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THE BEAUTY OF MUSIC: Lake Placid Sinfonietta, a close-knit group of musicians

August 2, 2010
ERIC VOORHIS, News Staff Writer

     LAKE PLACID — The high school cafeteria was transformed into a practice space for world-class musicians on Friday, July 16, as the Lake Placid Sinfonietta worked out some kinks only hours before playing a concert at the Heritage House in Westport.

    Warm light poured through large, open windows as tunes of Mozart, Tchaikowsky and Vivaldi echoed through the halls of the empty school. The 19-piece orchestra played through difficult sections of music, adding details and making small adjustments before the show — a group effort that was filled with laughs and smiles.

    “That definitely gave me the chills,” said music director and conductor Ron Spigelman, after the orchestra played a section. “But I’m not sure if it was the right kind of chills — what do you guys think?”

    Even in rehearsal Spigelman was theatrical while conducting. He threw his arms into the air, sending cues to different musicians while his entire body gyrated to the music. New to the Lake Placid Sinfonietta this year, the Australian conductor said he has been impressed with both the musicianship of the orchestra and the closeness of the group.

    “This is a wonderful bunch of people,” he said. “It’s a smaller group than I’m used to and I like how clear and crisp the sounds is ... you can really hear each part.”

    During the rehearsal the orchestra played music that would be performed that night, but also worked on selections for performances on Sunday and Wednesday of the same week. The Sinfornietta is essentially playing three separate concert series this summer — the Symphony Series on Sunday evenings at the LPCA; the free Park Series, held Wednesday nights at Mid’s Park; and the Adirondack Series, featuring performances in North Creek, Tupper Lake, Westport and Jay — all in a six week period ending Sunday, Aug. 15.

    “We play 18 concerts in six weeks with about 30 rehearsals,” Spigelman said. “It’s a brutal schedule.”

    Along with the Sinfonietta, Spigelman is the music director of the Springfield, Missouri Symphony as well as the principal conductor of both the Syracuse and Fort Worth Symphonies. He said the schedule for the Lake Placid Sinfonietta is similar to that of a full-year program for other orchestras, only it’s boiled down into such a short period of time.

    “We do an enormous amount of repertoire for such a small amount of time,” said Ann Alton, the group’s principal cellist, after rehearsal. “It’s incredibly gratifying to pull everything together and make it sound good, but it’s very challenging at times. I guess, when you love to do it, you just hold your breath and learn to adapt.”

    Alton, who is a currently on the faculties of Skidmore College and the Juilliard School of Music, started studying cello at a very early age with her mother, Ardyth Alton — a cellist for the Lake Placid Sinfonietta.

    “The first time I came up (to Lake Placid) I was nine months old,” Alton said. “I was always around the Sinfonietta when I was a kid, and I started doing little solo pieces with the group in my teens.”

    Several other members of the orchestra, who Alton affectionately called “the old timers,” have been coming back to Lake Placid every summer for decades. This year, bassoonist David Van Hoesen, who recently retired as chairman of the wind department at the Eastman School of Music, celebrated his 84th birthday. He’s been with the Sinfonietta for 62 years.

    “I don’t really know too many other people who are still playing at my age,” he said. “But I’m still feeling good.”

    Van Hoesen said he has enjoyed his years with the Sinfonietta and even as people have rotated in and out around him he said everyone has remained compatible and friendly.

    “It’s been great fun,” he said. “Which is probably why I’m still here.”

    The group’s lone trumpeter, David Greenhoe, who is professor emeritus at the University of Iowa, has been with the Sinfonietta since 1975. He said one of the fun challenges of playing with the orchestra is playing music written for larger orchestras. Musicians in the Sinfonietta, especially in the woodwinds section, will often have three or four different parts in front of them, switching between them as needed.

    “It’s basically filling in the gaps here and there, jumping around and playing different parts,” Greenhoe said. “It may be a little illegitimate, but we do it well — and it’s fun.”

    At the heart of each performance is the music selections, which Spigelman said he spends a great deal of time on.

    “It can be a pretty angst-ridden experience. I work so hard on the programing because I want people to be able to take something away from the concert,” he said. “When you’re putting on a concert, you want people to feel like they have had a full meal, like they’ve taken in a wide range of experiences.”

    This summer, the theme Spigelman chose focuses on “the elements” — inspired by the natural beauty of the Adirondacks.

    “The idea isn’t just to play pretty music,” Spigelman said. “My job isn’t just being a conductor, that’s a skill. My job ... our job, is to tell a story with our music and add depth to peoples lives through the experience.”

    For more information and a complete list of upcoming concerts visit,


Article Photos

The Lake Placid Sinfonietta, led by conductor Ron Spigelman, rehearse in the Lake Placid Middle/High School cafeteria.

Photo/Eric Voorhis/Lake Placid News

Fact Box

Upcoming Sinfonietta LPCA concerts

Aug. 8: “From the Earth to the Stars,” Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony” and the “Reverie and Caprice” by Berlioz, with Daniel Szasz as violin soloist.
Aug. 15:  “Precious Metals and Flickering Light”  Ron Spigelman will join trumpeter David Greenhoe in Vivaldi’s Double Trumpet Concerto.  
Shows start at 7:30 p.m. and tickets cost $22. Students 18 and uner free as available. For more information, call 518-523-2512.



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