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ON THE SCENE: Lake Placid Sinfonietta makes history with centennial

July 13, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

The Lake Placid Sinfonietta is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, a feat exceeded by only four other orchestras: the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

They are launching their season with a musical bang. First, a Wednesday free concert July 5 in the Paul White Band Shell. Then the opening at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on July 9 that featured the premiere of a new work by composer Michael Torke; a performance by Olga Kern, the gold-medal winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition; and the Northern Lights Choir participating in works by Haydn and Mozart. Finally, the next day there was a chamber performance July 10 at the Hand House in Elizabethtown led by Navah Perlman. All that in less than a week.

Torke, a double-major graduate of Eastman School of Music, is recognized as one of the most accomplished and inventive composers of our time. Special is that he's connected to our community in two important ways; he loves vacationing in the Adirondacks, and "Javelin," one of his most performed pieces, was commissioned for the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta.

Article Photos

Composer Michael Torke and Ron Spigelman pose on Sunday, July 9.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"I got an email out of the blue from Ron Spigelman asking if I would consider doing something for the 100th anniversary of the Sinfonietta," said Torke. "I said, 'Yes, I love the Adirondacks.' I started thinking about the trees found here, that's why it is titled 'Sylvian,' which means of the forest. The first of the three movements is named Eastern White Pine, then Yellow Birch, and the last Red Spruce. They each reflect a common tree element, but each with all the variations that individual trees have."

Torke started playing the piano at age 5. He was lucky that is music teacher didn't scold him when even then he began re-arranging the music. Indeed, she encouraged him. Soon every recital he gave included a piece of music he wrote. A bit frustrating was he dreamed of being a concert pianist, yet it was his compositions that received the most attention.

Torke describes being a composer akin to an architect designing a building. The challenge is that there is not a big audience for new music; for the most part, audiences want to hear the classics. Torke has been fortunate in that his work is becoming more and more in demand. Key is patience, as it simply takes time, and getting opportunities like the Sinfonietta commission.

Exciting, too, is that the Sinfonietta is helping shape the music. At rehearsal, Torke gets to hear the music live for the first time, receive feedback from Spigelman, and then make adjustments. The final version unveiled Sunday night will become the one that will live on in the public domain.

"When you hit a milestone like the 100 anniversary, you want to honor it with something composed that recognized that moment," said Maestro Ron Spigelman. "When we get to the 125th or 150th anniversary, we can look back and say we helped create this piece. We helped bring it into the world. Michael's composition will always be linked to that milestone. Our opening night, our opening week is ambitious, but when you're going to celebrate something that momentous, you've got to pull out the stops. It's got to be, 'Let's go all out and make something special happen.'

"Michael's music has always grabbed me. It's very defined. He takes a single idea and goes with it. His music is very purposeful. I think it's perfect that he focused on three trees that are prominent in this region. It's also important that he has a history here. The only direction I gave him was here's the size of the orchestra, here's what you have to work with, 15 minutes, let's see what you got."

What he's got was good.

"Torke's piece was wonderful," said Reg Gignoux at the intermission. "I can't wait to listen to it again, but Mozart's 'Emperor Concerto,' which I've heard four times before, was the very best performance I've ever heard. Olga Kern is very, very good."

"Off the charts," said Bob Dillon. "First getting Torke, his piece was all we had hoped. It was perfect. And then, to see Kern's performance. I couldn't believe it. I was sitting on the edge of my chair the entire time. And that followed by the choir, this performance is absolutely the best I've ever seen of the Sinfonietta. It goes to show that with the right programming and marketing the audience is here."

"The Northern Lights Choir brought together singers from across the Tri-Lakes and High Peaks region plus Malone and all points in between," said its director Helen Demong. "I feel our choir stepped up and sounded like a professional choir. It's exciting to be a part of the Sinfonietta's centennial. When I asked the choir if they wanted to do this, they responded absolutely."

The audience for the opening of the third season of Sinfonietta's Pro Musica Chamber Concerts, held in Elizabethtown the next day, was modest, but not the music. Once again, pianist Navah Perlman, artistic director, assembled four talented musicians in the intimate setting of the Hand House. The offerings were an Oboe Quartet in F Major, K.370 by Mozart, and two Trios in B Flat Major Op. 11 by Beethoven and B Major, Op. 8 by Brahms. The talent included two from the Sinfonietta, who had performed the night before, Cynthia Watson on oboe and Denise Cridge on viola, guest violinist Areta Zhulla and cellist Jia Kim.

"I love that we have great players that include two from the orchestra," said Perlman. "Yes, we could bring in all our players, but it's terrific to collaborate with the Sinfonietta members because they are such high-quality players. The region provides a fun environment to perform great music in with all the mountains and these lovely intimate spaces."

"I like how interactive it is playing with the chamber group," said Cynthia Watson. "You don't have a conductor up there interpreting the music; you get to work on that yourself. It's a great change of pace."

Pro Musica will perform the work of composers spanning three centuries when they return in August, events to put in your must-attend calendar. A goal for them could be performing a commissioned work for their 10th season. Wouldn't that be fun?

ProMusica will be performing Aug. 7 at the Keene Valley Congregational Church, and Aug. 8 at the LPCA. The Sinfonietta series will continue Sundays at the LPCA until Aug. 13 as well as the free Wednesday concerts in Mid's Park, and, weather-permitting, July 27 at 9:30 p.m., they will perform Handel's "Music for Royal Fireworks" (so accompanied) at the Lake Placid Club golf house.



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