Hidden from small

The Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center

March 08, 2019

Did you know that the Fabulous Philadelphians leave the city every summer for a three-week residency in the "Spa City?" Learn more about our 53-year residency with the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and why you should book a trip to hear the Orchestra amidst lush pines trees, sloping lawns, and curative natural springs—all in an acoustically ideal amphitheater designed by Ormandy himself! For a complete list of dates, and to purchase tickets to see The Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, visit the SPAC website.

In 1962 The Philadelphia Orchestra was thriving under the direction of Maestro Eugene Ormandy. When a Saratoga summer residency was offered, he was ready. Ormandy predicted SPAC would become "one of the great summer festivals of all time." Thanks to the support of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, New York State Commissioner Harold Wilm, George Balanchine, and the Saratoga Springs community, he was right.

Proposed site of Saratoga Performing Arts Center with Gov. Rockefeller, 1962. Photo courtesy Saratoga Performing Arts Center

1962: In February Wilm announced that the project was underway with the support of Gov. Rockefeller and an initial financial pledge by the State of New York. A large-scale, local capital campaign was launched in Saratoga Springs.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s longtime maestro, Eugene Ormandy, was instrumental in helping to design SPAC’s stage and perfect the acoustics. Photo courtesy Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Photo courtesy Saratoga Performing Arts Center

1966: On June 16 the Center was dedicated by Gov. Rockefeller.

The first piece performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra at the Center was Beethoven's The Consecration of the House Overture, conducted by Ormandy. Photo courtesy Saratoga Performing Arts Center

It was two years between bulldozer and opening night on August 4, 1966. The 5,100-seat theater with winning acoustics was completed on time and the lawns were groomed to be filled with picnicking patrons almost as well-dressed as the Orchestra musicians.

Ormandy complained after the first few concerts that the sound of a waterfall behind the amphitheater was an annoyance. SPAC staff built a dam to hold back the water, but in doing so, they created a pond that became a home for frogs. Their nocturnal croaking got Ormandy's goat, so SPAC grounds crews caught all the frogs and moved them to another part of the park.

1968: From the beginning, educational outreach has been central to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Over the decades thousands of students from around the region have had the chance to hear and see The Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City Ballet.

The residency of Ormandy and the “Fabulous Philadelphians” was always a highlight of summer in Saratoga. On Tuesday, August 8, 1978, the maestro received the “Key to the City” of Saratoga on Eugene Ormandy Day.

Ormandy rehearses The Philadelphia Orchestra at SPAC in 1977. Photo: Louis Hood, Philadelphia Orchestra Archives

Ormandy led The Philadelphia Orchestra at SPAC for nearly 20 years. The Orchestra’s Saratoga seasons have also been led by a roster of guest conductors including Marin Alsop, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Keith Lockhart, Giancarlo Guerrero, Gianandrea Noseda, and David Robertson.

Violinist Joshua Bell performs with conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. Photo courtesy The Philadelphia Orchestra

Violinist Sarah Chang performs with conductor Marin Alsop. Photo: Lori Van Buren, courtesy of the Times Union

Also taking the podium in recent years were Bramwell Tovey, Steven Reineke, Orchestra Principal Guest Conductor Stéphane Denève, and Christian Măcelaru.

Stéphane Denève with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Photo courtesy of The Philadelphia Orchestra

Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin came to SPAC for the first time in 2012, and he has since become one of Saratoga’s most beloved summer residents.

“Nothing prepared me for the first time I stood up and started to conduct [at SPAC] because the acoustics are so unbelievably good. I had to stop for a second and ask the Orchestra, ‘This is amplified, right?’ And they said no, it’s just the way the stage is designed.”Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Photo: Gary Gold

2019: The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2019 residency at SPAC (July 31-August 17) will include a record-setting 16 SPAC premieres ranging from classical masterpieces to innovative contemporary compositions, including Mozart’s Requiem and Mason Bates’s Anthology of Fantastic Zoology, both conducted by Nézet-Séguin, who will spend two weeks in Saratoga this summer.

Performing with The Philadelphia Orchestra in 2019 will be the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (August 15); pianists Christian Blackshaw (August 17), Janice Carissa (August 2), and Jan Lisiecki (August 16); conductors Stéphane Denève (July 31-August 2), Miguel Harth-Bedoya (August 9), Constantine Kitsopoulos (August 10), and Kensho Watanabe (August 14); and the dancers of PHILADANCO (July 31) in the opening night performance.

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center welcomes Philadelphia Orchestra audiences to the historic resort town of Saratoga Springs this summer to hear their Orchestra in one of its summer homes. Located in a tranquil setting in a 2,400-acre park preserve surrounded by hiking trails, geysers, and natural mineral springs, SPAC welcomes vacation crowds and arts connoisseurs each year for immersive experiences of performances throughout the summer by resident companies The Philadelphia Orchestra, New York City Ballet, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, Opera Saratoga, and concerts by Live Nation.

(Portions of text excerpted from Daniel Webster’s history of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, published in 2016 on the occasion of SPAC’s 50th Anniversary)