The Philadelphia Orchestra returns to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Wednesday for a four-day residency under the direction of musical director Yannick Nezet-Seguin. But with the pandemic, even this venerable organization has reassessed its mission to better reflect current expectations.
âWe are looking beyond our narrow borders to expand our repertoire, our vision and our sense of social responsibility as a civic art organization,â said concertmaster David Kim. âIt’s important to embrace that and be a voice of art and culture to include many new works and recordings by women, people of color, neglected composers. The public has appreciated and been amazed at the beauty of these works and embraces them. It is a success for us and we are proud to be the leader.
This is why the public of the SPAC will benefit from several creations of composers such as Florence Price (1887-1953), who became the first black female composer to have a symphony performed by a large American orchestra; Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) whose work received praise from Robert Schumann; and living composers Valerie Coleman and orchestra composer-in-residence Gabriela Lena-Frank.
Although the music is new to local ears, the orchestra has been busy over the past year learning new pieces and developing new social distancing strategies.
âWe created a virtual concert stage,â Kim said. âWe have all been tested, worn masks, recorded outside and then inside by the same driver. We made the big war horses and the novelties. The voters were incredibly generous. But it was a sad day last year when we heard that PSPC was out. It is our second home in the summer. But time flies. “
Kim estimates that only about sixty percent of musicians will come to SPAC this summer. The orchestra has already been in Vail, CO for ten days, which he says has been “a great success.” It was a dizzying feeling. And they did a week at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, which was also âreally successfulâ.
The local season will be short, but the regular morning rehearsals will continue as usual.
âWe know music, so we don’t think we have to rush to learn something new,â he said.
The orchestra takes it all without hesitation, but for Coleman and Lena-Frank it’s always a pleasure to see their work performed by these musicians.
âThe Philadelphia Orchestra is such a gift,â Coleman said. âThey almost have ESP on their game. .play as a chamber music group. They breathe together.
Her play “Seven O’Clock Shout” will be performed on Thursday August 12th. This is his second work performed by the orchestra.
Coleman’s association with the orchestra began a few years ago. At the time, Coleman was flautist with the Imani Winds, a Grammy-nominated wind quintet she founded in 1997. As a woman of color and a double-degree in flute performance and composition from the Boston University, she said she automatically began writing for the group. represent the African diaspora. Although she continued to do both for years, it did raise concerns, she said, as being a performer and a woman of color who was also a songwriter left people confused.
âI’m a big fan of hybridity,â Coleman said. “Society always wants to put you in one box or another.”
However, one of her pieces that Imani used as an encore became very popular and it was she that caught the attention of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
“They contacted me to rearrange the orchestral piece,” she said. âI also wanted to build a relationship with them. Giving a composer the chance to get to know these musicians and evolve with their writingâ¦ it allowed me to push the limits.
After twenty years with Imani, Coleman decides to withdraw from the group.
âI still play the flute, but I wanted to see how far I could go as a composer,â she said.
Last May, the orchestra asked him to do a five-minute piece for their gala that would be a tribute to essential workers in the pandemic, a commentary on individual isolation, racial unrest and a declaration of human survival. The work has since been performed on several occasions, notably at the Vail Residence.
Lena-Frank, too, had already had a connection with the orchestra before taking up her current position.
âIn 2012, Philly created my ‘Concertino Cusquelo’ as a tribute to Yannick at the head of Philly,â she said. “It was a memorable experience.”
Lena-Frank’s background includes Latin Grammy and Grammy nominations, several college residencies across the country, and a composer-in-residence with the Houston and Detroit Symphonies. Despite the accolades, she said she felt some pressure when she became the Philadelphia songwriter.
âWorking with a world class organization is exciting, and no, I don’t feel the pressure anymore,â she said. âWith the pandemic putting our plans on hold, I can’t wait to get started. “
His selections of âLeyendas: An Andean Walkaboutâ for string orchestra will be performed on Friday 13 August. Like all his work, the inspirations are from his Latin American heritage. This piece, premiered in October 2020, mixes elements of Western classical with the traditions of Andean folk music, especially those of Peru.
Besides the new works, there will be familiar soloists: solo clarinetist Ricardo Morales will perform Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto on August 13; Kim will join Juliette Kang, associate principal solo violin, on August 12 for Bach’s Double Concerto; and violinist Joshua Bell will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto on Saturday, accompanied by fireworks.
âI have done Bach several times with Juliette but it is a pleasure beyond words to play a solo with the Philadelphia. It’s a privilege, âKim said.
All concerts will last approximately 90 minutes without an intermission. Social distancing will be maintained in the amphitheater.
WHEN: 8 p.m. August 11 to 14
O: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
HOW MUCH: $ 40 – $ 105; $ 30, lawn
MORE INFO: www.spac.org; 518 – 584 – 9330
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