For 20 years, patrons of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer season under conductor Charles Dutoit at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center have come to feel that artists such as Emanuel Ax, Sarah Chang, Andre Watts and Yo-Yo Ma could be regarded as old friends. That was a deliberate choice of Dutoit, who often said that only on Tchaikovsky night could he slip in one of the new stars he’d found in his travels through Europe as a guest conductor.
But at the end of last season, he decided to move on to other artistic endeavors. He’ll still conduct two of the concerts this season, which opens on Wednesday. This left the door open for SPAC Executive Director Marcia White and the orchestra to introduce some new talents.
“It was a collaboration,” White said. “Even with Charles, we worked on his program, which he chose, and we shared some of the other programming with him. We’re still very close. We love him to death.”
Patrons will get a mix of the old with the new, she said.
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs
HOW MUCH: $72.50-$31, except for Yo-Yo Ma and Tchaikovsky night (add $5); Lawn $20. Children 12 and under, free on lawn; students, $10 (lawn), 25 percent off price (amphitheater)
MORE INFO: 584-9330, www.spac.org
Pre-performance talks, 7 p.m. at the Hall of Springs: Marin Alsop (July 27), John Goberman (July 28), Davyd Booth, orchestra violinist (July 29), Emanuel Ax (July 30), Robert Cafaro, orchestra cellist (Aug. 3), James Ehnes (Aug. 4), Bill Allen, producer of Cirque (Aug. 5), Cirque acrobat (Aug. 6), TBA (Aug. 10), Gabriela Montero (Aug. 11), Steven Reineke (Aug. 12), and Gil Shaham (Aug. 13). Cost is $5 for all ticket holders.
Marin Alsop, who debuted at SPAC in 2008 and is the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, will lead the orchestra’s opening night in a program that includes Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture,” Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pathetique”) and Bruch’s Violin Concerto with SPAC favorite Sarah Chang.
Alsop, whose family lives locally, once played violin with the New York City Ballet Orchestra, in which her mother still plays cello — her father is the former concertmaster. Chang, who has grown up in front of the audiences at SPAC and now, in her late 20s, is considered one of the world’s great violinists, reprises a concerto that she recently recorded with Kurt Masur and the Dresden Philharmonic to high praise (EMI Classics, 2010).
For the first time, SPAC will offer film night on Thursday with the East Coast premiere of the score of the 1942 classic “Casablanca” with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Constantine Kitsopoulos, a noted conductor of theater productions, will conduct. John Goberman, the creator of the Live from Lincoln Center series, brings his expertise to facilitate the event. Kitsopoulos, who has often conducted film nights with other orchestras, said the evening will be a threefold debut for him: with the orchestra, with the venue and with this film.
Dutoit returns Friday night for a program of Stravinsky’s “Song of the Nightingale” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Local legend and Tony and Emmy award-winner David Hyde Pierce will narrate in Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”
Dutoit will conduct on Saturday in a program familiar to SPAC audiences: Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique” and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 with Emanuel Ax. Dutoit’s wife, Chantal Juillet, who ended her own 19-year tenure last season as artistic director with the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival, will receive a star on SPAC’s Hall of Fame, which is at the top of one of the aisles in the amphitheater. Fireworks will end the evening.
In the second week, there will be several debuts. Conductor Stephane Deneve of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra will make his SPAC debut on Wednesday, Aug. 3, and work with cello virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma for the first time in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto.
“When I met Yo-Yo Ma in Seattle last year after being so impressed by his breathtaking interpretation of the Shostakovich, I asked him right away if he would accept to do it with me . . . and he very generously said yes,” Deneve said in an email.
The rest of the program he chose is Prokofiev’s Suite from “The Love for Three Oranges,” Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite” and his “Daphnis and Chloe” Suite No. 2.
On Aug. 4, Deneve will work with longtime colleague violinist James Ehnes, who last appeared at SPAC in 2000. The all-Beethoven program, which management suggested, includes the violin concerto, which the two friends have never done together, Deneve said.
Friday, Aug. 5 is the first of the two nights of Cirque de la Symphonie. Dubbed “Magical Tales,” it is the first time Deneve has ever worked with trapeze artists, he said. On Saturday, Aug. 6, Cirque will perform “Love and Romance” with conductor Rossen Milanov, who thrilled the crowd last season at SPAC in his debut.
The third week of Aug. 10-13 will be a lively one. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis in his SPAC debut with the orchestra on Wednesday is a three-time Grammy Award winner and jazz superstar. He will display his classical chops in two pieces: John Williams’ “Escapades,” which was originally part of the 2002 film score for “Catch Me if You Can,” and Milhaud’s “Scaramouche.”
Marsalis will work with one of his great fans, conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, the music director of the Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Guerrero, who listens to classic rock when he’s not conducting, said he chose the pieces to best reflect the saxophone. The rest of the program features Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” excerpts from Bizet’s “Carmen,” and Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” and “Bolero.”
Guerrero will conduct Thursday to work for the first time with piano sensation Gabriela Montero of Venezuela in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 is also scheduled. Montero, who will make her SPAC debut, gained fame from her appearance with Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Anthony McGill at President Obama’s inauguration when they struggled with the cold and wind to play Williams’ “Air and Simple Gifts.”
Pops conductor Steven Reineke, vocalists Ashley Brown and Ryan Silverman will entertain Friday in “Broadway to Hollywood.” Saturday’s finale with conductor Bramwell Tovey of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in his SPAC debut and SPAC favorite violinist Gil Shaham, will send patrons on their way in a Tchaikovsky spectacular. Colonial re-enactors, live cannons and the traditional fireworks will end the season.