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Dr. Paul White's Lake Placid Sinfonietta

A history of the ensemble from origin to incorporation: 1917 through 1982

By Alice Wareham

The roots of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta can be traced to 1917. Originally, an 11-member "Boston Simfony Ensemble" gave seven concerts a week during summer months at the Lake Placid Club. The program began in June as soon as the Boston musicians' engagements permitted, and included the participation of prominent guest soloists. The Ensemble, conducted by Julius Theodorowicz , the assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, could be considered the forerunner of all United States music festivals. This summer music tradition at the Lake Placid Club continued and expanded: in 1925, the Adirondack Music Festival began. This two-day festival featured Adirondack community choirs as well as the Boston Symphony Ensemble. The Ensemble contributed concerts in the afternoons and evenings.

In 1939, The Boston Symphony Orchestra created their own summer music residence site and festival in western Massachusetts--Tanglewood--and the Boston Symphony Ensemble dissolved. The Ensemble left behind a rich music library, including such treasures as the piano-conductor score of Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol with historic notation: "Performed, September 1921, Lake Placid Club, Daniel Kuntz, Guest Conductor." The Ensemble also left behind an audience in search of an orchestra. 

Into this musical vaccuum stepped Dr. Paul White. Dr. White, then associate conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and of the Eastman School Symphony, was commissioned by The Lake Placid Club to create the Lake Placid Club Sinfonietta. This Sinfonietta was founded with 10 Rochester Philharmonic musicians and ensemble pianist Carl Lamson (former accompanist to Fritz Kreisler, who continued to summer at Lake Placid). From 1939 through 1945, Dr. White, using the existing music library, conducted traditional concerts with occasional modest innovations. The timing of World War II forced changes in personnel and, in 1945, forced a year of silence when the Lake Placid Club became an Army rest center. 

Post World War II Growth

Regrouping in 1946, Dr. White began to place his own strong stamp on the Lake Placid Club Sinfonietta. He expanded the music library, personally editing the works of "local" composers such as Victor Herbert (an 1890's Placidian) and Bela Bartok (a 1940's resident of nearby Saranac Lake) to Sinfonietta proportions. Dr. White persuaded the Lake Placid Club Education Foundation to fund a bassoon in 1947, a third violin in 1948, and, in the early 1950's a trumpet. The Sinfonietta, which at this point now had 15 musicians grew into programming which required an orchestra of greater strength. 

It was in the selection of musicians, however, that the conductor's greatest influence showed. No longer was the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra the Sinfonietta's sole source of talent. Dr. White began to include highly promising students from Eastman and Juilliard conservatories who would benefit artistically from symphonic experience with established musicians. 

As these young musicians matured, Sinfonietta program personnel notes reflect an ever increasing range of symphony orchestras and university faculties. Many musicians married and continued to return to Lake Placid, raising families to camp, hike and fish in the beautiful Adirondack settnig. Musically talented offspring often attended Meadowmount Music Camp at nearby Lewis, NY. Dr. White created strong traditions for audience and musicians alike. Seasons concluded with Haydn's Farewell Symphony and candle light ceremony. Afterward the conductor hosted musicians at a private champagne party where corks popped to the strains of Victor Herbert's "'Champagne Polka". The Sinfonietta score, in Dr. White's script, is among its music library treasures. 

Under Dr. White, the Sinfonietta became a family with musicians' children occasionally growing up to fill chairs themselves. Among these have been the conductor's son-in-law, Milan Yancich who played French horn and later his grandsons, Paul and Mark Yancich who were Timpanists. Gretchen Van Hoesen, principal harpist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since 1977, had early orchestra experience with the Sinfonietta, joining her musician father David Van Hoessen (bassoonist). Ann Alton succeeded her mother, Arydth, as first cellist. 

In 1972 Dr. White retired. He named his former Eastman doctoral student and Sinfonietta violist, Dr. Carl Eberl, as successor. At the time Dr. Eberl was on the music faculty of Queens College, City College of New York, where he was primarily active as conductor of the College Orchestra and Choral Society. 

