Displaying items by tag: Saratoga performing arts center
SPAC 2021: We’re Back - One-On-One With Elizabeth Sobol
SARATOGA SPRINGS — “Nothing bears any resemblance to past seasons,” says Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The SPAC campus first opened on a July night in 1966 when it welcomed to the stage the New York City Ballet. A few hours downstate, Mickey Mantle hit a home run in each game of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium, and all across America, The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” dueled with Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night” for a spot at the top of the charts.
In ballparks, across broadcast networks and atop performance stages, last summer was like no other, preceded by a distress of unpredictability over what could happen. Looking ahead to the upcoming summer, that still unpredictable aura has seemingly transformed into what can possibly be.
“This time last year – March, April, May – when it was clear what was going to end up happening – we started asking ourselves the question: Who and What is SPAC when you can’t use the amphitheater?” Sobol says.
Currently, there have been “regular and very fruitful conversations with all our resident companies,” she explains, referring to the New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. “There is a huge effort going across many different organizations, because we all know how important it is to have some presence by these companies up here. We’re committed to having all of them in Saratoga and they’re committed to being here in some way, shape or form.”
SPAC also plays host to the annual Saratoga Jazz Festival, Opera Saratoga, and a summerlong staging of pop concerts presented by Live Nation, as well as the annual Saratoga Wine and Food Festival and an additional slate of imaginative programming. Right now, what form they will take: “Nobody knows yet,” Sobol says. Still, preparations are underway. And there have been a multitude of things learned.
“We learned so much about so many things. It gave us time and quiet to contemplate things we normally don’t have time to contemplate. The last year has honed our skills living with the jaws of uncertainty wide open, 24/7, and it’s forced us to not take anything for granted.”
Showing its merits beyond an oft-misplaced public perception as being solely a site for an amphitheater, SPAC exhibited its mettle as a holistic organization with a series of community collaborations alongside cultural agencies and the business community, as well as continuing its outreach in the world of education – where in 2019 alone it served 50,000 students around the Capital Region and worked with more than 120 local schools and non-profit organizations to present more than 400 unique classes, events, performances, and presentations.
“We started asking ourselves: How can we provide experiences that bring people together around beauty, rather than pushing them apart. That kind of informed everything we did: let’s look at our campus like a blank canvas and all the opportunities and possibilities we have here. So along with that question of who and what is SPAC when the amphitheater stage is dark, is also the question of how we can best serve art, artists and the community.”
On campus meanwhile, the organization last summer unveiled The Pines at SPAC. The new 4,000 square foot indoor/outdoor, year-round education and community events space features a pavilion and a terrace where some small gathering events may take place. While it is a structure much of the public has not yet seen, The Pines has been used to host more than 200 events since late last summer, 50 people maximum capacity at a time, and the grounds have also featured things such as dance classes, wellness classes, a teaching space for healing arts practitioners, and the launching of Culinary Arts at SPAC events.
A “Soundwalk” project was also initiated, merging performance and programming that takes audiences more into nature. “An embracing of our place in the natural world in a much more direct and celebratory way is going to be a big piece for us moving forward,” Sobol says. “Anything we could do using our rigorous COVID protocols and procedures to create a safe space for people to gather outdoors and do the things they needed to do for their soul. So, we now have a blueprint for doing things on a very small scale, for being flexible and agile. It honed a lot of skills for us.”
SPAC’s summer ballet gala will be re-imagined in 2021. “It’s not going to be a massive event with hundreds of people at the Hall of Springs on the lawn, but now that we know we can replicate these events – let’s say it’s for 50 people - maybe we’ll do 5 or 10 of them. We now have that blueprint, and we can execute that pretty nimbly,” she says. A culinary concept that has to do with ballet history is also being put together for a limited capacity gathering in 2021, and possibilities of having “rolling audiences” – that is, a few hundred people being rotated into the grounds at any one time – are being considered as a way to stage the summer Jazz Fest.
“We’re looking at every possible option so that if things are still very restrictive, we can accommodate that, and if they are looser we can accommodate that too,” Sobol says.
“‘All of these things are things we’re all working on together – how to bring companies to Saratoga, finding ways to perform that are safe for the audience and the performers and the crew, and also models that are financially viable for us and for them.”
Promoter Live Nation will have its own decisions to make regarding the summer pop season. More than one dozen scheduled shows are slated to take place from mid-July through September, featuring artists such as Rod Stewart, Hall & Oates, Maroon 5, Backstreet Boys, and Alanis Morissette, among others. A phone call to Live Nation seeking comment for this story was not returned.
As far as capacity in the amphitheater, a 10% max limit recently imposed on large venues by Gov. Cuomo would keep the audience inside the pavilion to 500 people, although those percentage numbers could fluctuate depending on vaccine roll-out and COVID-19 infection rates. SPAC being an amphitheater – a somewhat open building with an attached outdoor lawn – the stipulations specific to the venue are not clear.
“We are working on a regular basis with the governor’s office to talk about what amphitheaters look like, what that’s going to be, but imagine if we’re still at 10%,” Sobol says. “Even if we do use the lawn, we’re still limited to 500 people in the amphitheater. If they don’t give us a percentage but say we have to limit according to the six-foot rule, then that would limit us to about 1,200 people. It has enormous financial implications. And none of us knows right now. Trying to plan for July and August when we don’t even know when vaccinations are going to be widely available is tough,” she added.
SPAC is a 501(c)3 charitable organization with an annual operating budget of about $10 million. To normally meet that budget, about $5 million in revenue is generated from ticket sales, rent paid by promoter Live Nation which stages the summer pop concerts, and other miscellaneous sources. The other $5 million must largely be raised through SPAC memberships, charitable donations and corporate underwriting.
