The New York City-based Orchestra of St. Luke’s will be returning to Saratoga Springs on December 15 to perform J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. The concert is presented by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and will take place at the Bethesda Episcopal Church on Washington Street in Downtown Saratoga. The special program, which includes all six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (quite a feat on the part of the musicians), honors the late Charles Hamlen, a Schenectady native who founded IMG Artists, a leading international performing arts management corporation. A passionate arts champion, Hamlen was an artistic advisor to the Orchestra of St. Luke’s as well as a close friend of SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol. “Charlie Hamlen was one of the most beloved leaders in classical music—and my greatest mentor and friend,” Sobol says. Sobol’s career began in a basement apartment building in Manhattan that also housed the nascent Hamlen Management, which later transformed into IMG Artists. “Charlie was instrumental in bringing Orchestra of St. Luke’s to Saratoga last year with the goal of making the Bethesda Brandenburg Concertos an annual tradition in the region.”
Formed in 1974 when the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble expanded to perform orchestral works too, the Orchestra of St. Lukes is one of the nation’s finest orchestras and has a reputation for collaborating with a wide range of popular artists from classical music stars Renée Fleming and Joshua Bell, to rockers Metallica and Bono. The orchestra performs around 70 concerts a year, many of them at major New York concert venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. “I’m looking forward to playing the Brandenburg Concertos at Bethesda Church for a second year in a row,” says violinist Krista Bennion Feeney, who joined the orchestra when she was just 22 years old in 1983. “Last year, I got to spend the night in Saratoga Springs and drink the fabulous water and bring several bottles home with me. My husband, John, is principal bassist of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and will be playing all six of the Brandenburg concerti that night.”
Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are a unique set of concerti grossi, each of which showcases a different combination of solo instruments. The result is an incredibly clever and sophisticated sonic palette that changes from movement to movement, concerto to concerto, and embraces the versatility and range of voices found in each instrument. Incredibly, the six concertos (which drew from earlier works by Bach) were compiled as a sort of résumé for a new post at the court of the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721. The Brandenburg Concertos, as they came to be known, may be considered classics now (and some of Bach’s most popular works), but the Margrave of Brandenburg mustn’t have been very impressed, because he didn’t offer Bach anything for the six remarkable concertos.
The performance at Bethesda Church is part of SPAC’s vision to offer meaningful programming year-round (it was so popular last year that it sold out). Get your tickets here before it’s too late!