Dr. Eberl stepped to the podium in 1973 at a rocky point in Sinfonietta history. The Lake Placid Club faced the crisis of steadily declining membership and had leased the buildings to the Lake Placid Resort Hotel. Sinfonietta programs, still funded by the Lake Placid Club Education Foundation were opened to the public without charge and attendance increased dramatically--the beloved tradition of free community concerts was begun. Music Committee Chairman, Mrs. John R. C (Elizabeth) Master persuaded the Foundation to underwrite a fourth violin, bringing the Sinfonietta to 16, and encouraged the new conductor in further library expansion. 

With Mrs. Master's support, Dr. Eberl also persuaded the Lake Placid Village Board to allow weekly Sinfonietta concerts in Main Street Park. Dropping steeply from Main Street through two terraces to Mirror Lake, the park provides a natural amphitheater with excellent acoustics and view across water to the Sentinel Mountain Range. The following summer the series opened in a makeshift shell at the waterside. Titled "Cushion Concerts" as subtle advice to audiences to provide their own comfort, it featured programs of light classics, often starring local musical talent. Cushion Concerts thrived. The village replaced the temporary plastic shell with an acoustically improved wooden shell and began to provide folding chairs for appreciative but 'un-cushioned' tourists. In 1976 the village accepted a permanent shell designed to suggest an Adirondack lean-to, the gift of Mrs. Master in memory of the late Dr. Paul White, the founder of the Sinfonietta.  

The same years produced increasing frustration for the Sinfonietta musicians at the Lake Placid Club Resort Hotel. A developing convention business resulted in conventioneers wandering in and out of the Agora auditorium during concerts; meawhile an Adjacent Adirondack Room dance band often drowned out Sinfonietta pianissimo passages. Finally, at the close of the 1977 summer season, the Lake Placid Club's Education Foundation terminated more than half a century of classical music in the Lake Placid Club. 

Impressed by the community's enthusiastic reception of the Park concerts, the recently established Center for Music, Drama, and Art (CMDA), assumed sponsorship of the Lake Placid Club Sinfonietta, and the Sinfonietta moved under that organization's umbrella. The title of "Club" was dropped from the name enroute, establishing the ensemble simply as "Lake Placid Sinfonietta." In 1978, Dr. Eberl transferred the Sinfonietta music library to CMDA from the Lake Placid Club after discovering a water pipe had flooded part of the room where the library had, for so many years, been housed. 

Although the Lake Placid Club's music committee had disbanded, Mrs. Master continued encouragement and financial support of the orchestra while the newly established Center for Music and Dramatic Arts built a strong audience. The death of Mrs. Master, in January 1979--just before the orchestra's 41st season--was a loss to the Sinfonietta and to many of the musicians with whom she had established personal friendships. 

Meanwhile changes continued while some things remained the same. The popular "Cushion Concerts" continued and were as popular as ever. Conductor Dr. Eberl expanded musical dimensions: he added student chairs to bring the Sinfonietta to 20 musicians strong; he increased music library orchestrations; and he instituted post-concert wine and cheese receptions to introduce musicians and audience to one another. 

The summer season following the 1980 Winter Olympics in the village brought new challenges and solutions. Conductor Dr Eberl discovered a broken plexi-glass panel in the Paul White Memorial Shell in the park. When Cushion Concert audiences learned Lake Placid had no maintenance budget to fix the bandshell, they donated nickels, dime and quarters to replace the panel as well as to purchase several gallons of preservative with which three volunteers stained the shell floor. 

Post-Olympic economic difficulties abounded in Lake Placid and the Center for Music, Drama and Art (CMDA) was no exception. The CMDA theater and art library had been established in the 1970s by Netti Marie Jones, widow of the late W. Alton Jones, to bring music, drama and art to the people of Lake Placid. Although the Sinfonietta often played to full houses and gate receipts increased steadily, a $7 maximum ticket fee fell far short of the $20.90 individual cost for attendance at one of CMDA events. In 1981, CMDA faced withdrawal of its major supporter--the W. Alton Jones Foundation--unless it established stable financial footing. 

At the close of the summer of 1981, CMDA President of the Board of Trustees Mr. Charles Ritchie informed the Lake Placid Sinfonietta that CMDA had decided to terminate sponsorship of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta. Mr. Ritchie advised musicians to incorporate in order to meet an expected major change in CMDA direction. CMDA directors voted Oct. 29, 1981 to put CMDA in the hands of a newly established board of trustees: The Lake Placid Association of Music, Drama, and Art, Inc. Under new by-laws, the Arts Center was to be available to groups wishing to use it for performances. 

