When the Philadelphia Orchestra returns for its traditional three-week residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Wednesday July 27 through Aug. 13, audiences will be offered a wealth of possibilities. Not only several premieres and two movies, world famous soloists and traditional masterworks, but debuts from instrumentalists, singers and even a conductor.
“This will be my first SPAC performance,” said Erina Yashima, the orchestra’s own assistant conductor who will open the season. “I was at SPAC last year but did not conduct. And these two concerts (July 27, 28) are also my last for the Philadelphia Orchestra. I’m going back to Germany.”
This is not the first time that local audiences have seen Yashima in action as she conducted the Albany Symphony Orchestra in January in Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sheherazade.” That was but one of many orchestras she’s conducted after working with Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Ricardo Muti and in the last few years with the Philadelphia’s music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin. But for these two SPAC dates, she’ll have a few challenges.
On opening night she’ll be working with Ballet X, a contemporary ballet group from Philadelphia in Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja.” Both are firsts for Yashima.
“I have worked with dancers in opera to see where they go so it will be interesting,” she said. “But the first time with any piece I read the notes like any score, but I try to understand the musical language and that takes longer. Especially to see how it works with contemporary music. You have to dive in to know.”
On the next night she’ll work with Time for Three in the East Coast premiere of Kevin Puts’ “Contact.”
“I’m very excited to work with them but I won’t meet them until rehearsal,” she said. “It will be quite a challenge because the piece is not easy. It has intricate rhythms. It will be quite a challenge but fortunately the orchestra has a collective knowledge of the work because they’ve recorded it with them.”
Yashima heads to Berlin to take on the post of second in command at the Komische Oper Berlin. She won the job after a second round of auditions in which she conducted Mozart’s “Magic Flute” without rehearsal.
“But I grew up with the opera and every cell is imbued with it. I went into the pit and went from there. The orchestra was astonishing in their response and everything went smoothly. It was being in the moment and I won,” Yashima said.
As for Time for Three, the three guys are thrilled to be back at SPAC. The group of violinists Zachary DePue and Nick Kendall and bassist Ranaan Meyer evolved out of jam sessions after orchestra rehearsals at the Curtis Institute in 2001. DePue has since left and Charles Yang joined in 2016.
“We never were thinking we’d have a career like we’re having,” Kendall said laughing.
The trio tours the world playing, and even singing, everything from classical to pop tunes, ragtime to blues or bluegrass, mixes that with humor, schmaltz and charm besides terrific instrumental technique and polish.
“We’re pretty busy and hardly home,” Meyer said. “But we make sure we have a life outside of TF3. It’s a puzzle piece.”
When DePue decided to leave, they had a bit of a search.
“We go for curious musicians who are like minded. . .for a different sound and palette and like collaboration with composers that speak our language,” Meyer said.
For about nine months they worked with Nikki Chooi, who left to take a one year job as concertmaster with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. But they’d heard of Yang’s videos and after inviting him to play with them decided after two hours “he was a great musical fit,” Kendall said. Local audiences may remember Yang’s 2016 solo appearance with the Empire State Youth Orchestra at Proctors when he wowed the crowd. Yang said that after the TF3 offer, he’d “finally got a job.”
As for the Puts piece, the composer came to several of TF3’s gigs and put what he heard together, Kendall said. Yang said that Puts gave everyone “moments to shine. The glue is all there. There are beautiful harmonies.”
The first week continues with violinist Joshua Bell and his wife soprano Larisa Martinez in an evening of romantic song (July 29); “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (July 30); famed singer Ledisi singing a tribute to jazz piano great Nina Simone (Aug. 3); pianist Lara Downes giving the SPAC premiere of Florence Price’s piano concerto (Aug. 4); cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Saint Saens’ cello concerto (Aug. 5); “The Princess Bride” (Aug. 6).
Nezet-Seguin returns Aug. 10 with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. And then on Aug. 11 along with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, violinist and Itzhak Perlman protege Randall Goosby plays the Bruch Concerto in his SPAC debut.
“I am very excited,” Goosby said. “Thankfully I’ve played the Bruch before but this is the first time with the orchestra. But the Philly sound is legendary and the Bruch is very emotive and passionate. The orchestra will sound like gold.”
Goosby has won numerous awards since his debut at 13 with the New York Philharmonic. One of which was to begin study with Perlman as part of Juilliard’s Pre-college division. He’s now 24 and continues to work with the great violinist.
“He’s very open and honest as a teacher,” Goosby said. “He’s been very helpful with the basics of my career. It pales with what he’s had to deal with but any questions I have get a valuable response especially as to what repertoire must be heard. He’s always spot on. It’s an asset to have had him in my corner.”
Because he was before the public so young, the word “prodigy” was often bandied about.
“But we never used it in my house. We called it the “p” word, so for me to not take myself seriously and keep it in perspective. . .to focus on the music and dig deeper. I’m still getting used to the career,” he said.
His first CD, “Roots,” which was recently issued on the Decca label celebrates Afro-American composers.
The week continues with Angel Blue singing Coleman and Barber (Aug. 12) and with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 concluding the residency Aug. 13 with fireworks to follow.
WHEN: July 27 – Aug. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
MORE INFO: www.spac.org; 518 584-9330