It began with a wake-up call
In early February 1961, Albany newspaperman Duane La Fleche noted a wire service report about a group hoping to entice New York Philharmonic to make Stowe, Vermont its summer residence.
The item set off alarm bells
"It seems very wrong," La Fleche wrote in his column, "that a New York orchestra should have to look outside the State for a summer residence. Wouldn't the State Reservation at Saratoga Springs make a nice location?"
The Big Bang, Circa 1961
La Fleche's modest proposal triggered a chain reaction of historic proportions. Local civic, cultural and legislative leaders, who had previously considered a Saratoga Arts Center an interesting possibility, were galvanized into action. Within a week, they held their first meeting; within a month they were focusing on Saratoga Spa State Park as the site, had won the support of State Conservation Commissioner Harold Wilm, and begun discussions with both the Philharmonic and New York City Ballet.
How we got there
The group funded start-up costs out of their own pockets. Then came the more formidable challenge of demonstrating community-wide support to foundations and philanthropists whose backing would be critical. The community came through in record time. Money came from nickels and dimes from school kids; tens, hundreds, and thousands raised at dinners and galas; and even in donated stud fees from the area racing community. By summer 1963, generous contributions from Rockefeller Brothers Fund and New York State supplemented community support to ensure the dream would become reality.
The vision takes form
Ironically, New York Philharmonic had dropped out of consideration. But the project had a momentum of its own. New York City Ballet's cofounders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein helped define both SPAC's physical form and artistic agenda. Soon, The Philadelphia Orchestra came into the picture, with artistic director Eugene Ormandy offering his input.
In February 1964
Just three years after La Fleche's article, Richard Leach became SPAC's first executive director, adding his programming experience at Lincoln Center to the mix. Shortly, thereafter, The Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City Ballet formalized their commitments to the center. Ground was broken by Governor Rockefeller on June 30.
The SPAC Amphitheatre was created as a nurturing environment for great art. One hundred ten feet high (the equivalent of 10 stories), it is sited in a natural, curved bowl surrounded by towering pines and sweeping lawns. Inside are sheltered seats for 5,200 people; outside, the sloping lawn accommodates an additional 20,000.
The stage was designed to accommodate a full symphony orchestra, with a floor especially engineered for NYCB. Arnold H. Vollmer designed the floor honoring the wishes of George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein making the original floor a design marvel. With insights from Maestro Ormandy and working with a scale model and exotic testing devices, Paul S. Veneklassen designed a series of baffles and sound-reflecting surfaces to draw out the full depth of the music, making SPAC one of the world's most acoustically acclaimed outdoor performance venues.