When programs were first cancelled last May and June, SPAC projected a $1.3 million shortfall, “but the community really rose up and was so generous that we ended up able to end the year in the black, so there’s tremendous gratitude around the generosity of the community,” Sobol says. “But at the same time, 2021 is going to be a lot more perilous for us, because we didn’t have the (high) costs last year. We are committed to major resident companies, so support at SPAC for this year is going to be even more important than it was last year.
“Most of our planning is done years in advance and right now what we have is about 50 plates juggling in the air waiting for a moment – which will probably be sometime in early April - to say this is our best bet of what three months is going to look like, because we’ve got to basically have 90 days between the time we pull the trigger on something, and we have our first performances. That’s an absolute minimum,” Sobol says.
“It’s also about the perception. There are more and more studies out there that ask, ‘Do I dare go out into an environment where there are hundreds or thousands of people?’ That’s the big quotient we can’t predict: behavior.”
Ultimately, SPAC is planning to actively showcase all its resident companies in 2021. “We just don’t know what that’s going to look like,” Sobol says. “Is it in the amphitheater at vastly reduced capacities? Is it in some other performance space – because if we’re seriously limited then we may have to look at some other spaces. But, we are committed to having the musicians and the dancers here in some capacity.”
The Calming Grace of Elizabeth Sobol
CEO of Saratoga Performing Arts Center Reflects on Her Role
Elizabeth Sobol, President and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, has a secret weapon: silence. Running the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), a summer venue that hosts world-renowned talent and attracts more than 500,000 audience members per year, is a formidable challenge, but Sobol leads operations with a remarkable calm.
Unfazed by the demands on her attention that come with the position, Sobol finds her focus through stillness. “In order to discover where you are on a particular topic or what’s important to you,” said Sobol, “you need to get rid of distraction.”
Early in her career, Sobol began a meditation practice and found it to be one of the most mind-blowing experiences of her life helping her to understand the subconscious voices that were guiding her behavior, giving her the space to block out distractions, and allowing her to appreciate the beauty around her. “If you don’t cultivate that quiet, and you don’t cultivate that sense of presence in the moment,” Sobol said, “you miss a lot of what’s important in life.”
Sobol is committed to bettering herself, to learning from others, and to bringing light and beauty into the world. With refreshing openness, she said that she tries every day to be a better person. “I want to learn more about the world, to appreciate its complexities and beauties…and to be kind to people.”
A Lifelong Commitment to the Arts
Elizabeth Sobol grew up studying classical piano and, from the age of 13, attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Conservatory. Realizing that she’d never become a top professional pianist, Sobol focused, instead, on a career in arts management. She began her professional life at IMG Artists, where she represented performers across a variety of genres, working with talent as diverse as Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, Bill T. Jones, and Kodo Drummers. She stayed with IMG for nearly 30 years, working her way up to Managing Director.
After IMG, Sobol became President of Universal Music Classics in NYC, where the label released albums by artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Sting, Tori Amos and Renee Fleming. She joined Saratoga Performing Arts Center as its President and CEO, in 2016, overseeing operations from a light-filled office in the heart of SPAC’s state-park locale.
Throughout her career, Sobol has strived to balance commercial vs. non-commercial interests. “My biggest challenge has always been that I’m often drawn to more artistic enterprise than strictly commercial enterprise. I personally prefer jazz and classical and world music to Pop and Rock; and literature and poetry to ‘entertainment.’ But it’s a challenge that I love taking on” she said. “How do we get people excited in artists and genres that they’ve never heard of before, that they’re not going to hear on the radio, that they probably won’t see in a movie?”
Sobol is convinced that collaboration and cross-genre experiments are the key to growing audiences. Throughout her career, Sobol has always gravitated toward artists who wanted to step outside their lanes. With collaboration, she explained, “now all of a sudden, you’ve got the world of classical and the world of jazz, or the world of classical and the world of bluegrass, or whatever it is…and now you have one plus one equaling much more than two.”
To build interest in SPAC’s offerings, Sobol started the SPAC-on-Stage program, a series that seats audiences on stage for intimate, visceral performances that go way beyond the genres SPAC has been traditionally known for. With SPAC-on-Stage “we’re combining that cross-genre take on classical music, for instance, and trying to create experiences that don’t feel like what people think of when they think classical music.”
The Importance of Live Performance
Technology has long been feared as a threat to live performances. With the arrival of each new communications medium -- radio, film, recorded music, and television -- people have worried that the demand for live performances would decline. “Yet,” said Sobol, “that’s never happened.”
“People crave that communal experience,” Sobol said, “and I believe that when you’re having those communal experiences the barriers between people disappear.”
That, she said, makes SPAC more than a performing arts center; it “becomes the heart of the community, a place where human beings can connect, share, and experience beauty together.”
Sobol also noted that engaging in the arts--whether as a performer or as an audience member--cultivates “compassion and empathy,” and “there’s nothing that we need more in today’s society than compassion and empathy.”
A Home for All Cultures
While SPAC has always drawn international talent, Sobol aims to bring in performances from a wide range of cultures. “Making sure that we’re bringing in new cultures and sharing cultures among the community is really important to me,” Sobol said.
When the Sachal Ensemble, a Pakistani music group whom she recorded an album with at Universal, performed at SPAC in 2017, Sobol reached out to the Pakistani community via an Albany-based Pakistani filmmaker, drawing many local Pakistanis to the performance.
“The intent is to broaden the audience,” Sobol said on bringing in international talent, “and for SPAC to be a place for people of all cultures to feel like they have a home here because of what we’re presenting.”
