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Displaying items by tag: charlie samuels

Thursday, 25 September 2014 12:33

S e p a r a t e d

America’s First DivorceHotel Opens In Saratoga Springs

By Arthur Gonick

Saratoga TODAY 


SARATOGA SPRINGS – Divorce is a fact of life in modern society. In many cases the act of a couple uncoupling is thought to be, by its nature, adversarial, messy and expensive.  


Yet, for some time now a movement has existed in which mediation – finding shared goals and common ground between couples whose life circumstances have caused them to grow apart, has taken a larger role in proceedings.


This past Wednesday, September 24, a beachhead for a new school of that thought arrived on America’s shores. The historic Gideon Putnam Hotel inside the Spa State Park is now the first U.S. site where some progressive negotiating techniques are being brought to bear to the cause of civilized separation. 


Behold, America’s first DivorceHotel. Established in the Netherlands in 2011 (ironically on Valentine’s Day) by Jim Halfens, it has spread to six sites on the European continent and became the subject of international publicity, culminating in becoming the subject of a highly rated prime time reality series on Netherland’s RTL Network. 


At the center of the effort to bring the DivorceHotel concept to America is Saratoga Springs native / resident Michele M. Martin. Ms. Martin is a divorce mediator and certified divorce financial analyst for her own firm Divorce Agree (see DivorceAgree.com). She has been named the U.S. Manager for DivorceHotel, while continuing her local practice.


Ms. Martin took time to juggle the arrival of the first couple whose divorce would be mediated in a period of three days (they arrived from the Denver, Colorado area on Wednesday and had a finished agreement in hand on the day this issue is published), as well as being shadowed by cameras from ABC News programs Nightline and Good Morning America (look for segments to air on each next week) to discuss the evolution of her commitment to mediation and the DivorceHotel concept.


“I’m living proof that mediation works,” she said, referring to her own amicable divorce about 10 years ago. “I get together with my ex, his new wife and our children for meals and the like. It’s not an unusual occurrence.”


Ms. Martin had a career as a general financial analyst at that time. Two years ago, she modified her orientation to divorce mediation and related financial planning. About that time, an article in the Wall Street Journal about DivorceHotel peaked her interest. 


“I got on the phone, literally with the article in my hand” she said, “and asked Jim Halfens ‘How do we bring this here?’” At the time, the Netherlands-based firm was not ready to expand, but Michele stayed in touch – all the time becoming a mini-chamber of commerce – touting the virtues of Saratoga Springs as a perfect site for an American DivorceHotel.


“It’s important that people get away, to a relaxed setting, so they can focus on their mission.” She said. “The Gideon Putnam is the perfect locale for this. They were open and receptive to the idea. They said that they welcome all kinds of groups and this was just another one.” The strategic location of Saratoga Springs in the center of several northeast cities made it ideal as well. 


The process itself is something that naturally draws a lot of curiosity. For a fee of around $5,000 per couple (plus airfare and eventual filing fees) the two parties stay in separate rooms during their stay. While there are some joint activities and meals planned as part of the stay (the Denver couple are road bike enthusiasts and will do that together), it’s mostly some long days of mediating with Ms. Martin, as well as solitary time to study preliminary agreements, etc. 


At the end of the process, the former couple will emerge with a signed separation agreement, which then can be filed officially in their state of residence.


Obviously, this sort of thing is not relevant for couples that are coming to the end of their marriage acrimoniously.


Before arriving at the DivorceHotel, or even to a final mediation session, a lot of prep work and screening has to be done by Michele Martin and her colleagues. The couple from Denver has four children, therefore they have many issues related to them, as well as general financial ones to settle. 


So a commitment is essential. The parties involved have to believe that they will be better off in the end.


In that connection, it is hard not to be impressed with the enthusiasm and drive that Ms. Martin brings to her profession. 


“I always say: smart people mediate.” She said.


