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Staying Composed
By Shawn Stone

After months of isolated toil, SPAC’s composer-in-residence Behzad Ranjbaran debuts his Saratoga-specific overture

It’s a beautiful night to en -joy the Philadelphia Orchestra in concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Sure, it’s a little humid, but patrons are undeterred: On this recent Wednesday (Aug. 10), the amphitheater is almost full. Couples in folding chairs or on blankets are spaced across the lawn with an almost mathematical equanimity, and the pleasing glow of citronella candles in metal holders dots the same landscape as dusk begins to settle in. The bell begins to toll, letting everyone know that the concert is only minutes away.

This is SPAC at its best, and a fitting backdrop for the world premiere of the Saratoga overture, specially commissioned from this year’s composer-in-residence, Behzad Ranjbaran.

The orchestra, dressed down in what could be called “classical casual” (white shirts/blouses, black pants) has been onstage for a few minutes, tuning up. After the concertmaster does his bit and the musicians settle in, a man walks out onstage and the audience applauds.

The applause is somewhat muted, however, presumably because the crowd, expecting conductor and music director Charles Dutoit, doesn’t recognize this guy.

It’s Ranjbaran. He introduces himself, and tells a bit about how the overture was composed. The background is interesting, because Ranjbaran has combined the esoteric, the historical and purely musical to create the work. He explains that the notes of the main musical materials are “all drawn from these three names”: Charles Dutoit, Saratoga and Philadelphia. He then sings a bit of the lovely hymn-like theme, which charms the audience into applause.

“The overture,” he concludes, “comes to a big finale with a tremendous amount of energy.”

He’s right. The piece is alternately raucous and playful, with quiet moments of melodic beauty building to that big finale, complete with a blazing cannon. (Interestingly, the Times Union reported that the cannon fire drowned out the orchestra inside; on the lawn, the blend of musical and actual explosions was pleasing and effective.)

The following afternoon, Ranjbaran smiles as he reflects on the premiere: “It went really well.”

He explains that after working in solitude for months, a lonely period when “people don’t understand what you’re doing,” it’s almost like the birth of a child.

And, he adds, getting audiences to accept new works can be difficult, as too often “people compare the most-loved repertory works with one new composition.” Despite being paired with two such warhorses, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, this was not the case with his overture and the Saratoga audience.

Ranjbaran adds that he has been delighted with the entire experience of working with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Maestro Dutoit and the musicians, he says happily, understood the music quickly and embraced it with tremendous passion. The orchestra was “so warm and affectionate—I was touched by their expressions of support.”

The rapport is easy to see. Just before sitting down for this interview, he was spending part of this sunny afternoon at the amphitheater, where Dutoit was rehearsing Ranjbaran’s Violin Concerto with the orchestra. The atmosphere was convivial, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves—just as they seemed to be during the previous evening’s performance.

Asked about this, Ranjbaran explains that musicians are “happy whenever we can see the trees,” adding that SPAC’s natural setting “enhances the experience.”

Ranjbaran found out two years ago that he would be SPAC’s artist-in- residence for 2005: “I was very delighted.” Though he had never spent much time upstate, he was immediately drawn to the beauty and history of the area.

The Iranian-born, Juilliard-trained composer teaches at that venerable Manhattan institution, and lives in Long Island. He has earned a wide variety of awards and honors, including the Charles Ives Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Distinguished Artist designation by the New Jersey Council on the Arts. Always busy, he came to Saratoga Springs directly from South Korea, where his Awakening for string orchestra had its world premiere; he jokes that he’s “still 13 hours ahead.”

So far this season he’s premiered two new works here, the Saratoga overture and the Piano Quintet; still to be performed are his Violin Concerto (on Saturday, Aug. 20, by the Philadelphia Orchestra as part of the Grand Finale) and his String Quartet No. 1 (by the Fine Arts Quartet on Sunday, Aug. 21, on the last day of the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival).

The concerto has been chosen by Juilliard as the “required work” for next year’s student violin concerto competition; this is considered a particular honor, as the school will be celebrating its centennial.

“The fact that they chose this for the competition,” Ranjbaran notes, “is a vote of confidence.”

Inevitably, whenever classical music is under discussion, the subject of attracting younger people naturally comes up. This time, a mention of the surprisingly diverse age-range of the previous night’s crowd brings out Ranjbaran’s take on this.

“The idea of repertory,” Ranjbaran says, “is foreign to the younger generation.”

It’s an interesting point. If there’s one thing American pop culture hinges on, it’s the never-ending triumph of the new. Even if it’s based on something old—like, say, movie remakes or samples of old songs in new music—it’s packaged and sold as something wonderfully fresh. (Even if it isn’t.) Consistently mixing new works in with the much-loved standard repertoire, Ranjbaran suggests, is a way to connect with this vast potential audience: “It shows, particularly to new audiences, that there is a future to this music.”

