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Elizabeth Sobol: Music as Life

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All the world’s a stage!” William Shakespeare penned in As You Like It.

This sums up Elizabeth Sobol’s collective experiences and life thus far. She has inspired many with her leadership savvy and eye for talent after spending decades in New York City, first running global talent agency IMG Artists, then Universal Music Classics, the only female label president at Universal. Elizabeth split her time between her apartment in Miami Beach and office in Midtown Manhattan until 18 months ago, when she decided to make Saratoga Springs her home as the new President and CEO of Saratoga Performing Arts Center, or SPAC. Now in her second season at the beloved performing arts venue, it’s clear that her talents are suited to a T.

While considering the position at SPAC, Elizabeth spent some time exploring Saratoga and the region and she was taken by the architectural beauty of downtown, the lush parks and green space, the independent bookstores, such as Northshire Books and Lyrical Ballad, and the local jazz clubs and lively music scene that the city boasted.

“As I walked around downtown Saratoga, I felt this wonderful vibe and rhythm and sense of community. I was impressed by the vibrancy of the arts and cultural scene that existed in this region, so much so that my husband and I were convinced to make the big move,” Elizabeth explained.

Beginning with Music
Born in a small town in North Carolina, she and her younger sister, who still lives in her hometown, grew up in a modest family. “My four grandparents were mill workers and had second-grade educations. My grandmother loved singing songs and telling stories and I used to sit on the front porch swing, while she sang songs and told stories,” she noted. “My parents were the first in their family to attend college. My mom taught yoga, played the flute and sang and performed whenever she could, and my dad became a highly respected attorney.”

Inspired by her mother’s love of classical music, Elizabeth started playing piano at age six and became obsessed with it. She attended the North Carolina School of the Arts Conservatory at 13 to focus on her piano studies. She dreamed of a career as a concert pianist and pursued this for a number of years until age 18, when she began to go out into the world and hear great pianists.

“I realized I was never going to be a great pianist and I didn’t want to be a mediocre one,” she smiled. “Right around that time, I met two amazing women from NYC who had come to NCSA to give a career symposium; one was a publicist in classical music and one an impresaria in classical music. A light bulb went off and I knew I wanted to do what they did—live in New York City and help artists to build their careers.”

Finding Laser Focus
She went to the dean of her music school and told him she knew she would not be the next Martha Argerich. He and her piano teacher arranged internships in New York City for her, and she went off to intern at a small start-up that was later acquired by IMG, the premier sports marketing company.

“I was at IMG Artists from the beginning. The agency had a meteoric rise to success, and I was an integral part of it as we went from startup to global leader over the course of 15 years,” she explained. “I stayed for 30 years and over the course of that time, I went from intern to managing director, representing many key celebrities across a number of genres.”

Her move to Miami arose from another life changing experience; she heard and fell in love with Cuban music on tour in Mexico with Itzhak Perlman. She learned to dance salsa, speak Spanish and play Afro-Cuban percussion. She started signing a number of Latin music artists, included Albita, a GRAMMY®-winning Cuban-American singer who was a protégé of Emilio Estefan.

During that period, she met and fell in love with her husband, Jorge Gomez, Albita’s music director, who later became the founder and music director of the three-time GRAMMY-nominated Cuban band, Tiempo Libre. Beginning in 2002, she commuted back and forth between her apartment in Miami Beach and her office in Midtown Manhattan. She and Jorge married in 2005.

Music: A Force for Good
Elizabeth assures us she loves great music of every kind, from world to hip-hop to jazz, as well as classical, and she’s always on the lookout for the best. She is intensely inspired by beauty and by doing good in the world. “Bringing beauty into the world is one of the ways we make the world better,” she said.

“Everybody has their gifts and ways to make the world better, and when I see people experiencing music and dance together, they lose all of their inhibitions and sense of otherness,” she reflected. “When you’re dancing or singing in a group, you’re not thinking of your differences; you are thinking intuitively of how you connect with other human beings. It’s very hard to be dismissive of or hateful to someone you feel that kind of connection with. You may have differences, but you also feel empathy and compassion cultivated through shared experiences of incredible art-making. And when you are at SPAC, there is another big piece: we are not just connected with human beings, we feel that connection to nature. To be involved in creating those sorts of connections is a huge gift.”

Innovation at SPAC
What is coming up at SPAC? One big new initiative is the Out of this World Festival, which goes back to the connection between art and nature, the nexus between art and cosmos. At SPAC, visitors can experience the night sky and stars while also participating in the wondrous sounds of great music. “For instance, the Philadelphia Orchestra will perform Holst’s The Planets – An HD Odyssey, alongside video installations of NASA space footage to accompany the music. It’s the artists’ representation of the cosmos,” she shared. “The audience will then walk over to the reflecting pool, where astronomers and telescopes will be on hand to give everyone a look at the actual cosmos.

“And there are many other experiences. Our upcoming family program Meet the Music! Albert and Wolfgang, will explore the connection between Mozart’s music and the discoveries of Einstein,” she added. “An amazing speaker series will include The Artistic Astronaut Nicole Stott, a former NASA astronaut and the first to paint a watercolor in space; Diane Ackerman, a poet, science writer and author of The Zookeeper’s Wife, in conversation with Dava Sobel, author of Galileo’s Daughter and The Glass Universe; and theoretical physicist, cosmologist and jazz musician Stephon Alexander, author of The Jazz of Physics, who will talk about the music of the spheres, the underlying music of the universe.”

On July 20, SPAC will host a daylong festival, Shakespeare in the Pines, during which festival-goers can experience some of the sonnets, the great soliloquy from Hamlet, and a one-hour musical adaptation of Romeo + Juliet directed by Folger Theatre actor Louis Butelli. Visitors can wander around the grounds of SPAC, immersing themselves in the incredible language of Shakespeare, then see his great work, Romeo + Juliet, transformed into great ballet on the amphitheater stage.

Personal Connection
When she’s not working with incredible artists and musicians, Elizabeth enjoys hiking the Adirondacks and reading. She reads anything she finds well-written and thought-provoking, from poetry and literary novels to physics, Eastern philosophy, botany and neuroscience.

Elizabeth’s advice for other women desiring to follow their dreams is succinct. “I’m not a believer in ‘you can have it all.’ That approach to life burns you out faster than anything. Women need to feed their souls with the things that fulfill them. Unfortunately, it is still true that in the corporate world, women have to perform at 150 percent all the time, possessing a sense of drive, interest, belief and purpose.

“But it is also important to bring their other unique gifts to the table: curiosity, collaboration and compassion. I happen to be a very competitive person, but I find that competition is not always the best quality in arts organizations. When you look at SPAC and see that we have a year-round staff of 20, swelling to 450 people in summer, you know that it takes a village to do everything we do. You can’t be out there competing. You have to be collaborating and inspiring.”

Make plans to attend the array of inspiring events this summer at SPAC. And let the creative experiences revive and renew
your spirit.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center is located at 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs, New York. Call 518-584-9330 and visit for upcoming schedules and more information.