SPAC is Back, and On Track — PhilaDelphia Orchestra and NYC Ballet 2022 Schedule Announced

Saratoga Performing Arts Center has announced a full season of classical events, its first since COVID slammed the door on the performing arts.

The New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra return in an ambitious and diverse rebound following the 2020 pandemic-canceled season and the cautious, reduced schedule of 2021. Both will balance familiar favorite works with premieres, and marquee stars with fresh faces, hoping to win back audiences that have flocked to the Saratoga Springs venue over past summer seasons.

Photo by Francesco D’Amico

“I personally think this is the best SPAC season, ever,” said President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol Monday, going on to highlight a season of seven performances by the New York City Ballet and 12 by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The truncated 2021 season featured six performances by the New York City Ballet and four by the Philadelphia Orchestra.

In Monday’s phone conversation, Sobol noted one 2021 (COVID 1) adaptation will continue: the New York City Ballet’s peak-behind-the-curtain On and Off Stage presentation. It will present 15 dancers in a lecture-demonstration format with excerpts of various ballets. “We really just had to find a way to bring the Ballet back,” said Sobol, explaining this intimate-but-distanced approach was less a substitute for a fully-staged performance than a new experience that engaged fans and casual attendees alike. “A lot of people were saying, ‘My husband comes with me to the ballet every year; he really isn’t a fan….And this year, he was blown away because all of a sudden he was understanding what goes on onstage in a different way.’” The ballet company agreed to continue On and Off Stage after three planned “Swan Lake” performances were canceled for this season.

In a prepared statement announcing the performance schedules, Sobol wrote, “SPAC’s ambitious and artistically inspiring programming continues our effort to bring significant contemporary works and iconic classics that have never been performed at SPAC to our stage, while also presenting a record number of works by BIPOC and female composers throughout the season.”

The Four Temperaments. New York City Ballet.
Photo by Erin Baiano

This season’s programming reflects a desire to educate as well as entertain, to challenge as well as to comfort.

Over the phone, she told me, “Some people want to hear the Beethoven Fifth (Symphony) for the 100th time…and there are other people who say ‘Heard that enough; now give me something contemporary, give me something that’s a premiere here.’” The Philadelphia Orchestra will present more than a dozen premieres.

Drawing the same choice of story ballets versus abstract pieces, Sobol noted the challenge of balancing the legacies of Eugene Ormandy (longtime conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra) and George Balanchine (the New York City Ballet’s longtime choreographer) with the 21st century – “to make it vibrant, make it real and, also, attracting younger audiences.”

Sobol suggested one special summer highlight would weave those threads together with a growing arts-world emphasis on diversity in programming.

Last summer, SPAC presented a Philadelphia Orchestra premiere by Florence Price, a Black woman composer of the 1930s. Sobol said, “Imagine how difficult that was, for her to get her works performed!…when people came to that performance, it blew everybody away.” This August, the Philadelphians will present Price’s Piano Concerto with pianist (and NPR host) Lara Downes. They will also perform works of Nina Simone with singer Ledisi, the string trio Time For Three in the east coast premiere of Kevin Puts’s “Contact – for string trio and orchestra,” and the SPAC premiere of “The Strayhorn Concerto” with themes of jazz giant Duke Ellington’s collaborator Billy Strayhorn. SPAC often partners with other presenters to commission new works, leveraging funding and sharing in presentation opportunities.

The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Conductor
Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography ©2019

The Philadelphians’ movie nights also return, a popular series that has featured violinist Joshua Bell in “The Red Violin.” Sobol said, “The orchestra is on stage, playing the score of the soundtrack, and then we have large screens both in the house and on the outside. You’re actually watching the film that you’re hearing the soundtrack to, played live.” She said, “People have come up to me and said, ‘I’ve seen that film 100 times and I didn’t realize how glorious the music was!’ You’re hearing that soundtrack for the very first time played by the incomparable sound of the orchestra.”

Sobol said audiences follow favorite films to SPAC; an older crowd for a Charlie Chaplin classic, for example, kids costumed in character for Harry Potter (July 30).

Drawing younger audiences to the classical arts remains a challenge, as Sobol acknowledged; Inclusive programming choices help; presenting artists such as Downes, with expanded media profiles; and Time for Three, with its crossover appeal. Sobol lamented an ongoing reduction in arts education but noted SPAC’s own education programs provide each student free classical concert passes through high school. Every student receives a free SPAC pass through high school.