Right now, he’s enjoying playing to the friendly, receptive, actual audience here in Saratoga Springs. Ranjbaran smiles again, and explains “I’ve been very encouraged by their support.”



CONGRESS PARK (Saratoga Springs, 587-3241). Tue: Sonny & Perley.

SARATOGA PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (Saratoga State Park, Saratoga Springs, tickets: 476-1000). Sun: 50 Cent. Tue: Tori Amos, the Ditty Bops.

SARATOGA VISITORS CENTER (Congress Park, Saratoga Springs, 587-3241). Fri: Saratoga Pie Picnic.

SKIDMORE COLLEGE (Tang Museum Rooftop, Saratoga Springs, 580-5320). Fri: Camille West.


THE ALLEY BAR (Long Alley Road, Saratoga, 587-9766). Tue: karaoke with Mark the Shark.

BAILEY’S (Phila and Putnam streets, Saratoga Springs, 583-6060). Thu: Juan & Corbin. Fri: Pangaea. Sat: Rich Ortiz All-Stars. Sun: Chuck Kelsey.

BETTER THAN TOAST (454 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, Sun: Ponies in the Surf.

BRINDISI’S RESTAURANT (390 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-6262). Fri-Sat: High Definition.

CAFFE LENA (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-0022). Thu: open mic (7 PM). Fri-Sun: Melanie.

CIRCUS CAFÉ (392 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-1106). Sat: karaoke with A-Man Productions.

CLUB CAROLINE (13 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0155). Thu: karaoke. Fri: DJ. Sat: DJ. Tue: karaoke.

THE CLUB HOUSE (30 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0686). Fri-Sat: DJ Daniel Van D, hiphop, club mixes.

E. O’DWYER’S (15 Spring St., Saratoga Springs, 583-6476). Fri: Paranoid Social Club. Sat: Jim Weider Band II, Rich Ortiz.

GAFFNEY’S (16 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-7359). Thu: Garland Nelson, Soul Session. Fri: 44 Blues. Sat: Captain Squeeze and the Zydeco Moshers. Sun: Sirsy Duo.

HORSESHOE INN (1 Gridley St., Saratoga Springs, 587-4909). Thu: TS Ensemble. Sun: the Heaters.

KING’S TAVERN (241 Union St., Saratoga Springs, 584-9643). Fri: Brevator, Struction benefit show; Catacomb Gypsy Vagina, K Sonin CD release party. Sat the Sixfifteens CD release party.

9 MAPLE AVENUE (9 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-CLUB). Fri: Mulligan Stew. Sat: Tom Laniewski Quartet.

ONE CAROLINE STREET (1 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-2026). Thu: Dave Payette, Lee Shaw Duo Fri: Mike Tremante, Colleen Pratt & Friends Sat: Scott Bassinson, Dave Payette Trio Sun: TBA Mon: Peg Delaney Tues: Masters of Nostalgia Wed: Scott Bassinson.

THE PARTING GLASS (40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-1916). Thu: the Redeemers. Fri: Good For the Soul. Sat: the Groove Syndicate. Tue: Vesper, Goin’ Nowhere.

SARATOGA CITY TAVERN (Caroline Street and Maple Avenue, Saratoga Springs, 581-3230). Thu: Rick Bolton. Fri: DJ Chris. Sat: DJ Chris. Tue: Dark Day Blues, George Fletcher’s Bourbon Renewal.

SIRO’S (168 Lincoln Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-4030). Thu-Fri: Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience. Sat: Electric City Horns. Sun: Party of Three. Mon: Rocky Velvet. Wed: New York Players.


Life is a Musical, Arts Center Theatre, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Semi-autobiographical one-man production about “the life and mind of a musical playwright.” Through 8/31. $15, $12. 584-4132.


Dance Party, Saratoga Savoy Center of Dance, 7 Wells St., Saratoga Springs. 8/19, 8-11 PM: two rooms of music from Latin to rockabilly. 587-5132.

Diamond Dance, Saratoga Savoy, Saratoga Springs Music Hall, City Hall, Saratoga Springs. 8/20, 8-11:30 PM; dance lesson at 7:30. Music by Sonny and Perley’s Jive Five. $12; includes dance lesson, refreshments and more. 587-5132.

New York City Ballet Workout, Total Body Trifecta Studio, 61 Lawrence St., Saratoga Springs. Mon, 6:15-7:15 PM; Wed, 5:15-6:15 PM. With Mary Ann Fantauzzi. 581-8025.

