a silver lining. The board and I decided to make lemonade out of lemons,” she said. “We had stamped plans to do the renovation which we’d been working on for 10 years prepared by Elan Planning, Design and Landscape Architecture. We were lucky to have the summer to work in and that construction was deemed essential.”

But the project would be an expensive one. Pitcairn reached out to possible donors and by chance, a friend of the camp who was a lawyer had been working with the Jack Lawrence estate in California. Lawrence, who died in 2009 at age 96, was a Songwriter Hall of Fame member who’d written several Broadway shows. As Lawrence had no descendants there were already several beneficiaries of his trust.

“We came at the right time. I called the trustee and put together a package about our capital campaign and offered the possibility of naming rights for our concert hall,” Pitcairn said.

The trustee liked what Pitcairn presented and sent Luzerne a check for $500,000.

“Now our concert hall is named the Jack Lawrence Performance Concert Lodge and there’s a small museum to house his archives that will be open to the public,” she said.

Also, a portion of the $500,000 will be given as endowed scholarships especially to promising composition students at the camp.

The remainder is part of the $1.2 million Pitcairn had already raised. Hilltop Construction Company of Hudson Falls, who’d built the camp’s stage in 2015 with help from Stewart’s Shops, and Bennett Design & Excavation of Amsterdam were hired to start work in July. Meanwhile, Pitcairn had found 30 log cabins up to 13 feet by 36 feet built by the Amish in Lancaster, PA that will house the teachers and students/counselors. Twelve of those were purchased and forty percent was put down for the remainder, which will arrive in April.

“They’re a huge cost savings,” Pitcairn said. “They’re all up to code, come with four built-in bunk beds, their own shower stalls and toilets, fans and air conditioning and the counselors will have their own door. 

These replace the original cabins, many of them 100 years old, which were on their last legs.

Because about $750,000 is still needed to be raised, Pitcairn is offering possible donors to name a cabin for up to $75,000/cabin. That will complete Phase I. Phase II will be to replace the dining hall and the administration building.

“All this means the world to us to return to a clean state-of-the-art facility,” Pitcairn said. “You have to pinch yourself. It will elevate the whole program and came at the nick of time.”

She anticipates holding a full enrollment of students this summer split into two sessions of up to four weeks each but with no public concerts and all necessary safety protocols. Check for more information. And her violin career, which has been on hold for almost a year, gets a reboot with engagements in March in the Ukraine and in May with the Albany Pro Musica.

Success in fundraising

Loyal opera supporters have always been the mainstay for the Seagle Music Colony — now called the Seagle Festival, in Schroon Lake but never more than this year. The Colony hosts up to 32 young singers who perform in four productions that range from musical theater to contemporary opera during July and August.

“When we had to cancel our summer, we had to revise our budget and wondered how much to raise,” said Tony Kostecki, general director. “We were relying on donations and grants and help just to make it through the year.”

With three full-time staff that live in the area, they just wanted to “keep lights on and our commitment to pay summer staff at least partially.” In June they’d received a $10,000 NEA grant and their biggest fundraiser, the Gala on Aug. 1, which was virtual, was still hugely successful. They also received some foundation help to acquire state-of-the art equipment to live stream their concerts.

They decided to go for a year-end goal of $100,000. Initially, a donor offered a matching grant of $25,000, which was surpassed by Thanksgiving. Then another “generous donor” stepped in and offered another $25,000 matching grant if they could get to $75,000 and within weeks that too was surpassed. The final tally was about $100,000.

“We were thrilled. We have such great donors, members. So many came from individual donations,” Kostecki said. “Not to be worried for the stability of our organization and to move into 2021…it will allow us to do what we can to entertain our patrons and fulfill our mission.”

The name change is the result of how the Colony, which was founded in 1915, has evolved to become so much more than just a training ground for emerging opera singers — some of whom have gone on to win Metropolitan Opera contracts. Over the last year and a half, the board and staff decided now was the time, which Kostecki said, better reflects their mission.

As for the summer, singers will be divided into two sessions with each group performing works typical for a season but will not require a big chorus, can be streamed in about 90 minutes and be easy to watch on one’s screen. Exactly what those shows will be announced in February. Tickets will be offered in late spring. Contact .

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned, we have to be flexible,” Kostecki said with a laugh. “Who knows? Fingers crossed.”

A quick glance at where other venues/companies stand at the moment:

Glimmerglass Festival

The festival team is working “furiously” to plan a 2021 season with live performances including “clever innovations and a vibrant array of offerings” according to their website. More in February at

Opera Saratoga

The company has not yet determined what the scope and format of the summer season will be other than that the Spa Little Theatre will not be used but open air performances could be a possibility and those will be later in the summer than in past seasons, said Lawrence Edelson, general and artistic director. Announcements will be made in March or April on

Saratoga Performing Arts Center 

The New York City Ballet, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center are committed to having some kind of summer presence whether it’s in the amphitheater or not, said SPAC Executive Director Elizabeth Sobol. Based on the past season’s SPAC Reimagined series and the 200 plus events held, everyone has gained confidence in having the necessary flexibility and agility to meet any demands of the pandemic, she said.



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