Sobol said she cherishes testimonials from concert-goers who first started coming to SPAC with free student passes. They write, “I became a lifelong lover of the arts because of that.”

SPAC 2022 Schedule Announced

Next month, SPAC will announce details of its Jazz Festival on June 25 and 26, presented once again on two stages after last season’s single-stage format. Soon, SPAC will also detail its ongoing collaboration with Caffe Lena. In addition, Opera Saratoga will co-present “Sweeney Todd” at SPAC after last year’s collaboration in “Man of La Mancha.” While LiveNation offers tickets to popular music events at SPAC already, tickets to New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra performances go on sale on March 7 for members, then March 16 for everyone.

SPAC will continue to monitor the health and safety guidelines of the New York State Department of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and will adjust ticketing and safety policies if necessary.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, New York City Ballet.
Photo by Erin Baiano


7:30 p.m. curtain unless otherwise noted. Performance themes in italics. Titles of works listed first, then composers/choreographers

  • Tues., July 12: NYCB On and Off Stage
  • Wed., July 13 and Sat., July 16: 20th Century Masters. Chaconne (Gluck/Balanchine); Summerspace (Feldman/Cunningham); Glass Pieces (Glass/Robbins)
  • Thurs., July 14 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Evolution. Emanon – In Two Movements (Shorter/Roberts); Gustave le Gray No. 1 (Shaw/Tanowitz); In Creases (Glass/Peck); The Four Temperaments (Hindemith/Balanchine)
  • Fri., July 15 and Sat., July 16 (2 p.m.) A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Mendelssohn/Balanchine)
Joshua Bell, violin; Larisa Martinez, soprano
Photo provided.


7:30 curtain. Concert theme in italics; *indicates SPAC premiere. Composers listed first, then work titles

  • Wed., July 27: Festive Fireworks. Erina Yashima, conductor. BalletX, guest dancers. Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 4; Coleman – Umoja, Anthem for Unity *; Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture
  • Thurs., July 28: New Worlds. Erina Yashima, conductor. Time for Three, guest players. Mazzoli – Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres); Puts – Contact, for string trio and orchestra; Dvořák – Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”)
  • Fri., July 29: Voice and the Violin. Michael Stern, conductor; Joshua Bell, violin; Larisa Martinez, soprano. Beloved romantic arias and modern classics from Mendelssohn’s Infelice to Bernstein’s West Side Story
  • Sat., July 30: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban™ In Concert. Justin Freer, conductor; Albany Pro Musica, chorus. Williams – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban™ (complete with film)*
  • Wed., Aug. 3: Ledisi Sings Nina. Ledisi, vocalist. Orchestral/vocal tribute to Nina Simone
  • Thurs., Aug. 5: Lara Downes Plays Price. William Eddins, conductor; Lara Downes, piano. Strayhorn/Walden – The Strayhorn Concerto; Price – Piano Concerto in One Movement; Brahms – Symphony No. 2
  • Fri., Aug. 5: Yo-Yo Ma Returns. William Eddins, conductor; Yo-Yo Ma, cello. Villa-Lobos – “Ária (Cantilena),” from Bachianas brasileiras No. 5*; Saint-Saëns – Cello Concerto No. 1; Rimsky-Korsakov – Sheherazade
  • Sat., Aug. 6: The Princess Bride in Concert. Constantine Kitsopoulos, conductor. Knopfler – The Princess Bride (complete with film)*
    Wed., Aug. 10: Beethoven’s Fifth. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor. Rachmaninoff – The Isle of the Dead; Habibi – Jeder Baum spricht*; Beethoven – Symphony No. 5
  • Thurs., Aug. 11: Beethoven’s Eroica. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Randall Goosby, violin. Bruch – Violin Concerto No. 1; Hunt – Climb*; Beethoven – Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”)
  • Fri., Aug. 12: Angel Blue Sings Coleman & Barber. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Angel Blue, soprano. Rossini – Overture to The Thieving Magpie; Barber – Knoxville: Summer of 1915; Coleman – New Work for Voice and Orchestra*; Dvořák – Symphony No. 7
  • Sat., Aug. 13: Beethoven’s Ninth. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Angel Blue, soprano; Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano; Russell Thomas, tenor; Ryan McKinny, bass-baritone; Albany Pro Musica, chorus. Frank – Pachamama Meets an Ode*; Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”)
1 Comment
  1. Cameron S. Mitchell says

    What a slate of events! Can’t wait to see Sweeney Todd, Prisoner of Askaban, and more!

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