The world is about to see if the U.S. is ready for DivorceHotel. And it’s happening right here.


For more information, visit DivorceAgree.com 

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – At the Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 16, Mayor Joanne Yepsen announced that the long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony for the Waterfront Park project, on the Northwest corner of Saratoga Lake, would occur on Monday, September 22 at 11 a.m. The public is invited. “We are looking forward to seeing this parcel developed into a major community asset.” She said. 


Also, the Mayor made several appointments, including the initial round of appointments to her Junior Committee, which is composed of students and young people who will be involved in community service projects. The initial appointees to this committee are: Katya Leidig, Alexander Shaw, Kaitlyn O’Donnell, Ethan North, Emily MacDougall, Sarah Marlin, Serena Egan, Michael Chille, Logan Briscoe and Lillian Doern. 


Also appointed were John Ellis to the city’s Ethics Committee and Cheryl Smith to Recreation Commission. Re-appointed to the Community Development Citizens Advisory Board were Rick Ferguson, Pam Polacsek and Lu Lucas; while Elisabeth Garofalo was a new appointment to that Board.


Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan announced the first in a series of public hearings on the 2015 Comprehensive Budget. It will be on Tuesday, October 21 at 6:45 prior to the council meeting. 


Commissioner of Public Works Anthony Scirocco announced that a hazardous waste collection day would take place on Saturday, October 11 near the Weibel Avenue skating rink. Pre-registration is required. The details and form is available for download on the city website: saratoga-springs.org 


Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen invited the public to attend the next public safety forum next Thursday, September 25 at 7 p.m. Topics that the commissioner indicated he was seeking feedback on were the impact of the noise ordinance, the revised traffic pattern near the Saratoga Racecourse and Siro’s Restaurant, and the recent land transaction involving the Collamer parking lot on Broadway and a parcel East of Northway Exit 14.


Commissioner of Accounts John Franck had no agenda items, but got the biggest laugh of the night when he indicated that was because he had advance notice that there would be no TV cameras in attendance this evening.



- Arthur Gonick

Published in News
Friday, 05 September 2014 15:35

We Will Remember

City To Commemorate 9/11’s Anniversary

By Arthur Gonick
Saratoga TODAY

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Mayor Joanne Yepsen and the Mayor’s 9/11 Memorial Committee is inviting the public to join them for a City Wide Ceremony and Remembrance on the anniversary of the Tragedy which befell our nation.

This ceremony will begin at 8:15 a.m. on Thursday, September 11 at the Tempered by Memory sculpture in High Rock Park. The ceremony is expected to last approximately one hour. A schedule and event program appears on Page 9.

“While 13 years have passed, few who were alive in the United States on 9/11/2001 will ever forget where they were or what they were doing.” Mayor Yepsen said. “It is best that we not forget, both personally and for the sake of our country as we share those thoughts and feelings with those who were just children. Please join me and other citizens of Saratoga Springs as we remember the lives of the men, women and children who were killed. And may we “Never Forget” or allow those around us to forget.”

A significant event on the program will occur on 8:46 a.m. when churches and other structures city wide are requested to ring their bells for one minute – to coincide with the timing of the first airplane impact on the North Tower of NYC’s World Trade Center thirteen years ago.

Schedule of Events:
Saratoga Springs 9/11 Ceremony and Remembrance
High Rock Park

8:15 - 8:40 a.m. Bag Piper – Peter Lounsberry

8:40 a.m.  Color guard- Div. of Military and Naval Affairs (DMNA) under the direction of New York State's Adjutant General, Major General Patrick Murphy.

