What is in store for Zankel?: Examining the potential of the Music Center as a cental building on campus

Posted by Alex Brehm

What if the college spent $32 million and built a new building with facilities reserved for you and your field of study?

Think about this the next time you walk into Zankel.

The Arthur Zankel Music Center represents a world of opportunity for the school, the potential to showcase famous musicians, feature talented speakers and service new media to a larger single audience than ever before. It is designed as a space primarily for the benefit of music and performance students, for practicing and teaching. But with the benefit of the cutting-edge space, allowing the campus community to view more student and guest performances than ever before, in a better setting than ever before, we all benefit.

Construction on Zankel was finished for the spring 2010 semester. The building is 54,000 square feet and cost $32.5 million to build. The building is named for Arthur Zankel, a former trustee of the college and philanthropist who donated $15 million to help fund the building's construction.

The building was cited frequently at the faculty meeting in November as a new symbol of success. College administrators believe attraction to Zankel is partly to account for the unprecedented enrollment in this year's first-year class.

Generally, the space is used for education. "The primary use of Zankel is to serve the college's institutional needs," said Amanda Boehmer, Concerts and Events manager at Zankel. According to the Zankel mission statement, those needs include "the teaching, learning, and performance needs of the college music department and the Office of Special Programs."

In her position, Boehmer serves many roles, primarily contacting performers or their agents and scheduling events, planning shows a year or more in advance. She oversees the production of the calendar of events and reports on Zankel's progress to the music department and Special Programs. Boehmer also assists in the college's new Arts Administration program.

Boehmer says that most of her energy, and that of the other executives running Zankel, is focused on "getting through this first year" successfully.  She wants to establish a clear brand identity and have visitors equate Zankel with quality performance.

Boehmer agrees that Zankel stimulates prospective student interest, and that the building can attract and provide for the most talented young musician. "Most conservatories don't have this practice space." She emphasized that with the new facilities, the college can expect to produce even more high-quality musicians in the future.

The music department is exploring a new relationship with the Albany Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra performed in Zankel in October, and there have been discussions to plan a concert for every semester, including a residency where members of the orchestra will offer master classes to music students.

Earlier this year, Zankel debuted some performances jointly administered with Caffè Lena, the historic folk venue in downtown Saratoga Springs. Caffè Lena began as a small coffeehouse giving folk musicians a space to play when they were just starting out. Performers such as Bob Dylan and Eric Andersen played Lena before they became household names.  This year, Caffè Lena celebrated its 50th anniversary with two concerts in Zankel, featuring Arlo Guthrie at the end of the spring and Ani Difranco this fall. Boehmer beamed over the memory of these performances, saying that it provides cachet with agents when booking new performances. "It really legitimizes us, and I hope it does continue."

Zankel can even serve as a space for watching films. "Film just works so well in there," Boehmer said. "There's a kickin' A/V system…it's better than a movie theater." The space held a screening of the film "May I Be Frank," about a man who finds a new life after embracing raw food and holistic medicine. Boehmer mentioned the possibility of screening live performance broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

A report by the Zankel Study Group, commissioned by President Philip Glotzbach in 2008, said that beyond providing for education, Zankel will be "a venue for nationally-known guest artists…bringing in audiences from the campus and beyond, serving as a resource for the local and regional community."

"Ultimately, I'd like to see that there isn't a dark night in Zankel," Boehmer said.

The college celebrated the completion of the "Creative Thought, Bold Promise" campaign with a gala opening in Zankel during Celebration Weekend in October. A dedication ceremony was held to commemorate Arthur Zankel and formally dedicate the space in his honor.

The event featured Emmanuel Ax, a widely known pianist and close friend of Arthur Zankel. Ax performed a solo sonata, a concerto with the Skidmore College Orchestra and in a quintet with student Hanna Tonegawa '11, faculty member Michael Emery, and two members of Ensemble ACJW. The presence of the ACJW members is itself significant, as it is a reminder of the college's partnership with Carnegie Hall, receiving outstanding young professional musicians in residency each semester. The performances symbolized the range and caliber of performances the college can share at Zankel from solos to symphonies, from distinguished guests and our very own faculty and students.

Confidence is high in what Zankel offers its students as premier music education. The college community can value, as well, the range of uses the space can offer in the future, and the quality education and entertainment we can gain if the building's directors embrace its full potential. As the Zankel Study Group wrote, the building can find a wide range of uses, across music, dance, visual art, film, theater and lectures.

Zankel has also already demonstrated its potential as a community venue. In particular, the Skidmore College Chorus's production of Carmina Burana last semester showed seamless community presence, as audience, as chorus members and as soloists. Performances frequently draw residents from the surrounding area.

Boehmer acknowledged that Zankel will draw a public presence in the future, much as the Tang Teaching Museum has done for the last 10 years. Boehmer said that even the reputation of the local Saratoga Performing Arts Center is something to aspire to in years to come.

If performances of the quality the college has seen the past year remain regular and become even more frequent, those aspirations can become a reality. Until then, Zankel stands as a proud new gem in the educational power of this college.

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