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Music at the Ballet

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In Sunday’s Washington Post, Philip Kennicott ponders the phenomenon of lousy music at ballet performances.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...7022300419.html

Which leads to a troubling thought: Are ballet audiences simply indifferent to music? The evidence isn't encouraging. Ballet orchestras tend to be much worse than symphony orchestras or those that accompany opera. For years, the New York City Ballet Orchestra has been beyond embarrassing, producing not music but a barren hodgepodge of feints in the general direction of what the composer called for, all held together with a leaden hand by the conductor. The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra can sound like two entirely unrelated groups, depending not only on who is conducting but whether the music is accompanying dancers or singers. It's always worse for dance.

Comments?

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The problem starts in the studio! Either there's a CD player that regurgitates the same old tunes time after time, or there's a superannuated pianist who's too deaf to hear that he/she is playing at rock show decibel level (well, almost). This explains why at least part of the audience may be oblivious to poor music - well, it's a darn sight better than what they heard when they did ballet.

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It's inevitable. As sz told us when some of us were complaining about 'Nutcracker' tempi, the dancers even in NYCB have no say regarding the music--when it is a matter that ought to concern their ability to dance to it. Singers would necessarily have much more power to make suggestions and demands in opera and anything else sung, there is a sense of greater importance to other musicians than dancers, no matter what anyone says. Most of the dancers are also not going to be concerned about the performances of the music other than those which affect their own efforts, i.e., the troubled horns they'll hear but these will not haunt their nights.

The other side is the musicians' side: This is not very nice to say, but if this is the case at that most music-oriented of ballet companies, the NYCB, then there is still, relatively speaking, also some sense that the music is accompanying the dance, that it is secondary. In fact, there is not even 'some sense', it's a fact and it's always been lived with. The musicians may be fine players, but they do not consider it to be the great job working for the big orchestras would be; and they would be right. There's no such thing as a James Levine making a seamless golden orchestra for a ballet company. As to whether it's actually getting worse, I don't have any opinions except for not expecting all that much ever from the ballet orchestras, and being disgusted at undanceable tempi. If Gergiev turned out to be a happy surprise, nevertheless he was a guest conductor, and Haglund's reports that it was an upgrade, but not that much more.

Articles complaining about this, if numerous enough, may help, but I doubt it. I don't like to hear messes at the ballet, but I have never held ballet orchestras to the standard that one holds a symphony orchestra or great opera house orchestra, and it is not even realistic to do so.

There is never going to be a ballet orchestra to achieve what one finds at Bayreuth or even in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so it's best to go on and keep complaining and criticizing and hope that they will get at least slightly less sloppy.

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there's a superannuated pianist who's too deaf to hear that he/she is playing at rock show decibel level (well, almost). This explains why at least part of the audience may be oblivious to poor music - well, it's a darn sight better than what they heard when they did ballet.

I'm not quite superannuated, but the ones who are are 'not deaf' and they are doing what they have been told to do. That remark about the 'superannuated pianists who are too deaf to hear' is objectionable. I've been fired from doing ballet classes because I wouldn't do the hokey cornball stuff a lot of ballet teachers want; it's their decision, and they like those old-timers who bang it out. These dance class pianists are not at the top of various musical fields, but they are the ones the ballet masters like; I think Helene mentioned something a few months back about Dianne Chilgren, formerly of NYCB and now with PNB, describing how Balanchine even wanted a different kind of sound for the 'all-business' or rather 'technique-focussed' aspects that are part of dance class. Also, this accounts for none of the audience, it accounts only for those who were in 'ballet class studio' situations, so it accounts only for the dancers themselves who may well like a lousy orchestra better than the pianist who made it possible to keep in time properly, when they weren't able to do it any other way. It also seems to assume that there is a sizeable group of balletgoers who never heard any other music except what they heard in ballet class and then at the performance with the mediocre orchestra. .

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Lots to delight in (or be outraged by) this article, though he makes so many points -- and so wickedly -- that it will take some time to digest. Here's the first bit of in-your-face that struck me as I read:

But it never seems to matter to ballet audiences, who show up nonetheless, and don't clamor for better treatment from the musicians in the pit. Perhaps it's because they've been given a kind of reverse ear training, as they grow up learning the great classics of dance. Throughout much of the 19th century, the music written for ballet was mostly trash. Churned out by composers such as Leon Minkus, Adolphe Adam and Leo Delibes, most ballet scores were aural wallpaper.

