LAKE PLACID - There's a misconception that Lake Placid Sinfonietta Executive Director Deborah Fitts only works in July and August, when the professional orchestra performs the bulk of its concerts.
"I just laugh," Fitts said about hearing those comments.
From the outside world, people see the Sinfonietta's core product, the summer concert series in Mid's Park and in more formal settings such as the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Most orchestras operate on an academic schedule from September to May, which is why the Sinfonietta is able to lure top musicians to Lake Placid for the summer. But managing a seasonal orchestra doesn't make Fitts' job any easier.
Lake Placid Sinfonietta Executive Director Deborah Fitts dives into the Victor Herbert file in the organization’s music library at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. (Photo — Andy Flynn)
"They may have 18 concerts over the course of 10 months," Fitts said. "We have 18 concerts in six weeks, and it's just as much work to get ready for those as it is to get ready for those spread out over the year."
Spreading out multiple pages of her to-do list on the desk, spanning all 12 months of the year, Fitts pointed to the start of the Sinfonietta's fiscal year: Oct. 1. Asked what her job entails, she said, "Everything," which is typical for a nonprofit executive director with a small staff. She works full time and answers to a 23-member board of directors, including Music Director Ron Spigelman and three other musician representatives. She also has a part-time development coordinator, a summer music librarian, a summer production manager and a summer intern.
Fitts' job duties include bookkeeping, bill paying, grant writing, grant administration, program activities, marketing, contract management, tax filing, insurance, employee and volunteer management, and working with the board of directors.
Asked if Fitts likes the variety, she said, "It suits me. I like this job. I don't know what I like the most. It's a good fit."
You can tell by the way Fitts lays out her tiny office at the LPCA Annex - and the way she marks up her to-do list - that she is well-organized.
"Anybody who does this has to be well-organized because it would make you crazy if you weren't," Fitts said.
March, though, was a special month, but not special in a good way.
"March is scary to me," Fitts said, "because by March, the year is six months over for us and literally, in my mind, I should have everything done for the summer. And I have not been able to achieve that in all the time I've been here. ... March is just frightening."
In addition to the everyday tasks of operating an office, the Sinfonietta staff publishes a newsletter in March. They continue to solicit advertising support for their program books, and they've extended the deadline. Plus Fitts was busy this winter meeting new requirements for the Sinfonietta's New York State Council on the Arts grant, and grant work is ongoing. Development of the orchestra's new website - which launched this past week - began in October.
"One of the things I planned to do in March was to update my publicity contact list," Fitts said, looking at her to-do list. "I didn't do that. ... I hate to look at this because now I'm seeing all these things I didn't do."
The Lake Placid Sinfonietta dates to the first summer of America's involvement in World War I, the summer of 1917, when members of the Boston Symphony Ensemble began giving summer concerts at the Lake Placid Club. In 1939, Dr. Paul White, who was the associate conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Eastman School Symphony, formed the Lake Placid Club Sinfonietta consisting mostly of members of the Rochester Philharmonic. After a brief break during World War II, White regrouped the Sinfonietta and opened it up to a wider selection of professional musicians from around the country, which is the trademark of today's orchestra. Music from all those years is stored in the Sinfonietta's music library at the LPCA.
Growing up in Rouses Point and attending high school at Northeastern Clinton in Champlain, Fitts wasn't dreaming of stardom as a professional musician. She initially went into a music career as an educator, earning a bachelor's degree in music education from the Crane School of Music in Potsdam and a master's degree in education from St. Lawrence University in Canton. She's been with the Lake Placid Sinfonietta since 1997, and she's proud of her work.
"To have a community this size, to have an orchestra this good, is very, very unusual," Fitts said. "I have not found another professional orchestra that exists in a community this size. All the other orchestras that are our budget size exist in communities that are about 100,000 or 150,000 people and up."
The Sinfonietta belongs to the League of American Orchestras, which includes about 800 members, from community groups to professional orchestras.
Lake Placid's orchestra draws musicians from around the country, including several from the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, one of the top orchestras in the U.S. The concertmaster, Daniel Szasz, is the concertmaster of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta. The principal horn, David Pandolfi, is the principal horn of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta.
"Those are two leadership positions in the world of orchestras," Fitts said. "We also have two violinists who are in the Alabama Symphony (Anne Pandolfi and Karl Braaten). And the reason they come here - probably to get out of Alabama in July and August - is we can provide them with a really satisfying artistic experience, and we get the benefit of having top musicians. Most of our musicians come from big orchestras from around the country."
When Fitts began at the Sinfonietta, her budget was almost half of what it is today. They get 37-40 percent of their operational revenue from individual donations, and that comes from the work of the board of directors.
"And the budget being what it costs to do what we do at the bare minimum, not what we would like to do," Fitts said. "And every year it gets a little bit harder. Our expenses keep going up, but the revenues stay pretty flat."
In addition to moving her office from the LPCA Annex to the center's main building this spring, Fitts will be helping with the Sinfonietta's annual membership drive.
"We need to do that because we need to have enough money in the bank when the season starts to pay the musicians," Fitts said. "That's our biggest cost."
The orchestra's payroll is about half of the overall expenses, which will be almost $268,000 in 2014. Fiscal obligations aside, once the summer concerts begin, the staff and the public will be reminded why having a professional orchestra in Lake Placid is such a special treat.
"I think more people see the orchestra in the park outside or in a casual setting than come to the concert hall to see it," Fitts said. "It's a different experience. ... Out in the park, you're watching the music and watching the boaters and the seagulls and the kids dancing, and you can't really hear the music very well. You can hear it. It's in the background, you're outside and it's lovely. But when you're in the concert hall, it's an entirely different experience. It's very exciting. It's live music played as well as it can be played. And that's fun."