The Zankel Music Center on the Skidmore College Campus opened in 2010. The 54,000 sq-ft facility features the 600-seat, acoustically brilliant Helen Filene Ladd Concert Hall. In addition, the building also houses a 100-seat lecture and recital hall, rehearsal and practice rooms, and the Skidmore Music Department. It’s not uncommon to walk into Zankel and hear the sublime sounds of piano, violin, or operatic singing floating through the corridors. A campus and community asset, it welcomes roughly 25,000 visitors each year.
The mission at Zankel is two-fold: 1) to strengthen it’s role as a cultural resource for upstate New York by refining and expanding it’s world-class programming, and 2) to diversify and transform Skidmore’s music program in collaboration with faculty. The concert hall features tunable acoustic “clouds” and a look resembling Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall (named for Arthur and his wife, Judy). A unique offering among regional venues, hits a sweet spot in capacity, aesthetics, and experience of sound. A regional best kept secret outside of the Saratoga Springs community, one which the facilities newest addition Zhenelle LeBel looks to change.
Zhenelle LeBel joined Skidmore College as the Managing Director of the Arthur Zankel Music Center on August 1 of this year. Previously, she was with an important Troy based performance space, the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where she was a senior arts administrator for the curatorial team.
Programming at the Zankel spans a range of musical genres, from Western classical to jazz to music from cultures around the globe. The audience reflects that in its multi-generational and multi-ethnic composition. In coming seasons, Zhenelle states that they will interrogate these genres with questions like: What happens if you center Black experiences and expressions of classical music? Where are the women in jazz? Is the term “world music” problematic, from the perspective of American colonialism? They plan on supporting these dialogues with lectures, screenings, and related convenings with the aim to include a diversity of voices.
Zankel is bustling with the student body daily, between students enrolled in Music programs and a staff of around 30 student employees who help run events. They also facilitate collaborations across departments, working with faculty and their students to engage campus with programs that complement the events–master classes and workshops, screenings, talks, and exhibits, understanding that these interdisciplinary activities enrich the arts for all.
“These collaborations have a direct impact on student’s awareness of and interest in performances at Zankel, and are what I think contribute most to their attendance. Unlike our public audience, who attends primarily for entertainment, the Skidmore community shows up because in most cases, they’ve gained a new way of relating to the music and are curious. We love to inspire curiosity!” Zhenelle LeBel
A RICH PEDIGREE
The Zankel has had laudable roster of talent perform on stage including: Branford Marsalis, Jon Baptiste, Emanuel Ax, Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, Paul Simon, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. In addition to presenting student recitals each semester, which is seen as an essential service to provide burgeoning artists the opportunity to perform for an audience, they also welcome performances by professionals who may be emerging in their field.
As for near future developments and focus, Zhenelle says, “Next year will bring exciting changes to our program, with new artistic residencies and a shift toward more multi-disciplinary performances. I am working on a thematic framework for our 2023/24 season that seeks to respond to some of my earlier questions, curating artists whose music both uplifts and informs. Can’t name names just yet!“
Follow them on social media to keep abreast of the new programming as it develops or reach out to Zhenelle directly.
IG: | FB: @zankelmusiccenter