In terms of her management style, Sobol favors a flat organization, encouraging cooperation and tolerance. Sobol appreciates open minds, too. When she toured SPAC during her interview, for instance, she fell in love with the Jazz Bar and was surprised the spot wasn’t used for live music. Apparently, a live music program had been tried at that location years previously, and it wasn’t popular, so it wasn’t tried again. Sobol, who believes in the Zen Buddhism concept of the Beginner’s Mind, came into the situation without preconceived notions and made launching a live music program at the Jazz Bar one of her first initiatives at SPAC. The Jazz Bar, featuring such performers as the Chuck Lamb Quartet, Annie & the Hedonists, Alta Havana, and Hot Club of Saratoga, has been a huge success with an average of 350 people in attendance each night.
Also important to Sobol is reading, voraciously; she reads three or four books per week on topics ranging from new literary fiction, to botany, to physics. “The more you read,” she stated, “the more you see, feel and sense how everything is connected.”
A curious world citizen, Sobol has traveled widely, can dance salsa, and learned Spanish in her 40s. She is married to Cuban jazz pianist Jorge Gomez, and thanks the influence of the Cuban culture for reminding her to take joy in each moment.
As for the advice she’d give to young people, Sobol, the woman whose livelihood depends on sounds and music, didn’t hesitate: “Learn to love silence and stillness,” she said. “Disconnect from your devices. Be curious. Be brave. Be kind.”
A student-driven communications agency, the SMARTACUS Creative Group is dedicated to the economic and cultural development of Upstate New York.
A senior in Jill Cowburn’s journalism class at Saratoga Springs High School, Sophie Cianfarani aspires to be a professor of psychology or a clinical psychologist. She enjoys doing volunteer work, visiting a local elementary school weekly to teach Latin to grade school children. She also enjoys playing violin and rowing.
SPAC Announces 2019 Classical Season: NYCB Returns July 16-20
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) announced its 2019 lineup which features the summertime return of the New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
The New York City Ballet residency (July 16 – 20) once again features four distinct programs including the story ballet Coppélia, which was premiered at SPAC, an evening dedicated to Balanchine and Tschaikovsky, and a program showcasing four SPAC Premieres by 21st century choreographers, highlighted by Kyle Abraham’s The Runaway, which fuses modern and classical technique and an eclectic soundtrack mixing composer Nico Muhly, singer James Blake, and hip-hop artists Jay-Z and Kanye West. The annual New York City Ballet Gala, on Saturday, July 20, will showcase George Balanchine’s Apollo, Christopher Wheeldon’s This Bitter Earth and a new piece by NYCB Resident Choreographer and Soloist Justin Peck.
New York City Ballet - Tschaikovsky and Balanchine - Tuesday, July 16 at 8 p.m. and Thursday, July 18 at 2 p.m..; SPAC Premieres by 21st Century Choreographers - Wednesday, July 17 at 8 p.m.; Coppélia - Thursday, July 18 at 8 p.m., Friday, July 19 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, July 20 at 2 p.m.
SPAC’s NYC Ballet Gala - Saturday, July 20 at 8 p.m. The finale to New York City Ballet’s 2019 residency will be highlighted by Balanchine's first collaboration with Stravinsky and one of his earliest international successes, Apollo. Also: This Bitter Earth (Richter, Otis/Wheeldon) and Justin Peck’s new work – his fourth collaboration with Oscar-nominated composer Sufjan Stevens.
The Philadelphia Orchestra’s three-week residency (July 31 – Aug. 17) will be highlighted by 19 SPAC premieres. Back by popular demand will be SPAC’s “Cinema Series,” as the orchestra accompanies, live to picture, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Concert (Aug. 3); Disney Pixar’s Up in Concert (Aug. 10) and Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights in Concert (Aug. 14). The season will, once again, showcase two weeks under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra and of The Metropolitan Opera. Nézet-Séguin will conduct the closing night performance of Mozart’s Requiem.
The Orchestra’s 2019 season will also feature a line-up of acclaimed and emerging artists appearing at SPAC for the first time. Performing with The Philadelphia Orchestra is Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (Aug. 15) and classical pianist Christian Blackshaw (Aug. 17); making their SPAC debuts in 2019 are young, virtuosic pianists Janice Carissa (Aug. 2) and Jan Lisiecki (Aug. 16), Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya (Aug. 9), and the dancers of PHILADANCO (July 31) in The Philadelphia Orchestra’s opening night performance.
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center returns, from Aug. 4-20, with a roster of internationally celebrated artists at the Spa Little Theatre featuring 23 works performed by CMS at SPAC for the first time. In addition to performances by David Finckel and Wu Han, co-artistic directors of CMS in residency for all three weekends, audiences can look forward to the return of the Escher Quartet, plus debut appearances by Chinese violinist Angelo Xiang Yu, British flutist Adam Walker, Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova and renowned American cellist Keith Robinson.
Tickets available online at www.spac.org starting 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 14 to SPAC members and Thursday, Jan. 29 to the general public.
NYC Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra – (Matinee Performances) Front Orchestra: $53.00 - $63.00; Rear Orchestra: $43.00 - $53.00; Balcony: $28.00 - $63.00; Lawn: $18.00. (Evening Performances) Front Orchestra: $63.00 - $113.00; Rear Orchestra: $43.00 - $83.00; Balcony: $33.00 - $103.00; Lawn: $29.00 - $34.00. (NYC Ballet Gala) Front Orchestra: $98.00 - $128.00; Rear Orchestra: $68.00 - $98.00; Balcony: $58.00 - $108.00; Lawn: $58.00.