8:46 a.m.  Ringing of Bells City Wide

8:47 a.m.  Welcome – Dottie Pepper
National Anthem –  Choraliers- Saratoga Springs High School
Pledge – Ken Klotz
Invocation – Rev. Coqui Conkey
Mayor Joanne Yepsen Remarks and Introduction
Matt Tully – Keynote Speech
Wreath Presentation 
God Bless America –    Choraliers – Saratoga Springs High School
Benediction – Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein

Approximately 9:15-9:30 a.m. Taps – Erne Bellinger of Wilton

Published in News
Friday, 29 August 2014 13:37

Zac At SPAC: Brown Is The New Black

By Arthur Gonick
Saratoga TODAY

SARATOGA SPRINGS – In modern English language, the world ‘awesome’ is one of the most abused around. As such, it becomes common currency. Everything is awesome, dude. I got a stain out of my t-shirt at Cudney’s – awesome. My dog didn’t bite anybody today – awesome! I got 14 likes on my Facebook post – awesome!

You get the idea. So I propose to reclaim the word for what it is supposed to mean. At the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) on Sunday night, August 24, I heard Zac Brown say this to the large crowd:

“We truly appreciate each and every one of you coming. We remember what it was like to play for beer money not so long ago, and we take nothing for granted, I assure you.”

Now, in the sometimes jaded world of big-time rock ‘n’ roll, THAT’s awesome, ladies and gents. And while we’re at it, the music was pretty darned special as well. That seemed to be the consensus in the electric amphitheater and from the jammed (and jamming) lawn crowd. The weather made it a great night to wander and be among the people, as it were.

Not only does the Zac Brown Band have some sparkling originals that span a wide spectrum of genres such as country, reggae, bluegrass and rock (a personal favorite in tonight’s set was “Whiskey’s Gone,”  but you could make a case for several others), but spices things up with a similar variety of popular cover tunes, each stylized in their own way and running the gamut from James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” to Metallica’s “Never, Never Land” to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and back over to Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t you see?”

The latter tune found me next to a father/daughter combo with Dad explaining to his pre-teen daughter that this was one of Peter Frampton’s biggest hits. I was having such a nice time, as were they, I didn’t have the heart to tell them it was someone else.

So all in all, this was the fourth time I have seen ZBB and he’s yet to disappoint. They are my ‘go-to’ guys for a guaranteed good time. Brown is the new Black – and that’s awesome!

Published in News
Friday, 29 August 2014 13:21

On The Runway

By Carrie Rowlands Johnson
For Saratoga TODAY

SARATOGA SPRINGS – “Next up, we have Carrie Rowlands Johnson from Saratoga TODAY Newspaper, modeling a gorgeous hunter green strapless evening gown from THEIA by Don O’Neill. Its daring neckline is complimented by a stunning, one-of-a-kind necklace designed by Peter Ciesla.”

The words coming out of Natalie Sillery’s mouth seem to echo inside my head. I am aware of the fact that she is in front of the microphone, on the same stage just a few feet away from me, but I don’t dare shift my gaze sideways. I am completely focused on my mission: make it across the stage, down the stairs, and up the aisle without tripping over and possibly tearing my amazing THEIA couture gown.

In spite of the fact that I am by nature a genuine clutz, right now I feel like a princess. The gown I am modeling is a strapless, curve-hugging, world-class masterpiece. It’s a shade of dark hunter green reminiscent of fairies and pixie dust. Around my neck is what designer Peter Ciesla calls “Wearable art,” and it certainly is.  It is hand-embroidered, lined with silk and crafted of tiny glass seed beads and Golden Sheen Obsidian.

My hair is coiffed and pulled away from my face, thanks to the skillful hands of master stylist Julie Potter, who spent the three hours before the show readying almost all of the nearly fifty girls modeling. Seriously, I’ve never seen anyone’s hands perform such miracles in such small bits of time. Her hands work on hair the way mine do on a computer keyboard, as if they have a mind of their own.

This isn’t my first time modeling, but I am such an amateur. The last time I walked a runway was about thirteen years ago, at this same event. I remember it being much smaller in scale, with fewer girls, fewer gowns, fewer attendees. Leave it to Natalie Sillery of Saratoga Trunk to keep it alive all of these years and help grow it to the grand event it is today, a staple of pre- Travers weekend festivities at The Saratoga Race Track and a fashionable, flirty, and fun way to raise money for The Ronald McDonald House.

