summer only?  A SPAC music list is racing next

summer only? A SPAC music list is racing next

With a slate of nine concerts scheduled between now and the end of the year, SPAC is working towards its goal of year-round programming. The vast outdoor amphitheater may be closed but the music continues. Upcoming is a two-day music festival from Caffe Lena running on Saturday and Sunday October 1 and 2 at Charles R. Wood Stage, an outdoor band. Three musical performances will take place every afternoon and admission is free.

From there, most of the action will take place at the Spa Little Theatre, where SPAC has established a one-year management relationship with New York State, which owns the facility. The lineup includes Nobuntu, a Zimbabwean singing quintet (October 14), community chamber music of Lincoln Center (October 15), and Canadian band Brass (December 13). There will also be family-oriented events on the holidays.

Over the past year, SPAC has rolled out such events in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, resulting in the perception that they are special events or individual events, rather than being part of a distinct season. However, when viewed together, the list is large and varied and there is more on the way.

The somewhat tense process is due to the uncertainty from COVID, says Chris Shelley, vice president of technical planning. “We didn’t have the lead because we didn’t know what would be available or possible. Everything is a little truncated,” he says. Shelley says plans are still coming together regarding the winter and spring schedule. “We usually plan for fall 2023 right now.”

Shiley has worked with SPAC for five summers, joining them about a year after Elizabeth Sobol began her tenure as president and CEO. His recent promotion from Director to Vice President is indicative of the growing number of SPAC offerings as well as his growing influence. His duties include overseeing relationships with three resident companies (New York City Ballet, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Chamber Music Society), booking guest artists, and contributing to the institution’s overall artistic direction. “I feel like I have a say in what gets put together, even though I work closely with Elizabeth,” he says.

After training at the graduate level as a trumpeter, Shelley, 35, has been a freelance musician for about five years. His first job in management was in education with the Baltimore Symphony. After that, he worked for a management company that travels internationally with professional touring orchestras. For his next career move, Shiley says, “I was looking for something that combined the logistics and the artistic and creative side. I met Elizabeth through a mutual friend.” In their initial discussions, Sobel made clear her intention to organize programs throughout the year. “She wanted someone to work within that vision and expand it further,” Shelley recalls.

Some of SPAC’s non-summer events have been held at the Zankel Music Center and Tang Museum, both on the Skidmore College campuses. Shiley says SPAC is always looking for collaborations, but the 500-seat Spa Little Theater is now the main venue and the focus will remain primarily on musical performances.

In terms of how to detail the summer ballet and orchestra programs, Shelley says the starting point is each troupe’s previous season. He had extensive interviews with Jonathan Stafford, Ballet City Artistic Director, and Jeremy Rothman, Vice President of Technical Planning at Philly.

“We’ve done a lot by programming housing to change, diversify, and modify programming, trying to infuse new music and new artists while still honoring tradition,” Shelley says. This is particularly evident in this summer’s orchestra programs, which reflected the two organizations’ shared focus on inclusion, diversity, equity and access.

Over the past season, there have been at least two programming decisions instigated by SPAC and hosted by the orchestra. One of them was a new piece called “A Lovesome Thing: Billy Strayhorn Suite” with pianist Lara Downs. SPAC co-commissioned the piece with Boston Pops, which premiered it in late spring.

The biggest departure from the norm was the pop singer Lidisi’s show that paid homage to late soul artist Nina Simone, based on the artist’s Grammy-nominated album “Lidisi Sings Nina.” “We’ve never quite done tonight with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but it’s important to introduce strong compelling artists as a way to appeal to different audiences. The orchestra worked with us to build the program and highlight the members of the orchestra so that it’s not just a backup band,” says Shelley.

Throughout his tenure, Shiley has made it a practice of putting himself on top of the lawn at closing shows in the runway and thanking streams of outgoing sponsors for coming out. “This is how I get my honest feedback,” Shiley says. “They told me what they were thinking, then and there.”

This immediate association with the masses guides his decisions. He explains: “Over five years now, I’ve seen programming grow and build relationships with the community. I feel like I have more freedom to code based on that knowledge.”

Salon Recordings in County Green

Patrick Le Rey is a sound engineer and recording engineer who has been active in this field since the mid-1990s, primarily in New York where he owns a studio, and also in his native France while using the trade name One Soul. During the COVID lockdown in 2020, Lo Re and some of his colleagues built a state-of-the-art private recording studio on his New Baltimore property. He describes the facility as a “showroom for audio solutions,” like an audio lab.

The studio, which opened last year, is the setting for a new series of music salons called Atelier Musical, during which a small audience is given an up-close listening experience and allowed to observe the recording process. One goal is to give young artists an opportunity to make demo recordings suitable for promotions and submissions. Jazz and Latin will be included along with classical music.

Three salons have taken place so far and the tri-series season finale will begin on Saturday, October 10th. Seating capacity is strictly limited to 35 guests, but two sessions are limited. Working with Lo Re is a small advisory group of local music lovers who expect to produce four to six concerts annually. Find out more at ateliermusical.art

Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer based in Troy.

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