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The stage is set at SPAC

Summer Fun 2017

The stage is set at SPAC

Leader blending traditional with new to provide 'wow' factor
The stage is set at SPAC
A quiet Saratoga Performing Arts Center awaits its summer season.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER

Wonder: That’s what the Saratoga Performing Arts Center has in store for the summer season.

"I’m going for the ‘wow’ factor,” said Elizabeth Sobol, the president and chief operating officer of SPAC.

This will be her first summer season in the position and she’s stacked the line-up with a blend of classical SPAC premieres and performances by genre-bending artists. She’s also working on improving SPAC’s grounds, with a new gazebo stage and a few changes to the landscaping.

Here, Sobol names some of the must-see programming offered this season:

SPAC on Stage

SPAC on Stage is the pure manifestation of what I’m trying to get at. When I first came to SPAC and I looked at the programming and I saw that there was the appearance that you had classical music and classical arts on one side and then the Live Nation and the pop stuff on the other. That creates the illusion that there’s an either-or, that there’s this chasm between the two. In real life that’s not the case. So what we were missing in terms of the programming was all that connective tissue between pop music and the classic arts. For instance, Black Violin were classically trained string players but they grew up in the hip-hop community. So they have this really amazing cross-genre style with hip hop, R&b, and classic strings. Or Tiempo Libre, who grew up studying at the Juilliard school in Havana.

So by day, they were playing classical music and by night they were playing Cuban salsa and Afro-Cuban folkloric music. These artists represent the present and the future because that’s the way the world is now. . . it’s this incredible mixture I like to refer to it as porous borders. But then, as I walked into the amphitheater and looked into this vast space and thought, ‘You know, those artists might sell anywhere between 500 and 1,000 tickets depending on the artist and I can’t do that to an artist - put them on a stage and have 4,000 empty seats. That’s just not a good thing to do to any artist or to the audience for that matter. So I went and talked to our production team and it turns out we can seat 300 people on the stage around the artist. The point is to introduce Saratoga and beyond audiences to this very vital cross-genre music making that’s going on right now and also give audiences a very visceral, intimate experience that they wouldn’t normally be able to have with a lot of these artists.

The 38th annual Saratoga Jazz Festival at SPAC in June 2015. (Erica Miller)


I’m a huge Gypsy Kings fan and I’ve never seen them live, so that’s going to be one of my highlights. I love Chaka Khan, but I’m also really excited about some younger artists that I was very dedicated to wanting to have at SPAC this summer. Jacob Collier is an absolute genius, young phenomenal face of jazz and the future of jazz, who actually won his first two Grammy’s a month after we announced him in the series. Cecile McLorin Salvant, who is a young jazz singer, she’s being compared to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and she is magnificent. Corey Henry is somebody I worked with at Universal, he is a part of the band Snarky Puppy. Corey is just one of the most out and out talented, amazing artists I’ve ever worked with. He’s going to be there with the group The Funk Apostles.

Members of the New York City Ballet perform the opening number "Serenade" at SPAC in July 2013. (Peter R. Barber)


Dance has always had an illustrious tradition here at SPAC. I wanted to bring in one dance company who were very visceral and who represented more of a world sensibility, creating more diversity here in terms of what we’re presenting and bringing in broader audiences is important to me. So Che Malambo is a perfect company because it’s going to be something that’s never appeared on the SPAC stage before. It’s an all-male dance and percussion ensemble and they come from this gaucho folkloric tradition from Argentinian so they’re horsemen. It’s a perfect Saratoga kind of company. I’m excited about the [New York] City Ballet Ratmansky and Peck commissions. I’m really thrilled that we’re presenting some brand new work up here. But also there’s an All Balanchine evenings, there’s something for everybody whether you’re a traditionalist or somebody looking for new commissions. It’s a great City Ballet lineup.

Bramwell Tovey conducts the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra at SPAC in August 2014. (Peter R. Barber)


With the Philadelphia Orchestra there’s so much. We have these three themed festivals. We have a Russian Festival, an American Festival, and a French Festival. So opening night is going to our big celebration with fireworks with dancers from New York City Ballet. There’s a great Paul Gershwin evening that’s going to feature the phenomenal jazz pianist Marcus Roberts with his trio playing Rhapsody in Blue. That’ll be a special event, particularly for jazz lovers because this version of Rhapsody in Blue is not heard very often.


Then I’m going to mention something that has not happened on the SPAC stage for a really long time: an opera night. Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who is the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra is also becoming the music director of the Metropolitan Opera so he’s put together this absolutely incredible evening with three of the most radiantly beautiful singers from the Metropolitan Opera. So they’ll be doing arias, some of the most glorious opera arias so we’re closing the Philadelphia Orchestra with a night at the opera.


Then [there's] the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in August. There are so many phenomenal programs I don’t even know what to pick. Probably the highlight for me is that they are bringing the Danish String Quartet and they are probably one of the most talked about and young string quartets out there on the classical music scene right now.

Havana Chamber

On June 20th, we’re partnering up with Skidmore to bring the Havana Chamber Orchestra to Saratoga. I have a lot of background in Cuban music and Latin music so you’re going to hear a lot more Cuban themed music going on up here.

Caffe Lena

Then our Caffe Lena partnership will continue in June, July and August. We’ll be doing- on our brand new gazebo stage- one Sunday every month. There’s going to be a great lineup of bluegrass, Americana. Sarah Craig of Caffe Lena is curating that series and she’s put together an amazing lineup that’s all free.

Dave Matthews (right) and Tim Reynolds perform at SPAC in June 2017. (Erica Miller)

Live Nation

Sting, Earth, Wind and Fire, Zac Brown Band. I’m excited about all of them, to be honest. Straight No Chaser is one of my favorite groups and they’re with Postmodern Jukebox, so I’m excited about that one. I’ve never seen Kings of Leon live either.


  • Train with O.A.R. and Natasha Bedingfield: This is set to be a packed show. With Train’s new album, “A Girl A Bottle A Boat,” the Grammy-winning group has shown no signs of slowing down. Natasha Bedingfield and O.A.R., two other popular rock/pop groups will open for them on June 18.
  • Dead and Company: This group is proving to be another SPAC season must. With former Grateful Dead members Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Bob Weir, along with John Mayer, the band will be hitting the stage again on June 20.
  • Rod Stewart with special guest Cyndi Lauper: The legendary Rod Stewart, one of the best-selling artists of all time, will be joining Cyndi Lauper, the 1980s pop star on July 22 as a part of a month-long tour.
  • Kings of Leon: The classic rock group of this generation will be joining Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats on July 26.
  • Zac Brown Band: The multi-platinum, Grammy-winning country music group heads to SPAC on September 2 for their Welcome Home tour.
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