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – (Center Orchestra, Center Balcony: $53.00; Side Orchestra, Side Balcony: $48.00.
Children ages 15 and under are free on the lawn (excluding NYCB Gala & American Girl Night). Children 15 and under are $20 in the amphitheater. Individuals 29 and under are $29 in the amphitheater (day of show only); SPAC members receive a 15% discount on tickets purchased before the day of the show.
For more information, go to: SPAC.org.
Ringo in Saratoga
“They're gonna put me in the movies... They're gonna make a big star out of me…”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Fifty-three years to the day since the Beatles recorded a live performance of their song “Act Naturally” on the Ed Sullivan show, Ringo Starr revisited the tune at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center during an appearance with his All Starr (sic) Band.
The two-hour-long, 24-song set was evenly split between a dozen Ringo-led tunes, and three songs apiece performed by each of the four main other players of the ensemble.
Ringo assumed vocal duties on songs once performed, if not written by The Beatles, including: Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” “Boys” – popularized by The Shirelles, and the previously mentioned “Act Naturally” - a tune originally recorded by Buck Owens.
From The Beatles canon, Ringo tinkled some on the keyboards and sang “Don’t Pass Me By” and took mic in hand at center stage for “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “What Goes On” – which he introduced as “the only song written by Lennon, McCartney and Starkey,” and “I Wanna Be Your Man” – which in 1963 the Beatles wrote for, and gave to, the Rolling Stones. Perhaps the night’s greatest joy was delivered in a full theater sing-a-long of “Yellow Submarine.”
Starr, with a little help from his friends, returned to the venue for the first time since August 1989. At that time, his All Stars Band consisted of Joe Walsh, The Band’s Levon Helm and Rick Danko, Dr. John, Billy Preston, and Clarence Clemons and Nils Lofgren, who were on hiatus from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
This time around, the ensemble featured prolific studio musician and Toto guitarist Steve Luthaker who led a performance of that group’s hits “Rosanna,” “Africa,” and “Hold the Line.” Guitarist Colin Hay revisited his time with the band Men at Work, singing “Who Can It Be Now,” “Down Under,” and “Overkill.” Original Santana keyboard player and vocalist r Gregg Rolie revisited the songs “Evil Ways,” “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,” and “Oye Como Va,” and 10cc songwriter Graham Gouldman added “I’m Not in Love,” “Dreadlock Holiday,” and “The Things We Do for Love.”
Starr, when he wasn’t at the lead mic at center stage, played drums throughout, aided by a second percussionist. Culling a quartet of ditties from his solo albums, Ringo revisited “It Don't Come Easy,” “You're Sixteen,” “Photograph,” and “Anthem” – the latter signifying one of the evening’s few tracks, if not the only one, written in the current century.
Looking decades younger than his 78 years, the one-time Beatles drummer sported a colorful off-center screen T-shirt depicting a face reminiscent of Nina Hagen, a black blazer and jeans and pyramid-studded belt, a slew of bangles on his right wrist, a timepiece on his left and a gold “Peace” symbol around his neck.
Talking with Amy Lee - Evanescence Live at SPAC July 28: Raw, Vulnerable and Unpredictable
SARATOGA SPRINGS – As an artist, Amy Lee is restless, as all artists with anything worth saying must be: searching; growing and endlessly re-defining.
“Challenges,” she says. “Pushing myself to the next place. At this point in my career, the challenges are the fun parts.”
Seeking a different path led the lead singer and co-founder Evanescence, perhaps surprisingly, down a road previously traveled. Once there, she discovered secret passageways with untainted, offshoot roads that pointed to some new place. She named this synergy between past and present “Synthesis.” An album was released last November and the summer leg of the tour - which features co-headliner Lindsey Stirling – will play the big stage at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 28.
The show includes the added dimension of a full orchestra – an orchestra not touring with the band mind you, but rather, a different orchestra with an entirely new set of musicians on each night who will perform with the band.
“It makes for a very high-energy, tightrope-like feeling and in a very beautiful way different every time,” Lee says. “It creates these very raw, vulnerable and quiet moments where you have to just be so comfortable in your own skin that you totally focus and make beautiful music. That’s what makes it so exciting to me, to do something so different.”
The band first meets the orchestra on the day of the show during soundcheck where they’’ll run through parts of three or four songs then collectively perform live together for the first time in front of a live audience. Some live collaboration between Lee and Stirling during each of their respective sets is anticipated as well. Setlists from the early part of the tour indicate songs that span the band’s career from 2003 to 2018, as well as an occasional nod to the Beatles “(Across the Universe”) and Ozzy Osbourne (“Alive”).
As nerve-wracking and exciting as staging a performance in front of a live audience for the first-time may be, Lee says the addition of an orchestra creates “an electronic, awesome, cool different world.” Allowing her imagination to run free, Lee says she can envision some of her own favorite bands doing likewise.
“I think it would be really good to see the Smashing Pumpkins do that. That would lend itself to it very well. And Portishead - Oh, that would be incredible! I’ve always gotten a lot of inspiration from Bjork and if I could go see the way she did “Vespertine” back in the day (2001) – it was sort of in this realm between the electronic elements and the orchestra.”
Evanescence formed in the mid-1990s and released their debut album “Fallen” in 2003. Commercial success was immediate; the album topped the charts in more than 10 countries and sold more than 17 million copies worldwide. Lee, the group’s sole original member in the band’s current incarnation, was tagged as a goth-metal superstar in Victorian dress.
