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SPAC cancels summer classical season for first time in 53 years

SPAC cancels summer classical season for first time in 53 years

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SARATOGA SPRINGS — Add classical ballet and orchestral and chamber music to the list of things you won’t be able to see or hear live this summer, as Saratoga Performing Arts Center announced Monday it was canceling its classical lineup for the first time in 53 years.

New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, as well as “Not Our First Goat Rodeo” featuring Yo-Yo Ma, and “SPAC on Stage” are all canceled.

The SPAC administration and board of directors decided to suspend the summer’s classical programming because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Missing the season is not a happy thought,” said Bob Rosoff of Queensbury, who with his wife, Barbara, frequently attends performances at SPAC of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Rosoff is a former executive director of the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra. He expressed special regret at having to miss the Beethoven symphony cycle the Philadelphia Orchestra had scheduled, led by Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

“We go down as often as we can,” he said. “We obviously will miss it.”

But he and his wife understand the impossibility of staging a performance that would be safe for either musicians or audience members, he said.

String and percussion players could wear masks, he speculated, but not the winds or brass.

Penny Schiek, a retired choral teacher from Queensbury who performed at SPAC in the 1970s and ‘80s with the Philadelphia Orchestra as a member of the Saratoga Pops chorus, expressed regret at the cancellations and curiosity about what the future holds for live musical performances.

“For musicians, who are used to performing in large groups for live audiences, which are packed in — that’s going to be the issue,” she said.

Live musical performances could be sidelines for a year or two, and in the meantime, she said, “I hope people can find ways to support musicians.”

“I guess the plus side is you have lots of time to practice,” she said.

The season would have featured seven performances and four distinct programs by New York City Ballet, including “Swan Lake;” 12 performances by The Philadelphia Orchestra, highlighted by all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies in four consecutive days; and six programs by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, exploring Beethoven and his influences.

“So much thought, care, heart and soul go into crafting and preparing for our summer season that we truly think of it as a love letter to our community. To find it necessary to cancel what would have been one of the most ambitious and artistically inspiring seasons to date is just gut-wrenching and inconceivable,” said Elizabeth Sobol, SPAC’s president and CEO. But “it would be simply impossible to find a way to keep the artists and the community safe,” she said.

New York City Ballet’s executive director, Katherine Brown, called the cancellation “devastating,” but supported it out of concern for the health and safety of artists, staff and audiences.

All of the leaders of the classical companies said they are aiming to return to SPAC in the summer of 2021.

SPAC could lose millions of dollars in income because of the pandemic. It depends on ticket sales and program underwriters for 80% of its annual budget.

“For the past 53 years, SPAC has been a beacon of hope, light and refuge for the community — and the support of the community has been critical to its life and longevity ... Continued community support through membership, ticket donations and philanthropic contributions will be critical to how SPAC emerges from the crisis,” Sobol said.

For every ticketholder of the 2020 classical season who chooses to convert all or a minimum of $25 of their ticket purchase into a tax-deductible donation, SPAC will donate two 2021 tickets to first responders and local health care workers.

Visit SPAC.org for options to donate, receive a credit, or to request a refund for SPAC performances. Ticketholders will also be contacted directly via email with their ticketing options.

SPAC is holding dates for the return of New York City Ballet on July 13-17, 2021; The Philadelphia Orchestra on August 4-21, 2021; and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in August 2021.

Changes to the rock, pop and country concert schedule will be made by Live Nation and Ticketmaster, which programs and manages those shows.

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at

@trafficstatic.

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