As I walk across the stage in front of about five hundred ticket holders inside the “At the Rail Pavilion,” I try to remember the tips I gleaned from a few of the other models before the show. Many of these women have been what Natalie affectionately calls “Trunkettes" since the show made its debut sixteen years ago. They are an eclectic bunch, hand-picked from the community by Natalie herself. Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, artist Joni Sarah White, The Stadium Restaurant Proprietress Chris Harmon, and local graphic designer Christianne Smith are just a few of the fascinating women I meet.

Katie Rodriguez owns the new and wildly popular downtown restaurant Javier’s with her husband and the restaurant’s namesake, Javier. A former ballerina, she is a newbie this year, but was an absolute natural in a strapless ball gown painted a stunning shade of baby blue. “I’d rather dance my way down the runway,” she laughed before the start.

For me, this event is about more than just fashion and fun. The Ronald McDonald House holds a special place in my heart. One of my 8-year old boys, Jordan, was in the NICU at Albany Medical center for twelve days after birth. While his twin brother, Cameron, and I were up in the Saratoga Hospital, Jordan’s dad spent a few overnights by his side, crashing for a few hours here and there at The Ronald McDonald’s Family Room, located inside Albany Medical Center’s Children Hospital. A few hours of my time today remind me of that special, stressful time in my life more than eight years ago.

I make it across the stage and up the aisle without even a slight stumble before rushing backstage to change into my second and final gown. I have mere minutes to carefully disrobe and pull on a breathtaking black gown reminiscent of a bridal piece, with fluffy tulle on the skirt and a delicate, intricately detailed lacy top. I can barely breathe as two of the trunkettes tighten the corset and zip me in. “I don’t care if you can breathe, as long as you can walk down the runway,” Natalie laughs good-naturedly.

While I wait in line for my second turn on stage, THEIA’s Designer/Creative Director Don O’Neill himself kneels down and straightens the train on this world-class gown. This man is a legend in the fashion world. He is a globally-renowned designer and has dressed celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Taylor Swift.  I feel as though I am living a dream, realizing he is now dressing me! After Don O’Neill’s final approval, I take my second walk onstage. I am ecstatic as I near the end of the runway and daringly steal a glance sideways for a smile at my friend, Matt Kieley, who purchased a ticket to support me and this worthy cause. I gather with the rest of the models at the back of the room, then step in line to file across the stage for the grand finale.

As we say our final goodbyes, I am honored to realize every little girl’s dream has become my own reality. At least for “TODAY.”

With tickets and the silent auction at the end of the show, the event raised a lot of money for The Ronald McDonald House.

Published in News

New BBQ, Blues & Brews Event To Kick Off SPAC’s Wine & Food Fest



NEW YORK CITY – Marc Murphy, a celebrated Manhattan restaurant owner, executive chef and a frequent judge on the Food Network’s highly rated program "Chopped," will be the host of the inaugural "BBQ, Brews & Blues" competition to kick off the annual Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s (SPAC) Saratoga Wine & Food Fest on Friday, September 5.



In addition to his work on "Chopped," Chef Murphy has also made appearances on "Iron Chef America," "Hot Chefs," "The Martha Stewart Show," "Make My Day," "Unique Eats," "The Best Thing I Ever Ate," "The Best Thing I Ever Made," "The Rachael Ray Show" and "The TODAY Show." He is the president of the Manhattan chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, and a board member of City Harvest, Culintro and Passport NYC at the 92nd Street Y Culinary Camp.


Reached by phone in Manhattan, Chef Murphy was forthcoming on a variety of topics. Interestingly, though he has lived (and cooked) in several of the world’s culinary capitals (including Paris, Milan and Monte Carlo) his trip next month will be his first ever to Saratoga Springs.