“After our first album, ‘Fallen,’ I felt a serious urge to push us forward and show other sides. It was good, but it was just this bud, this beginning picture of all that I wanted to express and all that I am. It became important to show something else. I always want to keep that open, to try new things,” she says. “To the degree that ‘Fallen’ was so huge, I felt almost frustrated that no matter what I did there’s a mass of people that are going to see me in just that one, simple, first way.”
Over the course of the band’s career, the business of music and concerts has drastically changed. Lee has changed with it.
“We used to have lighters that we’d hold up in the audience, which was so beautifully romantic and sweet. Then people got cell phone with those lights which are so much brighter. I remember when that first started to be a thing, every artist was complaining, ‘Ah, they’re like zombies, they’re not even paying attention to the live show,” she recalls.
“We always want people to live in the moment, to live in the show, but I do take it as a sort of compliment: that they want to capture it, they want to remember it, they want to live it again. At the same time, we have this moment during special shows where we’ll have this… moment. One person with a cell phone and their light does it, then somebody next to them does it, then more and more and more and they all light up to make like these… glowing souls. Just this sea of light. It’s hard to explain, but you feel the magnitude as if in that moment every person is represented; everybody gets into it and it just chokes me up. Every time.”
Over the past 15 years, Lee expanded her collaborative circle to include recordings with Seether and Korn; she sang “Halfway Down the Stairs” – a song based on the lyrics of an A.A. Milne poem - for a cover album of Muppets songs in 2011, and one year later performed Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” for a Johnny Cash tribute album. In 2018, there are a multitude of creative reaches. “We’re just stripping all of my comfort zones away,” she says.
With “Synthesis,” Lee is re-imagining the band’s musical canon by collecting the shards of a melody once gifted from some ethereal place, disassembling its pieces, and then welding them with a new flame into a new composite.
“There are parts of these songs (on ‘Synthesis’), particularly the ones I chose, where there was something about them that stood out to me, or that I wanted to push more. There was a stripping away involved and rebuilding for sure, but it’s all stemming from stuff that was all in there, underneath,” Lee explains.
“‘Never Go Back,’ for example - our first song on this album - is a very classically minded song, which is funny because production-wise it’s this heavy rock song with swatches of metal. But, it’s so related. If you think about the instrumentation and the production of music, I feel there are so many similarities between heavy, metal music and the shredders of the classical age. I mean, you could Bach up against Pantera and find total similarities,” she says with a laugh.
“I’m not saying we’re Pantera, or Bach – nothing like! But there was always this part, this big, epic beautiful bridge in ‘Never Go Back,’ that in this version now starts off the song that to me was channeling some big, classical epic drama. I wanted to experiment with taking that all the way in the other direction, seeing what it sounded like and being able to let it live in that world where it was partially born in the first place. The whole (‘Synthesis”) is kind of like that, taking things and going: here’s the other side of it that maybe you didn’t notice.”
The idea for “Synthesis” was born after Lee sat down and revisited the band’s musical history in advance of the release of a comprehensive Evanescence box set.
“I realized how proud I am of everything that we’ve done. Instead of thinking that I have to keep pushing in new directions to show everybody how different we can be, I kind of fell in love with all of it and wanted to spend a little bit of time embracing all that we are,” Lee says. “Instead of feeling that my favorite parts are the parts that I’m running from, I can go back and pour more love into who I already am. I have a new perspective on what Evanescence is and it means something to me that’s just full of love in all directions. So, I feel that’s been a beautiful turn in my heart more recently. And I don’t know what the future sound will be, but I do know it will be out of love.”
Evanescence and Lindsey Stirling will perform at SPAC on Saturday, July 28.
Exclusive: Talking with Violinist and YouTube Superstar Lindsey Stirling
THE RAIN FALLS in Los Angeles, on average, once every 10 days. And despite this being one of those days, Lindsey Stirling is undaunted.
The musician, composer, dancer, performer, author, and YouTube Superstar is in the City of Angels in preparation of a two-month-long trek across America which kicks off July 6 in Kansas City, Missouri and lands at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 28. Also appearing are co-headliners Evanescence. This will be no ordinary tour.
“We’re trying to create something that’s brand new, and the only time people will be able to experience it, is during the show,” Stirling says.
She plans on delivering everything her fans are accustomed to seeing her provide - dancing and singing and the playing of music, often simultaneously – as well as injecting some moments of spontaneity that involve Evanescence. “You have two very unique artists who have very different shows but are very similar as well. That’s why I think it’s a perfect pairing. At points during the show there will also be some collaboration. There’s going to be a lot of creativity and It’s going to be really cool.”
Stirling’s self-titled debut album was released in 2012 and followed by “Shatter Me” two years later. “Brace Enough,” her third album, was issued in 2016 – a year which also saw the publication of her memoir “The Only Pirate at the Party.” An album of Christmas songs was released late last year. Exhibiting a variety of talents, Stirling recently lent her likeness to a new comic book series called “Sparrow,” has competed on the TV shows “America's Got Talent” and "Dancing with the Stars," and counts more than 10 million subscribers on YouTube.
This summer’s journey has her sharing equal billing with her musical heroes. “It’s really big for me: getting to go on tour with them and every night sharing the stage. It might sound like a cop-out, but Amy Lee and Evanescence were huge heroes of mine growing up. I had a poster of them on my wall. I remember sitting in my parents’ car the first time I heard ‘My Immortal.’ I remember being so touched by her voice, and how they combined an edgy sound with this beautiful soaring melody. As a young teenager I really think that was a huge inspiration to me and kind of the reason I wanted to make my own music,” Stirling says.
