Dr. Paul White's Lake Placid Sinfonietta
A history of the ensemble from origin to incorporation: 1917 through 1982
By Alice Wareham
The Lake Placid club commissioned Dr. Paul White's Sinfonietta in 1939 to replace an 11 member "Boston Symphony Ensemble" which since World War I, had given seven concerts a week during summer months at the Club. That ensemble, conducted by Julius Theodorowicz , assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, could be considered the forerunner of all United States music festivals. The program began in June as soon as the Boston musicians' engagements permitted and, regularly featuring prominent guest soloists, extended through the original Adirondack Music Festival which began at the Lake Placid Club in 1925. The two-day festival featured choirs of Adirondack communities and the Ensemble contributed with concerts each afternoon and evening.
With the birth of Tanglewood, which, since 1939 has absorbed the full talents of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Ensemble departed Lake Placid, leaving behind a library which includes 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." Dr. White, then associate conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and Eastman School Symphony, created the Lake Placid Club Sinfonietta with 10 Rochester Philharmonic musicians and ensemble pianist Carl Lamson, former accompanist to Fritz Kreisler, who continued to summer at Lake Placid. For several pre-World War II years, Dr. White, using the existing music library, conducted traditional concerts with occasional modest innovations. The War 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, himself editing the works of "local" composers 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 had 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 reflected an ever increasing range of symphony orchestras and university faculties. Many married and continued to return to Lake Placid, raising families to camp, hike and fish. Musically talented offspring often attended Meadowmount Music Camp at nearby Lewis. 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 who were Timpanists. Gretchen Van Hoesen, principal harpist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since 1977, had early orchestra experience with the Sinfonietta, joining her father , David, it's bassoonist. Ann Alton has succeeded her mother, Arydth, as first cellist.
In 1972 Dr. White retired, naming his former Eastman doctoral student and Sinfonietta violist, Dr. Carl Eberl, 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 as the Lake Placid Club faced the crisis of steadily declining membership and leased it's 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. 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 same years produced increasing frustration for the musicians at the Lake Placid Club Resort Hotel where a developing convention business resulted in conventioneers wandering in and out of the Agora auditorium during concerts while 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, assumed sponsorship of the ensemble and the Lake Placid Club Sinfonietta moved under that organization's umbrella, dropping "'Club" from it's title enroute. Dr. Eberl transferred the music library to CMDA in 1978 after discovering a water pipe had flooded the opposite side of the room where it had, for so many years, been housed at the Lake Placid Club.
Although the Lake Placid Club's music committee had disbanded, Mrs. Master continued encouragement and financial support of the orchestra as the newly established Center for Music and Dramatic Arts built a strong audience. Her death, in January 1979, just before the orchestra's 41st season, was a loss to the Lake Placid Sinfonietta and to many of the musicians with whom she had established personal friendships.
The popular Cushion Concerts continued. At the Center for Music Drama and Art (now known as The Lake Placid Center for the Arts), Dr. Eberl expanded musical dimensions, adding student chairs to bring the Sinfonietta to 20, increasing music library orchestrations, and instituting post-concert wine and cheese receptions to introduce musicians and audience.
Returning after the 1980 Olympics, the conductor discovered a broken plexi-glass panel in the Paul White Memorial Shell. When Cushion Concert audiences learned Lake Placid had no maintenance budget they donated nickels, dime and quarters to replace the panel and bought 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 and Dramatic Arts 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's 54 live events during the year. 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's Mr. Charles Ritchie, then president of their board of trustees, informed the Lake Placid Sinfonietta that CMDA had decided to terminate sponsorship of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta and advised musicians to incorporate to meet an expected major change in CMDA direction. Arts Center 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.
Funded for its' entire 42 years, the Sinfonietta was shocked into facing harsh realities of musical existence. It was also determined to survive. With a $125 fee from Frances Brewster for a performance at the North Elba Historical Society's 1981 annual meeting, and snowballing support from the winter resort's citizens, 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 a legacy of high musical standards to artists and audiences alike. In forming the Lake Placid Sinfonietta, Inc., his summer family has matured to claim its' inheritance.
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. The orchestra was the subject of an hour-long PBS documentary in 1986, 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 ahow, 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 who's unique solo instruments are not always 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 of 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 in March of 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic required the postponement of the summer 2020 performance season until summer 2021. This will be the first summer without the sound of the Sinfonietta in the Adirondacks since the 1945 break caused by WWII.