SPAC’s 2023 Classical Season Packs a Punch

Photography by Erin Baiano

It’s not summer in Saratoga until the strains of classical music start pouring out of Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Ballet and classical music enthusiasts will have more than enough to swing their air batons to this season with a sprawling slate of familiars such as virtuosic cellist (and last year’s Saratoga Living cover star) Yo-Yo Ma; the New York City Ballet (NYCB), which is celebrating its 75th anniversary with an exciting program of crowd favorites and SPAC premieres; and the Philadelphia Orchestra—which will balance spectacular premieres and artist debuts, including that of Emmy-, Grammy-, and Tony-winning Broadway superstar Audra McDonald.

“There’s so much I’m excited about, it’s a little hard to keep it concise,” says Elizabeth Sobol, SPAC President and CEO. “For the NYCB, the SPAC Premieres program is amazing, but I’m thrilled we’ll also get to see Justin Peck’s first evening-length ballet, Copland Dance Episodes.”

From July 18-22, the NYCB will return with the full company and a roster of more than 90 dancers under Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford.The season kicks off with “NYCB On and Off Stage,” an accessible, peak-behind-the-curtain teaser, featuring the best excerpts from the week’s ballet programs. “[This] has become an important part of our efforts to bring new people to experience ballet in an inviting way,” says Sobol. “New for this year, the celebratory evening will culminate in a dance party in the Hall of Springs.”

Audra McDonald (Allison Michael Orenstein)

Following this is two nights (July 19-20) of “SPAC Premieres,” spotlighting new and contemporary works from around the globe, such as Play Time by Gianna Reisen, which is set to music by hip-hop icon Solange Knowles, and Love Letter (on shuffle) by Kyle Abraham, with music by Grammy-winning English singer-songwriter James Blake, among others. There will also be two performances of a different SPAC premiere (July 20 and 22): the aforementioned Copland Dance Episodes by New York-based, Tony-winning choreographer, director and dancer Justin Peck. This original “full-evening” work is set to four of Copland’s most famous compositions: Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, Fanfare for the Common Man, and Rodeo. Closing out the dance season (July 21-22) are ballet classics Swan Lake(Tchaikovsky/Balanchine), Fancy Free (Bernstein/Robbins) and Firebird (Stravinsky/Balanchine and Robbins).

“There’s always something special about performing outside at this wonderful venue that has been NYCB’s summer home for so many years,” says NYCB principal dancer Mira Nadon. “I’m particularly excited to bring Justin Peck’sCopland Dance Episodes to Saratoga. The choreography, music, costumes and lighting have all come together in such a beautiful way, and I’m so excited for the Saratoga audiences to get to experience it.”

Next up, the Philadelphia Orchestra is packing quite a musical punch as well, with homecomings from Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Emmy- and Grammy-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Also returning, for the first time in a decade, is renowned violinist Gil Shaham, who will lead a special SPAC premiere (August 16) of Vivaldi’s beloved violin concerti, The Four Seasons. In contrast, there will be several exciting debuts, including a genre-blending “little orchestra” called Pink Martini with China Forbes (August 4) and theater dynamo Audra McDonald, who’s won six Tony awards throughout her career—more than any other actor. (All she needs is an Oscar for EGOT status.)

“I’m very much looking forward to returning to lovely Saratoga this summer to perform with the incomparable Philadelphia Orchestra led by my dear friend [conductor] Andy Einhorn,” says McDonald, who’s been spotted around the Capital Region in recent years filming for HBO’s The Gilded Age. “SPAC is such a special place in the summer, and I can’t wait to sing my Broadway favorites from Ellington, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, Sondheim and more.” 

In addition to McDonald’s night of Broadway favorites (August 10), The Philadelphia Orchestra will present Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring alongside John Luther Adams’ Vespers of the Blessed Earth (August 12), a new work and another SPAC premiere that, Sobol teases, will “be performed in a unique and nontraditional manner.” Audiences should also be sure to catch Yo-Yo Ma as he performs Dvořák’s ebullient Cello Concerto with guest conductor Xian Zhang (August 17). The orchestra will round out its wide-ranging season with a couple of films: Earth: An HD Odyssey (August 18) and, the following day, Jurassic Park In Concert, in honor of the classic dino-flick’s 30th anniversary. 

Velociraptors, ballet and Audra McDonald? Sounds like another unforgettable SPAC summer.

Broadview retirement ad

Latest articles


Related articles