"I’m excited about this trip," he said. "I’ve heard so much about this place, the history and of SPAC itself."


While the fine points about how the BBQ, Brews & Blues competition will be structured are still being determined – even Chef Murphy was unaware of this "I’m ready for anything, though!" He said - he was familiar with some of the chefs that are part of the New York City team (see below) that will square off against some of their leading Capital Region counterparts.


However, "In something like this, I always have to give the edge going in to the home-based team." Chef Murphy said. "They can bring their best help, they know the local purveyors. In a competition, these are big advantages."


The wine and food festival reached out to Chef Murphy, who now is the owner of five leading New York City restaurants in addition to an event and catering company under the umbrella name Benchmarc, earlier this year.


Being a Food Network devotee, I had to ask him all about Chopped.


He enjoys the variety of judges that rotate through the panel. "It’s always a good day at that job." He said, noting that several are personal friends, citing fellow judge (and Iron Chef) Geoffrey Zakarian as someone who he recently took a trip with recently.


According to Chef Murphy, a typical single episode of "Chopped," which gets edited down to a 30-minute show, takes about 10 hours to shoot. "They spend a lot of time in between courses," he said, laughing. "It can get pretty messy out there with all the food flying around!" Iron Chef, on the other hand, is much quicker even though it is an hour show, as that particular competition involves cooking a complete meal in one continuous segment.


Of course, when you get one of the world’s great chefs on the line I have to have him pick a meal for us. So I set the scene: I’m at one of your restaurants, Let’s say Landmarc, chef’s table. Important client to impress. Money of course not a concern. I leave it to you, Chef Marc: what will I be served.

He didn’t hesitate. "Well, for appetizers, I’d set you up with a tasting array," he said. "Of course, sometimes the best of these would depend on seasonality and availability, but two popular apps that would be on that plate are our smoked mozzarella & ricotta fritters with a spicy tomato sauce and grilled scallion and tomato confit flatbread.


"For the salad course, we serve our chopped salad family style. It has celery, cucumber, hearts of palm, tomatoes and beets with balsamic vinaigrette.




"A popular fish course is our grilled salmon, served with ratatouille and parsley pistou (a sauce from Provençe made of basil, garlic, olive oil and sometimes Parmesan cheese and tomato paste).


(Keep going…)



"Ok, for the entrée I would select our 22 oz. grass fed bone-in painted hill farms ribeye steak, grilled. Since you are impressing a client, I’d probably slice it myself for you tableside. Dessert I’ll leave up to you; we always have a wide variety to choose from."




That’s why the chef is a judge, ladies and gents.



For more information about Chef Marc Murphy’s restaurants, visit


benchmarc-events.com. To learn more about SPAC’s Wine & Food Fest, visit spac.org




The Battle Lines Have Been Drawn!



The Lineups for the BBQ, Blues & Brews event at the Saratoga Wine & Food Fest at SPAC


Friday, September 5



Capital Region Restaurants and Chefs



Druthers Brewing Company- Chef Sean Comiskey



Angelo’s 677 Prime- Chef Jaime Ortiz


Henry Street Taproom- Chef Maria Mendez


The Brook Tavern- Chef Kyle Lewis





New York City Restaurants and Chefs


TESSA- Chef Cedric Tovar


Nice Matin & Marseille- Chef Andy D’Amico


Tolani- Chef Cesare De Chellis


Dukes Original Rodehouse NYC-


Chef Seth Lowenstein & Chef Nick Cataldo


Published in News
Friday, 22 August 2014 10:07

Richie Rocks SPAC…And Life Is Good!

SARATOGA SPRINGS— Andy Warhol once said: "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15

minutes." In the case of Rich Ortiz, he received a little over 20 – each of which was deserved.


One of the most talented, hard-working and likable musicians to ever perform in this market received a

singular honor on Tuesday, August 19 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), when Rich Ortiz

played a well-received opening set for national acts REO Speedwagon and Chicago.


