Lake Placid Sinfonietta Celebrates 99 Years of Music in the Adirondacks

Among the wild forests and towering mountains of the Adirondacks, music becomes the soundtrack to summer, a melody that flows through lazy afternoons on a dock, soars to the summit of the High Peaks, and thrills with the promise of twilight in a meadow surrounded by fireflies.

Rebecca Steffan

In 1917, the Great War was still a year from ending, Babe Ruth was still playing for the Red Sox, and Mata Hari was found guilty of spying for Germany. It was also the year the Lake Placid Club created the Boston Simfony Ensemble to play as the house orchestra for its guests. It was the opening act of the opus that would become the Lake Placid Sinfonietta, a select group of classical musicians from around the world who arrive every July in Lake Placid to perform beautiful music in a beautiful setting.

This year, the Sinfonietta celebrates the unique distinction of being one of the oldest orchestra festivals in America at the ripe age of 99 with a new symphony series, chamber music concerts, plans for a dynamite centennial celebration, and no signs of slowing down.

Great Music for a Great Place
Lake Placid is renowned for many things, for its rich sports history, and its culture of outdoor exploration, for inspiring generations of families to claim some small part of the village as their own, summer after summer. It is less well known as a haven for great music and musicians, and yet the village has welcomed some of classical music's most celebrated talents for nearly 100 years.

Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, one of the most important composers of the 20th century, lived and worked in the region while battling illness, and Aaron Copland, a famed American composer and conductor, spent some time at Clarence Adler's summer music camp on Averyville Road in the 1920s. Copland's Three Latin American Sketches will be performed by the Sinfonietta on July 10 as the opening event of the Symphony Series at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

Aaron Copland and Clarence Adler in Lake Placid
Aaron Copland and Clarence Adler in Lake Placid

Continuing the tradition of great performances, the Sinfonietta's 20 soloist performers have chosen to return to Lake Placid year after year to spend their summer playing in the Adirondacks. Seven violinists, two violists, two cellists, one double bassist, one clarinetist, one bassoonist, one trumpeter, two horn players, one flutist, one oboist, and one percussionist make up the Sinfonietta's core group; their musical experiences spanning the globe and representing decades of virtuosity.

This great summer tradition is part of a larger cultural movement in the Adirondacks that includes free summers concert series, film festivals and more.

The Songs at Mirror Lake Summer Concert Series is one of Lake Placid's musical festivals that welcomes popular performers to the stage at Mid's Park in Lake Placid every Tuesday night from July to August, to play free of charge while the sun sets over Mirror Lake. The Lake Placid Center for the Arts expands the creative cultural offerings of the region beyond music to include performing arts, thought-provoking film, and acts as a gallery space for regional and visiting artists. And, the Lake Placid Film Forum celebrates the cinematic arts each June with a series of screenings at area theaters.

But it all started with the Sinfonietta.

The Early Years
After the group was formed in 1917, the ensemble continued playing, and in 1939 Dr. Paul White, noted American composer and conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic was hired to lead the group. He renamed it the "Lake Placid Sinfonietta. They spent years performing at the Lake Placid Club under the batons of Dr. Paul White, Daniel Kuntz and Julius Theodorowicz, the assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the program became one of the Club's most celebrated summer features.

In 1970, the performances moved from the exclusivity of the Lake Placid Club to the Main Street Park for two very important reasons: the acoustics and the view. White had retired, and the new conductor Carl Eberl wanted to bring the orchestra to the entire community. And, for nearly 50 years, the Sinfonietta has performed for countless audiences as countless suns have set.

The Sinfonietta plays in Mid's Park
Lake Placid Sinfonietta in Mid's Park

Spontaneous Dancing Welcome
"I consider the Sinfonietta the 47th High Peak of the Adirondacks," says Ron Spigelman, Sinfonietta Music Director, who loves the idea of performing pieces of music that relate directly to the grandeur of the Adirondacks and the great outdoors. "Great music matches the greatness of this place."

For Spigelman, music is not a passive experience; rather, the Sinfonietta's performances provide an opportunity for listeners to engage with the music, their surroundings, and to connect with each other – spontaneous dancing welcome!

As the program director, Spigelman shapes the artistic vision of the programming, and has played an integral part in this year's 99th celebrations, along with Sinfonietta Executive Director Deborah Fitts.
The challenge, Spigelman adds, is to create musical entertainment that resonates with the audience and puts them in the moment. Musical performances are organized around a theme, such as the August 14th Symphony Series performance at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts Vienna Dreams, which will feature concert pianist Andreas Klein performing Mozart and works by the Straus Dynasty.

"There is a musical legacy here," Fitts says. "We have 20 musicians playing in the Sinfonietta and 18 of them have been coming back for years, some for decades."

Part of what draws the musicians to Lake Placid for the summer season is the scenery, Fitts adds, but most of the performers return because of the close ties they form with the other musicians, and to tackle the challenge of going from being a soloist performer, to playing in an orchestra.

"Many of the performers call the Sinfonietta their 'symphony family,'" Fitts says.

100 Years, One Year From Now
A magnificent piece of music played in a magnificent place heightens both elements.

This year, composer Michael Torke will be working on an original composition for next year's 100th Anniversary celebration. The piece will debut during the centennial celebrations, but until then, concert goers can enjoy the more than 75 pieces which the Sinfonietta will be performing this summer.

The Lake Placid Sinfonietta's first free concert performance at Mid's Park is slated for July 6. For a complete list of concerts and performances, visit lakeplacidsinfonietta.org. Share your summer Sinfonietta experiences with the hashtag #MusicIsPersonal.

Lake Placid Sinfonietta Music Director Ron Spigelman shares his passion for the orchestra
About the Author …
Rebecca Steffan
Rebecca Steffan spent years playing the piano very poorly, and chose to write stories rather than music. She lives in the Adirondacks with her fiancé and Boston Terrier, Artie Deco. She cartwheels often.
Rebecca Steffan
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