SARATOGA SPRINGS - Stéphane Denève was 11 years old when he sat inside a darkened movie theater and watched a young boy try to help a loveable alien find its way home. Thirty-five years later, that moment continues to carry a special emotional significance for Denève, and one that he hopes to share with thousands of others on Saturday when he stands atop the stage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, flanked by four HD screens showing Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” and leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in a live musical accompaniment of John Williams’ score.
“I was born in ’71 so I saw the movie when I was 11. I loved it so much I cried in the theater. And during my childhood, I had a poster of ET over my bed,” says the conductor.
When it came to his own daughter, Denève and his wife ensured the first time she saw the film was during the staging of a performance accompanied by the screening of the movie with her father conducting the orchestra. “That was very special, being able to share that with her,” he says. “I was very moved by it.”
Conducting the orchestra in real time while the film is screening is not without its challenges.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m piloting a big plane,” Denève laughs. “The movie is moving forward and so you’re moving forward with it. You cannot stop and say: oh, let me do it again.
“There are hundreds of cues through the movie interpreting the score. It’s fun, of course, but it’s also one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my career because you want to be both precise and expressive,” says Denève, who in June was named as the next music director of the St. Louis Symphony.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s August residency, which kicked off Thursday with Tchaikovsky’s famed 1812 Overture, will run through Aug. 19 with a celebratory “A Night at The Opera.”
“It’s an incredible orchestra. It’s home for them, of course. You feel the connection they have with the audience. Some of the musicians even have their private homes in Saratoga,” Denève says. “You put a group together to do something special and I feel we are creating the tension, the rhythm and the dialogue between the instruments.
“When I am conducting I can feel the energy in the room. The energy of the audience, even though I have my back to them, is essential. You really feel when people are listening and the peak of tension, and attention, in the audience. I find that quite magical.”
Elizabeth Sobol, who is spending her first summer guiding SPAC as the organization’s president and CEO, says she is excited about all of it - from the scheduled appearances of Yo-Yo Ma and Marcus Roberts, closing night’s “breathtaking evening with exquisite arias,” and a night set aside to pay tribute to Gershwin.
“At SPAC you want to be presenting the best of all genres. Gershwin was the ultimate composer who brought popular and classical music together on the knife edge that made it such brilliant, amazing, universal music,“ Sobol says.
Saturday, Aug. 5 - E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (complete with film). Steven Spielberg's cinematic masterpiece “E.T. The Extra—Terrestrial,” will be shown on four HD screens and accompanied by a live performance of John Williams's Academy Award-winning score.
The Philadelphia Orchestra’s return to its summer home at Saratoga Performing Arts Center features three weeks of performances. The season, Aug. 2 – 19, encompasses wide-ranging classical and contemporary repertoire, world renowned musicians and conductors, family-oriented multi-media offerings and an opera evening. All performances at 8 p.m.
Some highlights: Friday Aug. 4 - Cirque de la Symphonie; Saturday, Aug. 5 - E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (complete with film); Wednesday, Aug. 9 - American Classics Day 1. An icon of classical music and arguably the world’s greatest living cellist, Yo-Yo Ma will grace the SPAC stage with his unmatched artistry; Thursday, Aug. 10 - American Classics Day 2. Maestro Marin Alsop n conducts an evening dedicated to the music of cherished American composer George Gershwin. Also: The Marcus Roberts Trio; Friday, Aug. 11 - American Classics Day 3. Duo Concerto for Vibraphone and Marimba is comprised of several Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays compositions arranged and orchestrated by Principal Percussion Christopher Deviney; Saturday, Aug. 12 - Raiders of the Lost Ark (complete with film). The film that gave the world one of its greatest movie heroes, Indiana Jones, will make its SPAC debut as John Williams's epic score is performed live; Wednesday, Aug. 16 - Sophisticated Ladies; Thursday, Aug. 17 - French Festival Day 1. Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Grammy Award-nominee Yannick Nézet-Séguin returns to Saratoga to lead the final week of programs; Friday, Aug. 18 - French Festival Day 2; Saturday, Aug. 19 - A Night at the Opera. Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin will lead singers from The Metropolitan Opera in an evening of glorious arias and sublime ensembles from the opera repertoire.
The full schedule of SPAC’s programming and events is available at spac.org.