This one-man band (in addition to guitar, harmonica and vocals, Rich brings his own rhythm section to

the party, accompanying himself with bass pedals that he plays with his feet) is always much in demand.


Consider his upcoming week. We reached him by phone in Boston following Tuesday’s set, where he

opened for the same groups at the Blue Hill Pavilion the next day. Following that, a typical week for Rich,

with six gigs in the next eight days:


Sunday, 8/24- The Horseshoe Inn – 6 p.m.


Tuesday, 8/26- Late Night Happy Hour at Caroline St. Pub – 10 p.m.


Thursday, 8/28- Prime at Saratoga National – 6:30 p.m.


Friday, 8/29 – A double shift in Trio mode with band mates Chris Kyle and Chris Carey:

- Afternoon: Saratoga Racecourse Gazebo

- Evening: Druthers, 9 p.m.


Saturday 8/30 and Sunday 8/31— Final Stretch Festival (Adirondack Trust Drive-Through) – 7 p.m.


So, suffice to say that if you are one of the, perhaps, three people left in this market who has yet to see

this remarkable songwriter perform, you certainly will have several opportunities in the near future.


Back at SPAC, it was obvious that there were several in the audience who arrived early just to root Richie

on, as people were already clapping and cheering during the first notes of some of his popular originals

such as "Summer Song" and "Face of a Lion." But there were several people next to me in Section 5 who

had a "where has this guy been hiding?" look on their faces, so Rich apparently picked up a few new fans

this evening.


"I was oddly surprised how comfortable it was," Rich said. "I really felt right at home. It was relaxed and

natural. A little bit different with such a distance between me and the audience. Usually, people are

dancing two feet in front of me."


Rich had opened for REO Speedwagon before, at the Glens Falls Civic Center, but this time it wa

s Chicago’s management that reached out to him for the SPAC gig. "I came away with an appreciation for

all the logistics that go into a tour. It’s impressive. Normally I’m carrying my own gear everywhere. But

they made me feel very welcome."


It says here that this idea of a local act getting a boost in his or her hometown is the sort of thing that

should happen more often, and big kudos to Chicago’s management, as well as SPAC and presumably

LiveNation for making this event – and it was an event – happen. Rich would probably be the first to say

that there are several other deserving candidates in our talent-laden market for this kind of lift.


But I say: there is no one more deserving than Rich Ortiz for this honor. Truly, an idea whose time has



Richie is a very easy person to root for. It has been my pleasure over the years to write about him, but

also, in a former life, to contract his services for various festivals and clubs. On one occasion, we traveled

to his gig in NYC and I had the pleasure to act as "Richie’s roadie," (with me on crutches in the snow –

another story for another time). Sometimes, we even just get to hang out and talk about fishing. In his

world, it may not always be a sunny day, but it always appears to be.


It’s nice when you can write a nice story about a nice thing happening to a nice person. When that

happens, life is good.


And life is very good today.



For more information, visit RichOrtiz.com


Published in News
Saturday, 16 August 2014 10:06

Learning Looks Great!

Girls Design Dresses With Help from Miss Scarlett Boutique


SARATOGA SPRINGS – There’s no question little girls love playing dress up and they have their own opinions when it comes to style. When you mix the two together, you get Miss Scarlett Boutique’s Girls Design a Dress event.


A handful of young girls showed up at the boutique, located at 19 Fila Street in Saratoga Springs, to play fashion designer for the day. The girls were able to pick from more than 50 fabrics and trims to create a custom dress that is their very own. 


“It has owls, flowers and zigzags,” said 8-year-old Eliza of her dress. “I wanted to have a dress of my own design. I picked this fabric because I like animals and the zigzags went with it.” 


Snacking on cupcakes and lemonade, the girls designed their dresses and got a taste of what Miss Scarlett Boutique owner, Jennifer Marcellus, does every day. 


