On this day in 1966, the Philadelphia Orchestra Begin Annual SPAC Residency

On August 4, 1966, the world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra took up residence at Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center (SPAC) for the very first time with Maestro Eugene Ormandy conducting. The maestro helped shape SPAC into the perfect venue for such a performance and brought the orchestra much acclaim throughout his 44 years as conductor.

56 years later, the orchestra still continues to offer audiences classical entertainment with its programming and performances.

Philadelphia Orchestra
Adrian Siegel, courtesy of Adrian Siegel Collection/Philadelphia Orchestra Archives

On the first Saturday of August, on a clear night, an estimated 5,100 attendees gathered inside the newly opened SPAC for the first show with another estimated 2,000 on the center’s lawns. The performance marked a first for the venue. The New York City Ballet’s July performances that year went beautifully, but how would the SPAC amphitheater sound hold with an entire symphony inside?

According to the New York Times, which reported on the show at the time, the performance and acoustics held well and the enthusiastic crowd agreed. Maestro Eugene Ormandy chose an all-Beethoven program: the Ninth and Eighth Symphony and the “Consecration of the House” Overture in C Major. The Overture, featuring a march and much fanfare, made the perfect celebratory music for an opening night. Despite the distant sound interference of a freight train interrupting during the Eighth Symphony, the rest of the concert seemed to be a great success.

The concert in no way would have been such a success without the preparation and intensity of its maestro. Eugene Ormandy and his Orchestra were careful, precise, and presented a wonderful concert to their audience. From the start, Ormandy predicted the venue would be “one of the great summer festivals of all time.” However, according to Times Union, before opening night, Ormandy made it clear that some things about the SPAC venue had to be changed.

The waterfall behind the venue interrupted the music, and a dam was promptly built to rectify the situation. This solution did not last long, and groundsmen had to catch every last frog that resided in the resulting pond so Ormandy, and his audiences, did not hear any incessant croaking during the performance.

Philadelphia Orchestra
Adrian Siegel, courtesy of Adrian Siegel Collection/Philadelphia Orchestra Archives

According to SPAC, the amphitheater was specifically built with the Philadelphia Orchestra in mind. In addition to his work as maestro, Eugene Ormandy played a huge role in ensuring that the venue would be the perfect summer home for such a major orchestra, known as one of the “Big Five.”

Although founded in 1900, the Philadelphia Orchestra would grow immensely in reach under Ormandy. One of the first orchestras to record music, many of the most popular recordings of the organization were under the conduction of Ormandy. 7 years after the first show at SPAC, the orchestra would travel to the People’s Republic of China, one of the first tours to the region from a Western orchestra in decades. 

Ormandy expanded the reach of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the prominence of Saratoga Performing Arts Center during his long career. The Philadelphia Orchestra has returned to the venue consistently since that first summer evening show in August of 1966. 56 years later, the people of Saratoga Springs and visitors can enjoy the talents of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which will hold multiple performances at SPAC this August.

The orchestra will play a mix of traditional classical music and more contemporary takes. Beginning on August 10, the current Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, will return for four programs. Highlights include the return of world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Joshua Bell, among the performances. For tickets to upcoming concerts, visit the SPAC website for more information.

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