Tchaikovsky changed this, setting a standard that choreographers such as George Balanchine (raised very much in the world of Russian ballet that Tchaikovsky helped define) would try to uphold. But choosing good music (and Balanchine, with a few exceptions, chose the best) doesn't mean that performances will be adequate. Minkus and Co. seem to take their revenge: Ruin bad music and who notices? But ruin Stravinsky or Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev and you've done some serious artistic mischief.

I really do admire "reverse ear training." The unfairness lies in ascribing this almost exclusively to us ballet fans, who, poor dears, always fear that showing anything by adoration for the orchestra will be punished by the awful retribution of replacing the musicians with tapes.

My general thoughts on this:

(1) Like papetepatrick, I don't expect or want the Berlin Philharmoni. After all, I become absorbed fairly easily in the movements.

(2) the musicians I hear seem quite professional and competent and are probably capable of much more than they end up performing as an ensemble;

(3) I DO resent a conductor who seems oblivious to what is going on onstage, or wishes to dominate it, for whatever reason he or she may have.

(4) If anyone in the pit -- conductor or player -- feels a lowering of status or self-esteem for playing in a ballet orchestra, they should not be there.

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...or there's a superannuated pianist who's too deaf to hear that he/she is playing at rock show decibel level (well, almost)

A friend who graduated from the piano faculty of a Soviet conservatory once explained to me that being assigned as accompanist to a ballet company was considered the least desirable position a pianist could get. Why? Because of the smell. (I guess it negates the charms of staring at half-naked dancers all day.) No offence to the ballet accompanists out there, but it may be that the most gifted musicians don't want to get anywhere near sweaty dance studios.

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Throughout much of the 19th century, the music written for ballet was mostly trash. Churned out by composers such as Leon Minkus, Adolphe Adam and Leo Delibes, most ballet scores were aural wallpaper.

Minkus and Co. seem to take their revenge: Ruin bad music and who notices? But ruin Stravinsky or Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev and you've done some serious artistic mischief.

I really don't care much for this guy's writing, now that there's been a bit more discussion. While I'm no big fan of Minkus and Adam, it is absurd to say 'ruin bad music and who notices?' What a toffee-nosed thing to say, show off all that high-toned taste. Of course, even mediocre music can sound light years better with a good orchestra than without one, and this is obviously not confined to ballet. Opera is full of trash, and it can be enjoyable if well-performed. Drigo's 'Corsaire' things are hokey and they sound wonderful if well-played even though they might be used at the circus quite effectively (the choreography is pretty corny too, but so what if it's not 'Agon'? I think with Minkus and Adam, those are really the kinds of scores to speed up, if one makes certain to not start racing the dancers again. And it's all a matter of opinion anyway: I love Tchaikovsky, but Pierre Boulez says 'I hate Tchaikovsky and so other people can conduct him'. I assume this would mean he wouldn't worry that 'artistic mischief' had been done, if it's a composer he literally claims to 'hate.' I also don't think the NYCB orchestra is nearly always 'beyond embarassing', although I have decided that people will write anything. The levels of journalism I'm seeing at many big-name journals are beginning to floor me with their twitty pretentiousness and downright stupidity. And Delibes's score for 'Copellia' is not trash, by any means.

And there's even the 'trash' of the concert hall. The piano concertos of Saint-Saens are all considered 'trash' by many highbrow types--not one of whom can toss them off with such aplomb as Aldo Ciccolini so that such idle talk would never even come to mind. It's also, for example, much more common to hear talk about Liszt's various works of 'trash' by critics than it is from professionals. They're involved with doing a good job of making it work.

Bart--I don't think most players in a ballet orchestra consider it at all a demeaning job, but it is obviously not going to be the thing to aspire to any more than a young ballet dancer aspires to spend her entire career in the corps if she could be a soloist. That's just reality. The problem I think comes more from the heads, the ballet masters themselves, and then the conductors, not demanding or not having the time to demand and give priority to the music. In that case, they need to ask for expert advice, and all the big companies could definitely have first-rate orchestras if they gave it a high enough priority. There's also exhaustion, lack of rehearsal, just as there is for the dancers. But the Heads of the Ballet Companies would have it in their power to do some improvement, if they themselves can hear the need and have the taste to give it proper attention. It's simply not realistic to expect a ballet orchestra to ever be able to maintain the level of a symphony orchestra, because the music is never featured in the same pure way; it is secondary to dance.