Marcellus opened up Miss Scarlett Boutique in Saratoga Springs five months ago and designs children’s clothing for wholesale retailers. 


“We started doing dress parties because it seemed like a fun and different thing for kids to do,” said Marcellus. “We’ve done about six parties here so far and then I’ve done a couple of private parties also.”


How it works is the girls are given a paper doll for a model; using mock patterns, they design a dress, cut it out and glue it onto the doll. Marcellus then takes the designs and the dresses are made and ready for the girls to wear in two weeks. Girls anywhere from six months to 12-years-old can create a dress for $38.  


“It’s neat for the girls to do something that’s a do-it-yourself project,” said Marcellus. “I think every little girl wants to be a fashion designer. “ 


Marcellus said the best part about the event is seeing how creative the girls are when it comes to designing their dresses. 


“There was one design I absolutely loved,” said Marcellus. “A girl used a sample fabric that I never used in my collection because I didn’t know what to do with it and she used it and made this fantastic dress out of it and I thought it was so cool!” 


Visit www.Facebook.com/MissScarlettBoutique for future Design a Dress events or to schedule a private party, email Jennifer Marcellus at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – This week, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) welcomed the debut performances of a new resident company: The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) has a new summer home at the Spa Little Theater. Another jewel in the summer resident company “crown” which already includes iconic entities such as the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra


The schedule of performances (see box – page 11) will continue over the next two weeks, through August 26. All the performances are hand-selected and unique, designed to give both the newly initiated as well as the connoisseur of chamber music a thorough introduction to CMS’s repertoire. 


But, by no means, an exhaustive one. 


“There are hundreds of pieces available by Mozart alone,” said Co-artistic director David Finckel on the afternoon following CMS’s debut on Monday, August 11. “Most companies will play the top ten or so. But we like to go deeper. I find that the brain works differently; it’s more stimulating when you are hearing new notes.” 


Indeed, I’ll go further and say that their debut performance was completely transformative. Every thing I thought I knew about Chamber music went out the window, along with my reporter’s objectivity. 


My mind soared while my eyes were mesmerized. It was stimulating, exciting and endearing. 


I became a fan for life. And it took just one performance – a performance that immediately became one of my most memorable live performances – of any genre – at any time.


“This first performance was designed to exhibit virtuosity,” said Wu Han, Co-Artistic Director, who plays the piano to Finckel’s cello. “At the same time, it is meant to be trust-building. There are misconceptions about chamber music; that it is only for a limited few. But it is extremely accessible.” 


And dramatic. And engaging. And dazzling. And every other emotional verb you can muster in your vocabulary. I have very little technical expertise to offer. With music, I’m all about the qualitative experience. 


My experience at Monday’s debut performance convinced me to advocate to everyone that you are cheating yourself if you don’t make it a point to see CMS while they are here. 


The company’s roster (a total of 160-180 performers; of which about 24 will perform at SPAC this month – A new roster each week joining Wu Han and David) comprises the best of the best, at the top of their game. 


One example among many that illustrates an incredible, incendiary aspect of Chamber music when it is performed at this high level is the interaction of all the performers. Wu Han and David have been married for 28 years. It is said that couples married that long anticipate and finish each other’s thoughts. Now apply that principle to every performer in CMS; in every combination; in every composition they play. 


A case in point was the playing of Samuel Berber’s Souvenirs for Piano, Four Hands. The picture of the sheet music helps to tell the tale: Wu Han played the left page (she called it the ‘bottom position’) and operated the pedals, while Anne-Marie McDermott played the right side (or upper) simultaneously. This led to a frenzy of interaction and trust, not to mention furiously page turning. 


Since both performers’ hands were otherwise occupied, Wu Han’s daughter Lillian turned the pages “She’s much in demand for this!” Wu Han said, smiling. “And a great piano performer in her own right.”