“When I started writing my own music, I took a page out of their book. I was doing dubstep and I thought: OK, how can I make this really edgy electronic music meld with my classical background? And so, a huge inspiration to me was Evanescence,” says the classically trained violinist, who grew up in Arizona.
“I had played classical my whole life – I played since I was six – and everything I played pretty much was on a white piece of paper with black notes. I was taught how to play it and how to articulate it. It was the same music that had been played for hundreds of years on an instrument that was hundreds of years old, and I was playing it the way it had been played for hundreds of years. I just got burned out,” Stirling explains. “I thrive on creativity and so I think I had just gotten bored. So that’s why I strayed from classical. I thought to myself: I’m not going to quit, I just need to re-find my passion, play the kind of music that excites me, the kind of music that I love. That’s why I started playing in rock bands and adding classical elements - not taking away from classical, but just adding my own vision to dubstep and pop and rock. It made it come alive for me. “
Making a leap from the classical world was not without judgmental repercussions.
“There are haters out there, for sure, and they’re very loud sometimes, but there are way more people that are appreciative, loving and kind to me and my art,” she says. “With the negative comments, I have to remind myself why I’m doing this. I like to tell stories, I like to make videos, I like to perform. I’m not going to be the best classical violinist in the world. I’m a violinist who gets to do what they love, share it with a lot of people and make them smile. I’m much happier doing that. “
Stirling’s memoir, which was published in 2016, has been largely hailed as an inspirational journey demonstrating her persistence, her humor, and as an inspirational tale, openly taking about her own struggles with anorexia - a life-threatening disorder due to the effects of weight loss and starvation on the body and brain.
“It wasn’t an easy struggle,” Stirling says. “I’ve been in recovery now for several years and it’s something that I know – the same way that anyone who has had an addiction knows – there’s always that tinge in the back of your mind. Most of the time I’m unaware of it. Occasionally it will come forward and remind me it’s there and would like to come forward again, and I’m like: ‘No. You’re not allowed to be a part of my life.’ I have the tools necessary now and I know how to use them to say: No. Just go away. I’m very happy where I’ve gotten to now, and I’m doing really well in that area.”
She says she shares her story with people to help provide a message that as difficult as things may appear in the moment of struggle, recovery is possible.
Not surprisingly, Stirling says getting involved in the field of motivational speaking and creating “a brand of positivity” is one of her future goals.
“I will write a Broadway musical at some point. And I’m also going to have a Vegas show,” Stirling says. “As for right now, I’m really trying to get into motivational speaking. I feel like that’s my next calling in life. I want to go out and share my message in a very upfront way and through that I want to raise dollars for charity. Those are my big 10-year plans.”
City Hits World Stage as Arts Destination
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Health, history, horses. And The Arts.
With the awarding of a $14,000 economic development grant this week, the city took the first step to promote Saratoga Springs as a worldwide destination for arts and culture. Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan calls it “having some skin in the game.” And that game has proven to bring in a notable return on the investment in other communities.
“Saratoga Springs is a fabulous brand. We’re over 100 years old and so is ‘health, history and horses.’ These are strong brands that you don’t want to get away from, but we need to add to it with arts and culture,” Madigan says.
The funds will support the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the hiring of a public relations firm to promote the city as a thriving arts community to journalists and media beyond the Capital Region. The goal is to showcase all of Saratoga as a cultural hot-spot and entice visitors to journey to the region.
“Cultural tourism – the cultural tourist spends 60 percent more when they go someplace than the average leisure tourist does. Sixty percent more. We want culture to be an economic driver here the same way the track is, and there’s no reason why it can’t be that, and a lot more,” says Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
“I know there are many, many people out there looking for a place like Saratoga as their summer or winter destination who would just be up here all the time, if they just knew what was here,” Sobol says. “This is one of the most incredible places in the world for someone who cares about the arts and literature and green space. I go back to the perfect confluence of nature and art, man-made beauty and natural beauty, there’s nothing like this in all of North America. “
From Caffe Lena to SPAC, the Tang Museum, Yaddo, the future home of the Universal Preservation Hall and other amenities, the community has much to offer, Sobol says. “All this art just one beautiful trip up the Hudson River from Manhattan. That’s a big selling point to New Yorkers who want to get out of town.”
Commissioner Madigan says she sees the awarding of the funds as one piece of a larger plan. “When you think Saratoga Springs, what do most people think of? They think horses. And that’s great, but we also really want to attract the cultural tourist by putting the arts and culture focus on that same level as horses,” Madigan says. “Right now. I see this as first step. I have a bigger vision where we start getting stakeholders and key members of the community in a room to talk about who we are as a region, to start coming together as a whole as an arts and culture community and to market ourselves that way, to add to the health, history and horses brand. The Berkshires know who they are. Tanglewood is well marketed as a global venue. From a global, international tourist destination, we don’t really know who we are when it comes to arts and culture.”
Recently, the local arts took a hit with the announcement of the cancellation of the annual Hats Off and Final Stretch music festivals. And promoting the arts in Saratoga Springs is not always an easy thing.
Saratoga Springs resident Robert Millis first launched the American Music Festival in Lake George in September 2014. Facilitated through his 398 Group – which stresses the arts as a driver of economic development and community building – the idea was to bring thousands of people into the community and extend the tourist season. Lake George is located in Warren County and financial support for the festival was provided via monies collected in the North Country for the tax on the rental of rooms. It proved to be a success.
This summer, the festival – which has featured performers such as Blue Öyster Cult, New Riders of the Purple Sage and Sawyer Fredericks in the past – returns for its two-day stint, and based on the success of the music-as-economic development initiative, the village and town of Lake George have contributed $45,000 in grant funding via the “bed tax” to Millis’ group.