So, in 1981, after being fully funded for the entire 42 year history, the Sinfonietta was forced into facing harsh realities of musical existence. But the Sinfonietta was determined to survive. With a modest $125 payment from Frances Brewster for a performance at the North Elba Historical Society's annual meeting; and then with snowballing support from the winter resort citizens, the Sinfonietta was reborn. On December 23, 1981, the Lake Placid Sinfonietta, Inc. was incorporated. By the spring of 1982 the organization had programmed an eight-week summer season and met a budget goal of $35,000. 

Eastman's Dr. Paul White willed the Adirondacks a legacy of high musical standards to artists and audiences alike. In forming the Lake Placid Sinfonietta, Inc., his once summer family has matured to claim their inheritance and continue the tradition to this day. 

Conductors of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta from 1982

David Gilbert , succeeded Carl Eberl as Artistic Director/Conductor in 1985 and remained with the orchestra until 1991. Under his direction, the orchestra achieved new heights of performance. In 1986, the orchestra was the subject of an hour-long PBS documentar; and Maestro Gilbert is remembered for commissioning and premiering works by many contemporary composers, pieces that have remained in the orchestra library until this day. 

Robert Bernhardt , appointed Artistic Director/Conductor in 1993, introduced popular pre-concert talks, and is remembered for his gift of audience rapport. Under his guidance the orchestra was featured on NPR's "Bob and Bill" show, and released two CDs: 'Music in the Mountains (1995) and 'Classic Adirondack (1997). 

Alfred Gershfeld was named Artistic Director/Conductor in 1998, bringing an international flavor to the orchestra. Well known as a conductor in the former Soviet Union, he introduced many new guest artists to Lake Placid audiences and his tenure featured collaborations with several local choral groups in presentations of works for chorus and orchestra. Under Maestro Gershfeld's guidance a third CD, 'Adirondack Holidays, was released in 2001 featuring a collection of pieces celebrating the winter holiday season and featuring soprano Nancy Davis Booth on three selections. 

In 2004 Mark Laycock, then conductor of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra was appointed Artistic Director/Conductor and remained in that post through the 2007 concert seasons. Maestro Laycock, also a noted composer, wrote music for the ensemble, including Adirondack Fanfare which was written for the groundbreaking of the Wild Center museum in Tupper Lake. His showmanship at the podium will be long remembered as will his ability to incorporate guest artists with unique solo instruments not easily heard with orchestras. 

At the end of Mr. Laycock's tenure, the Board of Directors embarked on an ambitious two year process to find not only a new conductor, but someone who could fill an expanded role of Music Director and lead the orchestra into it's second century. Former Artistic Director David Gilbert stepped up to the plate (or podium) during these two years as Interim Artistic Director. He conducted the orchestra again in the summer of 2008 for three weeks, and coordinated the programming with auditioning conductors for both the 2008 and 2009 season. In August of 2009 a decision was reached and Ron Spigelman was appointed Music Director of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta, opening yet another chapter in this amazing orchestra's history.  

Ron Spigelman, continued to lead the orchestra through 2018, the highlight of his tenure was the 2017 Lake Placid Sinfonietta Centennial Celebration culminating in the release of the ensemble's fourth recording, "The First Hundred Years" which included a commissioned work "Sylvan" by American composer Michael Torke. Ron Spigelman was named Music Director Emeritus at the end of his tenure in 2018.     

In 2019, David Gilbert returned as an Interim Artistic Director and coordinated an audition year where Kynan Johns, Stuart Malina and Peter Rubardt appeared in audition for the post of Music Director. In the fall 2019,a decision was reached and the community welcomed Stuart Malina as Music Director. Stuart's first year turned out to be a unique one: the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 required the postponement of the summer 2020 performance season until summer 2021. The summer 2020 season was the first summer without the sound of the Sinfonietta in the Adirondacks since the end of World War II in 1945.

The 2021 summer season promises to return music and hope to the Adirondacks. A full six-week program is planned with 20 outstanding musicians. Free weekly community concerts are scheduled. A children's concert is added, as is a concert outside of Lake Placid. The Sinfonietta continues the rich legacy left to us by contributions begining with Julius Theodorowicz, Dr. White, Mrs. Master, Dr Eberl and countless talented musicans. This Adirondack musical legacy continues to shine and grow. 

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