Tropical Swing, Maui Wowi Surf Shack, 441 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Wed, 9 PM. 580-1433.


Congress Park, Saratoga Springs. 8/21, 6 PM: United States Military Academy Band in concert. Rain location is the Saratoga Springs High School. Free. 587-3241.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs. 8/18, 8:15 PM: Philadelphia Orchestra will perform works by Stravinsky (Suite from Pulcinella), Rimsky-Korsakov, Respighi and, with pianist Martha Argerich, Schumann (Piano Concerto). 8/19, 8:15 PM: Yo-Yo Ma joins the Philadelphia Orchestra for the annual gala, with works by Ravel, Haydn and Strauss. 8/20, 8:15 PM: The Grand Finale, with the Philadelphia Orchestra and guests performing Ranjbaran’s Violin Concerto and Orff’s Carmina Burana. $60-$15. 587-3330.

Spa Little Theater, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 8/21, 2:15 PM: Saratoga Chamber Music Festival presents the Fine Arts Quartet, performing works by Haydn, Ranjbaran and Mendelssohn. $34.50-$29.50. 587-3330.


Arts Center Gallery, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 584-4132. Saratoga Inside Out. Through 9/3.

Circus Café, 392 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 583-1106. Works by Pierre Bellocq. Through 9/5.

Congress Park, Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 584-4132. Also, Public Art Works, featuring works by Lee Nicholls, Bill McTygue, and Michael L. Noonan. Through 12/31.

Craven Books, 441 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 583-0025. Horses on Broadway, paintings by Sharon Crute. Through 8/31.

Gallery 100, 445 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-0818. Photographs by Phillip V. Caruso. Through 8/28.

Gotchya’s Trading Co., 68 Beekman St., Saratoga Springs. 584-5772. Truth Be Told, paintings by Chris Murray. Through 9/2.

National Museum of Dance, 99 S. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 584-2225. Dancing Rebels, an exhibit highlighting the work of the New Dance Group. Through May 2006.

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, 191 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs. 584-0400. Peb: The Art of Humor, featuring cartoons and caricatures by Pierre Bellocq, celebrating horses and racing personalities. Through 12/31. Also, 11th Annual Horsing Around with the Arts student art show. Through 9/30. Also, Golden Memories: Fifty Years of the Racing Hall of Fame; also, paintings from the Charles H. Thierot Collection. Through 12/31.

New York State Military Museum, 61 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs. 581-5100. New York’s Fighting Zouaves. Through Oct. 2005. Also, Battleground for Freedom: New York during the Revolutionary War. Ongoing. Also, To the Standard: Civil War Cavalry Flags from the NYS Battle Flag Collection. Ongoing.

Saratoga Automobile Museum, 110 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs. 587-1935 ext. 20. East of Detroit, and New York Racing exhibit. Ongoing.

Saratoga County Arts Council, Member Exhibition Hall, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 584-4132. Works by Paul Arnold. Through 8/31.

Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs. 584-7860. Works by Monique Lemaire. Through 8/31.

Saratoga Visitors Center, 297 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 587-3241. Works by Robert Ewell. Through 8/29.

Skidmore College, Schick Art Gallery, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-5049. Anything But Realism, group exhibition. Through 9/22.

Spring Street Gallery, 110 Spring St., Saratoga Springs. 587-6433. Pathways, paintings by Joanne K. Murphy. Through 8/31.

Tang Teaching Museum and Gallery, Skidmore College, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-8080. Weapons of Mass Dissemination: The Propaganda of War. Through 10/30. Also, Opener 9: Michael Oatman. Through 9/5.


National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, 191 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs. 8/24, 11 AM: A panel discussion with people who work behind the scenes in important jobs at the racetrack. 584-0400.


Malta/Saratoga Farmers Market, Dave Meager Community Center, Route 9, Malta. Tuesdays, 11 AM-2 PM.

Saratoga Farmers Market, High Rock Park, High Rock Avenue, Saratoga Springs. Saturdays, 9 AM-1 PM; Wednesdays, 3-6 PM.



Saratoga Mountain Bike Association. Informal rides Tuesdays 6 PM, Sundays 10 AM. 788-0847,

Saratoga Polo Association, Bloomfield and Denton roads, Saratoga Springs. Matches every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday through 9/4, weather permitting. Gates open 4 PM, start time 5:30 PM. Post-game dinners 7:10 PM. $8 per person or $20 per carload. Under 16 free. Season passes available. 584-8108,

Saratoga SHOTS

A Storm Cat colt was purchased in auction for $3.1-million to top the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga two night sale of thoroughbred race horses in Saratoga last Wednesday night.


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