“Their philosophy is bed tax funds events, which in turn feeds the bed tax,” Millis says. The village of Lake George is providing funding for a couple of events. “It’s a big boost,” said village Mayor Robert Blais. “It’s helped us to extend the season.”
Like other Warren County municipalities, the village of Lake George and the town of Lake George each receive $30,000 annually to promote special events in their communities with the idea of bringing in people that will spend money in local businesses and stay at local hotels, says Blais, who also serves as chairman of joint village and town occupancy tax committee. And the return on the investment has been strong. After the events take place, receipts and taxes received are then distributed back to the communities in addition to the $30,000 flat fee to promote a new cycle of events. In the village of Lake George that return was about $185,000, Blais said; the town of Lake George received approximately $240,000.
Millis’ attempts to create a two-day music-based festival in his Saratoga hometown has proven to be more difficult. The proposed event and conference would be designed to help boost tourism and build a music ecosystem to enhance the local scene. “I’ve been floating that idea in Saratoga a for over a year, but nobody has jumped on board with me,” Millis says.
“Our (bed tax) money has already been sliced and diced and it happened long before I got here, but it’s an interesting concept,” Madigan says. “Our occupancy tax right now is split. We only get one percent. Two percent from occupancy tax goes to the City Center and two percent goes to convention and tourism. It goes directly to them. We get less than City Center and convention and tourism. The city gets $600,000, they’re getting $1.2 million each. So, I’m trying to get them on board with helping with the arts. Look, the city’s got some skin in the game so let’s get the chamber and convention and tourism also involved.
“To me, the arts is a huge part of economic development,” Madigan explained. “It’s untapped. This I think is economic development, under the guise of arts and culture. This is a first step. I look forward to coming forward with additional recommendations to support economic development and arts and culture as an aspect of that. “
Trinity Irish Dance Company Coming to SPAC July 30
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Trinity Irish Dance Company will bring its percussive movements and innovative choreography to Saratoga for its first-ever appearance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 30
Founded in 1990, Trinity Irish Dance Company was the birthplace of progressive Irish dance, which opened new avenues of artistic expression leading directly to commercial productions such as Riverdance.
SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol said, in a statement, the company’s aerial grace and awe-inspiring precision sets up for a performance “unlike anything that’s ever been seen on the SPAC stage.”
A high-energy, professionally choreographed performance by 80 local children participating in The Performance Project: Youth in Motion, will immediately precede the Trinity Irish Dance Company’s act, at 7:15 p.m.
Tickets for the amphitheater-only performance are $27, $37 and $57, and go on sale to the public via spac.org. at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 26.
Runnin’ Down a Dream: Rochmon Spins Tom Petty at Lena’s Tuesday
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Rochmon Record Club continues its successful monthly run at Caffe Lena on Tuesday, Dec. 19, this time with a focus on the music and career of Tom Petty.
Some fading notebook scribbles related to live appearances witnessed by this reporter, to get you in the mood:
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, August 2006 --- In the end, Tom Petty finished where he began, completing the circle of a 30-year career with a final stroke on his jangling guitar to the tune of “'American Girl.”
Thirty years ago, the youthful face of the singer stared back from his debut album, donning a black leather motorcycle jacket beneath the logo of a guitar shooting through a heart like a broken arrow. Sunday night, Petty returned as the musical maestro of the timeless verse, adorned in crushed velvet with glitter speckles and caught in the reflection of the floodlights that sprayed the crowd in crimson and lavender neon.
With the word out that this summer's tour may be the band's last large cross-country journey, there was a touch of finality in the air at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where a sell-out crowd of 25,000 cheered Petty and his band of Heartbreakers through a 19-song set celebrating their decades of musical service.
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, August 2005 --- Wearing a schoolboy smile and a multi-colored ascot that invoked the mod Carnaby Street pop-isms of his teenage years, Tom Petty clutched the neck of his white tear-shaped guitar and led his band of Heartbreakers through a rousing two-hour set at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Saturday night.
Petty's onstage exuberance was reciprocated by a joyous gathering of nearly 25,000 fans, while breathing new life into 1970s material “Breakdown,” “Listen To Her Heart,” and “Refugee,” revisiting drive-time radio hits “'I Won't Back Down,” and “Free Fallin,'” and ratcheting up the sonic intensity beneath the lighted effects of the white-hot strobes with a hit parade that included “Learning To Fly,” “Mary Jane's Last Dance,” and “Don't Come Around Here No More.”
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 2002 --- For a quarter of a century, Petty has weaved the poetic language of the common man with a sonically jangled surrealism, along the way acquiring star-power leverage to do battle with record labels, concert promoters and music publishers, and championing the rights of fans and fellow musicians.
His name has been engraved on a five-point star on Hollywood Boulevard, and he was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad for an insurance salesman's son who grew up in Gainesville, Florida who left high school to pursue his vision of the American dream.
Friday night, performing on the fifth date of a summerlong tour, Petty tore through the set opener ''Runnin' Down A Dream,'' flashing his pearly whites at the mic. “'It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down,'' he sang, amid the arsenal of guitar riffs behind him, ''I felt so good, like anything was possible.''
With the backdrop projecting images of falling snow, Petty sang, ''Please shed some light on the road less traveled,'' in a piece titled ''Lost Children,'' as the stage resembled a scene inside a tumbling Christmas snow globe. Haunting melodies oozed from within during his tune ''It's Good To Be King,” and Petty donned a Rickenbacker guitar for the show-closing ''American Girl,'' giving birth to a jangling resonance which hung in the dense air long enough to inspire one last primal dance from the faithful. Eventually, they filed out to rejoin the rest of the world, taking the vibration of its memory far as they could with them into the night.