“We had such a warm welcome here,” Wu Han said, noting that it was her first time in Saratoga Springs. “The audience was accepting, and made us feel very comfortable, as did all of the SPAC staff. It made us want to play our best for everyone.”


Upcoming performances should be similarly stimulating, and SPAC has enhanced the experience by adding pre-performance talks one hour before each show, as well as post-performance gatherings at Putnam’s restaurant at the Gideon Putnam Hotel, and on closing night a reception outside the Spa Little Theater. 


There’s no doubt in my mind that I give my initial CMS at SPAC experience two thumbs up. My only regret is that I don’t have four hands.   

For more information, visit spac.org

Published in News

- Work With Returning Veterans To Be Exalted By Mental Health Foundation


SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Mental Health Foundation will honor award-winning TV journalist Bob Woodruff at its annual ‘August Evening in Saratoga,’ on Monday, August 18 at the Saratoga National Golf Course.


Woodruff, whose miraculous recovery from traumatic brain injury suffered while on assignment for ABC-TV in Iraq in 2006, will be recognized for his outstanding work with the Bob Woodruff Foundation.  The Bob Woodruff Foundation   helps returning veterans address their life challenges, including mental health issues.


First Lady of Saratoga Marylou Whitney and former New York State First Lady Matilda Raffa Cuomo are the honorary co-Chairs of the event.


Reached by phone on vacation in the Adirondacks, Woodruff noted he and his wife, Lee, have visited Saratoga Springs often, but “… this actually be the first time that I will be meeting Ms. Whitney.” 


While reporting on U.S. and Iraqi security forces for ABC’s “World News Tonight,” on Jan. 29, 2006, Woodruff was seriously injured by a roadside bomb that struck his vehicle near Taji, Iraq.  


He was entirely open to discussing the details of that day.


“I have scant memories,” he said. “I know I was completely out cold for at least a minute. My camera person (Doug Vogt, who also survived) and I said to each other ‘we are alive’ but we were both bleeding terribly – blood gushing out from my neck.” 


“Blacked out again. The next time I awoke I was in Bethesda Naval Hospital. Three weeks later.” He said. 


In a miraculous recovery, just 13 months later, he returned to ABC News with “To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports.” Since then, he has reported from around the globe on a variety of subjects for the network. He was honored with a Peabody Award for his reporting on traumatic brain injury.  


In his bestselling memoir, In an Instant, co-authored with Lee, Bob Woodruff shares stories about the fragility of life, the strength of family, and the bravery of those who helped save him. 


“I had turned the corner; certainly I felt lucky to be alive. But then the challenges of recovery take hold,” he said. “I had a ‘now what?’ moment.”


Now in its ninth year, The Bob Woodruff Foundation’s mission is to ensure injured veterans and their families are thriving long after their return home.  It finds and funds innovative programs in communities where veterans, their families and caregivers live and work.


“We are fortunate,” Woodruff noted, “to be able to have raised $20 million over the years. We have an annual fundraiser now – called ‘Stand Up For Heroes’ during comedy week in NYC (The next one is on November 5 at the Madison Square Theater.)”


Woodruff felt particularly gratified to be honored by the Mental Health Foundation.


“Our issues are parallel.” He said. “Mental illness in the civilian world is akin to the issues that arise out of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in the military. In both cases, there’s a huge stigma about mental illness; in the military, it is often considered ‘unmanly.’ No one wants to admit to it. So these are the great invisible wounds we face as a society.”


“I have seen estimates that in both the military and civilian sectors, perhaps 20 percent of these populations face some form of mental issues at one time or another.” Woodruff said. “I actually think it’s higher.”


“We all still have a lot of work to do.”


For more information, visit bobwoodrufffoundation.org


An August Evening In Saratoga 

Honoring Bob Woodruff and

The Bob Woodruff Foundation

Monday, August 18

6 to 8 p.m.

Saratoga National Golf Club

Tickets: $100 - RSVP By August 11



(518) 694-5364

Published in News
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