Changes are afoot at the Union College Concert Series and it’s all in the name. The new name is Capital Region Classical.
“It’s just to set a clarity of mission as a non-profit independent organization and define who we are, what we do and enable us to connect to the Schenectady community and the Capital Region,” said Derek Delaney, the series’ artistic director. “Before, we’d always been under the aegis of Union College. Now we’ll have a board of directors, who are all classical music lovers and be dedicated 24-7 to the presentation of world class chamber music performances.”
The board is currently seven community leaders — one member from each of the region’s counties, some of whom are amateur musicians.
The series was founded in 1971 with Dan Berkenblit as its artistic director and initially presented concerts at the Schenectady Museum. In 2001 concerts were moved to Union College’s Memorial Chapel and over the years the series developed a reputation as a regular stop for internationally known classical musicians, such as pianist Emanuel Ax, the Emerson String Quartet, and tenor Ian Bostridge. Often, their recitals were lead-ups to their recitals at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.
In 2011, Delaney took over as artistic director and has seen an impressive increase in attendance of 25 percent with more than a third of its audience coming from outside of the Schenectady and Albany counties. In the last five years alone, fifty of its concerts have aired nationally and regionally on public radio’s Performance Today including the most recent on December 9 and January 2.
About a year ago, Delaney said, talks began with Union College about the possibility of changing the status of the series.
“The series had always been a side event at the college, but we thought we could better serve the community to broaden our wings and share our love for classical music to reach different constituencies,” he said.
That means having groups under the series name perform at other venues. The first of these outreaches will be the Doric String Quartet’s concert at 7 p.m. February 4 at the College of Saint Rose’s Picotte Recital Hall. (Tickets: $35; students, free)
Union College president David R. Harris agreed, and said in a press release that the college had been “proud of its longstanding history with the series and its growing prominence in the region” and that the transition would “position the series to enjoy continued growth.”
Under the new arrangement, the series’ regular fourteen concerts will continue to be given at Memorial Chapel rent-free but its administrative operations will be off campus. For now, that means from Delaney’s home.
“We’re starting from scratch and have to create an infrastructure, so I’m a one-man band,” Delaney said with a laugh.
With no staff he handles everything from artistic decisions to ticket sales and marketing and with the new status, the series, which has always depended on individual and organizational contributions and ticket sales to support its more than $425,000 annual operating budget, may now apply for grants.
“We are excited about the changes moving forward,” he said. “The quality remains unchanged.”
Concert next Sunday
The next concert on the series is Jan. 26 with four members from the American Modern Opera Company, featuring tenor Paul Appleby.
This is the group’s debut at the hall and was chosen because of Delaney’s interest in singers and because the group was founded by composer Matthew Aucoin, whose work the series commissioned and premiered Nov. 3 with the Brentano String Quartet.
AMOC will perform Aucoin’s own “Merrill Songs,” which Appleby premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2016; Charles Ives’ Piano Trio with violinist Miranda Cuckson, cellist Coleman Itzkoff and pianist Conor Hanick; an arrangement of four of Alban Berg’s “Seven Early Songs”; and four of Franz Schubert’s “Schwanengesang.”
All the instrumentalists are outstanding players and Appleby has become a mainstay at the Metropolitan Opera since his debut in 2011 and a frequent performer on the New York City recital scene. He’s also a very busy singer.
Currently singing Mozart at Spain’s Teatro Real Madrid, he said he’d be performing there until January 21, fly back to New York City, perform at Union College and immediately return to Madrid. Despite the hectic schedule, he said he’d never turn down a chance to sing in a smaller setting.
“With an opera orchestra, you feel like you’re singing with one big instrument,” he said. “But in a chamber group of individuals you can have a minute conversation in real time. You give up your freedom of expression in opera to make a personal stamp. But in a smaller setting you can color, illuminate the text. . . and have communion with a small audience. I do as much chamber music as I can. It’s hard with a busy schedule, but this is why I became a musician. It’s very personal and spontaneous. It’s most rewarding.”
This particular program is also very “intellectually focused,” Appleby said. “The pieces are all about having an existential crisis, almost self-consciously artistic. I wanted to do the Aucoin and Berg – they’re like descriptions of postcards. And the Schubert was written weeks before his death. They’re a little bleak but they speak to each other and are very distinctively different. The Ives trio has his own take. We’re digging deep into serious rep.”
If you go:
American Modern Opera Company with tenor Paul Appleby
WHEN: 3 p.m. Jan. 26
WHERE: Union College’s Memorial Chapel
HOW MUCH: $35, pre-concert; $40, at door; students, free
MORE INFO: 518 941-4331; www.capitalregionclassical.org
Capital Region Classical at Union College 2020
-- Pianist Jeremy Denk: Feb. 9, 3 p.m. All Bach
-- Belcea Quartet: March 20, 7:30 p.m.; March 21, 3 p.m.; March 22, 3 p.m. All Beethoven
-- Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor: March 29, 3 p.m. Rameau, Beethoven, Liszt
-- Dover Quartet: April 19, 3 p.m.; April 25, 3 p.m.; April 26, 3 p.m. All Beethoven