Palladium, New York City, July 1978 --- “Breakdown” is a nice song. Moody, like Mink DeVille. “I Need To Know,” from the new album, kicks it well enough for a boy from the sticks, ‘tho not as kicking as, say, The Ramones. A slew of obligatory ‘60s covers dotted the night and the highlight was, of course, “American Girl,” which sounds like a tune Petty lifted from Roger McGuinn’s mojo.
Rick Derringer opened the show. He was fine, though not nearly as entertaining as when he played with Edgar Winter Group a few years back. Ted Nugent came on to play a song or two, which signaled most everyone it was a good time for a bathroom break. Ran into David Johansen in the art-deco bathroom downstairs. His new solo album is great and he’s playing the Bottom Line next weekend with Sylvain. Somebody said Warhol is here, up in the front somewhere.
Tuesday’s event begins at 7 p.m., although if last month’s sold out celebration of Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells A Story” is any indication, you want to get there early, or you’re likely to get shut out. Doors open at 6:30. Admission: $5 donation, which goes to the restoration funds of Caffe Lena and Universal Preservation Hall.
Death of a Teen Idol
“I'll feel really good when it's over. I have an image of myself... I'm living on an island. The sky is blue, the sun is shining. And I'm smiling..." -- David Cassidy, Rolling Stone, May 11, 1972.
There were 20,000 of them, more or less, each seemingly armed with cheap, pocket-sized cameras crowned by four-sided cubes whose white flash burned your retinas with every image attempted to capture the teen idol on stage.
They had watched him, this crowd of mostly young girls, the past 18 months on TV - singing songs, driving the Partridge Family’s Mondrian-inspired bus - and bought millions of his albums, collected his trading cards, and carried to school lunchboxes bedizened with his image. And now here he was: live, in person, and on stage at the world’s most famous arena. It was a Madison Square Garden that had belonged to Ali and Frazier, Giacomin and Gilbert, Willis and Clyde. On this night, however, it was all about David Cassidy.
In 1972, a gallon of gas cost fifty-five cents, the average monthly rent was $165, and the annual household income about $12,000. It was a year that saw Crazy Joe Gallo gunned down at Umberto’s Clam House, five men arrested for breaking in to the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Hotel and the gold medal achievements of Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut overshadowed when 11 Israelis, five guerillas and one police officer were killed in a 20-hour siege at the Munich Games.
Cassidy sang 15 or so songs, his 21-year-old torso coiling and squirming inside a white crepe jumpsuit and sending its fringe adornments reeling. “I’ll meet you halfway/ that’s better than no way,” he crooned. There were others: “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat,” and “Cherish.” “I Woke Up In Love This Morning,” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted.” At Madison Square Garden, his TV/ real-life mom Shirley Partridge Jones sat in the first row.
My dad - then a youthful man in his thirties whose land of origins had given birth to 300 Spartans who did battle at Thermopylae and who as a child had escaped the Nazi plunder of his village – shook his head in disbelief at the commotion and plugged fingers into his ears to attempt to mute the shrill shrieks of teen-girl idolatry caterwauling down from the blue seats that called David’s name. It was a cacophonous chorus that my sister, six or seven years of age at the time, willingly joined. The sound of the screams rang around in your head for several days after.
Cassidy was a frequent summer visitor to Saratoga Springs. You’d run into him at the racecourse, or coming out of the Wilton Mall cinema, or at Fasig-Tipton - where he bought his first yearling in 1974. In 2001, he purchased a house in Saratoga Springs. It was a Monday night in August seven years later when he stood up in front of 250 people at a fundraising gala for The Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council at the Hall of Springs and publicly announced, for the first time, that he was an alcoholic. The revelation, which was unexpected, left some in the audience stunned.
“I was in denial about it, and the problem was getting worse,” said Cassidy, his wife Sue and his son Beau at his side. Cassidy talked about his genetical link to his own father, the actor Jack Cassidy. “Bipolar, manic-depressive, alcoholic and a genius,” he told the audience.
Wife Sue said she was proud of her husband for having the courage to publicly share such a personal experience. “Seeing him up here and telling you all this is one of the greatest things that I could ever hope to be able to be a part of,” said 17-year-old Beau.
Cassidy acknowledged that the location of the Hall of Springs, sitting as it does adjacent to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, created an interesting juxtaposition that merged the past and the present; a time for new beginnings to lead into the future.
“This is my favorite place in the world. ... I played here in '72, '73, '74,” Cassidy remembered. “What was ironic when I drove up, was that I realized this journey has been going on for so many years. And the journey is now. Every day, 24 hours, to stay sober.”
You got the feeling on that August night in 2008 that what stood before you was a person at a the flashpoint of their own existence, burning white-hot as the flash residue of 20,000 cameras all those years ago. You got the feeling, that night in 2008, that things could go either way. It did not go well. What followed was a series of drunken driving charges, a divorce from wife Sue Shifrin after more than 20 years of marriage, and Cassidy’s revelation earlier this year that he’d been diagnosed with dementia and was struggling with memory loss.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, he was admitted to a Florida hospital, reportedly with multiple organ failure. Time was running out. For millions of people who were born, say, between 1960 and 1965, the sadness of confronting their own mortality comingled with the childhood innocence of youthful dreams. “Prayers please,” Sue Shifrin Cassidy wrote Nov. 18 on Twitter. Nov. 19: David is still with us. Keep praying. Nov. 20: Critical but stable. Nov. 22: God was in that room tonight. Point him in the direction of... heaven. RIP.