As his surname suggests, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s (SPAC’s) Senior Director of Artistic Planning, Chris Shiley, is equal parts shy and sly—a winning combination to be sure. When SPAC President and CEO, Elizabeth Sobol, asked me to join her for dinner at Salt & Char so I could meet “our latest secret weapon,” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the affable, handsome, young dude smiling up at me as I arrived. He certainly didn’t come across as some sort of superhero in his comfy khakis, but over the course of the evening, his just-this-side-of-acidic, biting sense of humor crept in and I loved it, as I consider blunt humor a genuine asset and legit sign of intelligence. In short, Chris Shiley and I became fast friends.
SPAC’s “programming guy” (as I refer to him), comes to it as a classically trained trumpeter—he performed for more than a decade as Principal Trumpet in the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra—before moving on to serve as Director of Operations for Yellow Barn Music Festival and, as well as, Festival Director for Classical Movements’ Prague Summer Nights Young Artist Music Festival. Enter, SPAC.
The things you take away each time you encounter Chris Shiley are the internal twin engines that fuel him: an indefatigable work ethic (the overwhelmingly packed SPAC summer season is relentless in its demands) and the deep, empathetic humanity he exudes so effortlessly. To know Chris Shiley is to love the guy. And he plays trumpet. What’s not to like?
I caught up with the super talented, 31-year-old Saratoga Springs resident to ask him a few burning questions. Not entirely reluctantly, he obliged.
Chris, when did you first realize you had real musical ability?
I don’t know the answer, actually; music was always a part of my life growing up. Both my parents are classically trained musicians. I started on the piano as far back as I can remember (though don’t ask me to play it for you now), and there are even some photos of me rocking out to Bach in my high chair, so I think music always resonated with me, but the real passion for it came later on.
What’s been the biggest surprise about your first year at SPAC?
It’s a good surprise…the diversity and intensity of the schedule. It amazes me how many events happen at SPAC and how completely different they all are from one another. I remember one moment this summer when I was standing outside of the Spa Little Theater after an incredible concert with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and I faintly heard in the distance the sound of heavy metal guitar from the show happening in the amphitheater at the same time, and I thought, only at SPAC do you get to have world-class chamber music and epic heavy metal in the same night, at the same place.
Saratoga is perfect because…
The Reserve Manhattan at Hamlet & Ghost—obviously. [Laughs]