Summer only? SPAC’s musical slate gallops beyond

With a slate of nine concerts scheduled by the end of the year, PSPC is meeting its year-round programming goal. The vast open-air amphitheater may be closed but the music continues. Coming up is a two-day Caffe Lena Music Festival taking place Saturday and Sunday, October 1 and 2 at the Charles R. Wood Stage, an outdoor bandshell. There will be three musical acts each afternoon and admission is free.

From there, most events will take place at the Spa Little Theater, for which PSPC has assumed a one-year management relationship with New York State, which owns the facility. Programming includes Nobuntu, a female vocal quintet from Zimbabwe (October 14), chamber music from the Society of Lincoln Center (October 15) and Canadian Brass (December 13). There will also be family events for the holidays.

Over the past year, PSPC has rolled out such events in a rather piecemeal fashion, which gave the impression that they were special or one-off events, rather than part of a recognizable season. Yet when considered together, the slate is substantial and diverse and more is on the way.

Chris Shiley, vice president of art planning, says the rather nervous process is due to the uncertainties of COVID. “We didn’t have the time frame because we didn’t know what would be available or possible. Everything is a bit truncated,” he says. Plans are still underway for the winter-spring schedule, Shiley says. “Normally, we would plan for fall 2023 right now.”

Shiley has been with PSPC for five summer seasons, coming on board about a year after Elizabeth Sobol began her tenure as president and CEO. His recent title change from Director to Vice President is an indication of the growing number of SPAC presentations as well as his growing influence. His duties include overseeing relations with three resident companies (New York City Ballet, Philadelphia Orchestra and Chamber Music Society), booking guest artists, and contributing to the overall artistic direction of the institution. “I feel like I have a say in what’s put in place, even though I work closely with Elizabeth,” he says.

After college-level training as a trumpeter, 35-year-old Shiley was a freelance musician for about five years. His first job in administration was in education with the Baltimore Symphony. After that he worked for a management company traveling internationally with professional orchestras on tour. For her next career move, Shiley says, “I was looking for something that combines logistics with the artistic and creative side. I met Elizabeth through a mutual friend. During their initial discussions, Sobel explained his intention to mount a year-round lineup. “She wanted someone to work into that vision and stretch it long term,” Shiley recalls.

Some of SPAC’s non-summer events have taken place at the Zankel Music Center and the Tang Museum, both on the campus of Skidmore College. Shiley says SPAC is still looking for collaborations, but the 500-seat Spa Little Theater is now the main venue and the focus will remain primarily on musical presentations.

As for how the specifics of summer ballet and orchestra programs are decided, Shiley says the starting point is each band’s previous season. He maintains long dialogues with Jonathan Stafford, artistic director of City Ballet, and Jeremy Rothman, vice president of artistic planning at Philly.

“We’ve done a lot with residency programming to change, diversify and polish the programs, trying to infuse new music and new artists while respecting traditions,” says Shiley. This is particularly evident in the orchestra programs this summer, which reflected the two organizations’ shared focus on inclusion, diversity, equity and access.

In the past season, there have been at least two SPAC-initiated programming decisions that the orchestra has considered. One was a new piece, “A Lovesome Thing: Billy Strayhorn Suite,” with pianist Lara Downes. SPAC co-commissioned the piece with the Boston Pops, who premiered it in late spring.

A bigger departure from the norm was pop singer Ledisi’s program paying tribute to the late soul artist Nina Simone, based on the artist’s Grammy-nominated album “Lidisi Sings Nina.” “We’ve never had an evening like this with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but it’s important to feature strong and compelling artists to appeal to different audiences. The orchestra worked with us to build the program and feature members of the orchestra so it wasn’t just a backing band,” says Shiley.

Throughout his tenure, Shiley made a habit of positioning himself at the top of the lawn at the end of performances in the amphitheater and thanking the streams of outgoing patrons for coming. “That’s how I get my honest feedback,” Shiley says. “They let me know what they think about it, right away.”

This immediate connection with the public informs his decisions. He explains, “Over the past five years, I’ve seen programming grow and connect with the community. I feel that I had more freedom to program based on this knowledge.

Living room records in Greene County

Patrick Lo Re is an acoustician and sound engineer active in the field since the mid-90s, mainly in New York where he has a studio, but also in his native France under the trade name One Soul. During the 2020 COVID shutdown, Lo Re and a few co-workers built a state-of-the-art private recording studio on his property in New Baltimore. He describes the installation as “a showroom of acoustic solutions”, something like a sound laboratory.

The studio, which opened last year, also serves as the venue for a new series of music fairs called Atelier Musical where small audiences are invited to listen up close and observe the recording process. One of the goals is to give young performers the opportunity to make demo recordings suitable for promotions and submissions. Latin and jazz will be included alongside classical.

There have been three shows so far and the season finale with a string trio will take place on Saturday 10 October. Seating is strictly limited to 35 guests, but two sessions are planned. Working with Lo Re is a small advisory group of local music lovers and they plan to produce four to six concerts a year. Learn more at ateliermusical.art

Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer based in Troy.