Philadelphia’s American Idylls Program to Impress at SPAC, August 8th

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Kiss Thursday matinees goodbye and prepare for adventure with this program. To open with total transparency, this is my personal favorite of the programs put together this season. It’s balanced, gorgeous, and shows off the best of American music. Led by Yannick once more, this concert will open with Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral another SPAC premiere (and another piece written by a woman!). This piece was written in grief for Higdon’s deceased brother, but the piece is shimmering and programmatic enough that a new listener with no background can still be enraptured by the grief, hope, and intuition in the rich orchestration. The piece is hazy, with bell-like tones often compared to the sound of rubbing your finger along a crystal glass tolling throughout the piece.

Copland’s, Appalachian Spring

Don’t worry if you don’t like orchestral pieces written in the past twenty years. Following Higdon is Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, arguably his most celebrated work. This piece, another SPAC premiere, is a masterwork of American music. It wraps musically around the “Appalachian theme,” which many of us locals will recognize as the Quaker song “Simple Gifts.” The piece gained its name from the ballet choreographed by Martha Graham after hearing Copland’s near finished score. The piece is a milestone for American writing, to the point where it’s pretty amazing that this piece hasn’t reached the SPAC stage, with Aaron Copland himself conducting at the venue in the mid-1970s. We’re lucky to catch this premiere, and be part of such a celebration of both Saratoga and American history.

The second half of the program will begin with Respighi’s The Fountains of Rome. This piece is an absolute masterwork (forgive my repetition). Respighi was known in his time for his theater works, however, he is now famous for his orchestral poems depicting lush Roman life, architecture, and wilderness. This piece is full of triumph and glory, plus it fits in nicely to the water theme of SPAC’s 2019 season. The highlight of the piece is the “Triton Fountains at Morn” where Horns awaken water creatures and naiads splash and play. From Yannick, you can anticipate this piece to be taken quickly with great energy. While that will bring out the moments of glory and adventure, we will have to see how the moments of disorientation and tenderness are preserved.

Fantastic Zoology

Finally, the night will wrap up with the “psychedelic bestiary” of Mason Bates’s Anthology of “Fantastic Zoology” based on the Borges book by the same name. The piece is broken in 11 interlocking movements with intense moments of chamber music that will allow soloists in the orchestra to truly shine. Although contemporary, this piece is fun. There are moments of humor, and it will be exciting to hear the master musicians of the Philadelphia take on such a complex work.

As I said above, I cannot wait for this program. The mix of classic and new pieces mirrors Wednesday August 7th in program, holding something for everyone in the audience. This season is quickly becoming the mix of Dennis Russel Davies and Charles Dutoit (without the abuse) that the Saratoga Performing Arts Season has needed.

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