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I agree with Mr. Kennicott about the level of orchestra quality at NYCB - but not with the fact that it goes unnoticed by critics. There's only so many times one can mention that the orchestra sounds dreadful before you just give up including it. The situation is a lot better in state supported companies - both London and Paris have excellent orchestras working with their ballet companies (I assume they're part of the Opera orchestra in both places, correct?)

As for his dismissal of Adam, Delibes and Minkus in the same swipe of the pen (I'll disagree with you PP and defend Adam's score for Giselle - I happen to love it) well, Kennicott has different standards for what makes a good score. First and foremost for ballet, it needs to have a rhythm to support choreography and dance. If that's not there, it can be as sonically beautiful as one wishes and it won't help. Though I think many balletgoers (particularly those raised on Balanchine) are quite discerning about music, we're here to see dancing first. Plenty of great composers couldn't make a decent ballet score.

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Ironically, the quality of music can be better in the provinces than it is in places like New York. Where I live, ballet and opera performances are infrequent, so the local symphony orchestra, which is perfectly respectable, accompanies the performances of the local ballet and opera companies. The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra does a much better job of The Nutcracker than the New York City Ballet Orchestra, I can tell you that.

And as Leigh Witchel points out, the in-house ballet companies of state-subsidized opera houses often have excellent orchestras at their disposal. Consider that in order to be eligible for the Vienna Philharmonic, a musician has to be a member of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, and that includes playing for ballet performances:

When Hans Knappertsbusch said that the Philharmonic was "incomparable," his comment was correct in more ways than one. One notable aspect of this incomparability is certainly the unique relationship between the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and the private association known as the Vienna Philharmonic. In accordance with Philharmonic statutes, only a member of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra can become a member of the Vienna Philharmonic. Before joining the Philharmonic therefore, one must first successfully audition for a position with the State Opera Orchestra and prove oneself capable over a period of three years before becoming eligible to submit an application for membership in the association of the Vienna Philharmonic. The engagement in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra provides the musicians a financial stability which would be impossible to attain without relinquishing their autonomy to private or corporate sponsors. This independence which the Philharmonic musicians enjoy through the opera is returned in kind due to a higher level of artistic performance gained through the orchestra's experience on the concert podium. Without the Vienna State Opera there would be no Vienna Philharmonic as we know it, and in Vienna it is common knowledge that this symbiosis is advantageous for both institutions, and that it greatly enriches the city's musical life.

http://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at

I've sometimes wondered why a dancer would wish to work at the Vienna State Opera, where opera is definitely king and ballet is something of a poor relation, but I suppose the quality of the orchestral playing would be a very attractive incentive.

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This is very important what Leigh and volcanohunter say. Since I don't get to those companies, they come here rarely, and when I have gotten to London and Paris I've never gone to the ballet, I had not much to compare NYCB orchestra with. In student days I was an usher one summer at the Met, where there were pick-up orchestras far inferior to the NYCB orchestra for companies like Stuttgart and Cuban Nacional, so I didn't know there was a vast difference among ballet orchestras. However, this is material Kennicott should have known to if he was going to write about bad ballet orchestra performance. He should have known everything volcanohunter said about small places like Edmonton, but certainly about POB and RB.

If it is true that one of the most unique ballet companies in the world does not have nearly as good an orchestra as it could have -- and this is seemingly well-known, proved by the fact that it has been possible in Vienna, Paris, and London--then it is unquestionably a lesser company than I thought it was, because even if the dancing is the most important thing, a bad orchestra is not excusable in a great company. While this crossing with opera orchestras may be very effective, it still is probably not the only means to get a decent ballet orchestra, and so, if nothing else, NYCB orchestra ought to be pronounced a disgrace.

I disagree with Leigh only in that there are only so many times it can be said to be dreadful before you stop including it; if it is that bad, it should be included in every single review. So there is a certain lack of credibility in NYCB if its orchestra is so grotesque by comparison with other major companies.

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Does NYCB's orchestra also play for New York City Opera? Is it employed by the NYST? If not, maybe the opera orchestra could accompany the ballet (if it's better). Then we'd have better music and the musicians would get more weeks of work.

I haven't been employed as one, but it seems to me that being a ballet class pianist must be a rather thankless job. One must have endless pieces of music memorized and be able to alter them and improvise at the drop of a hat, not to mention play music for an art form one is totally unacquainted with, and the pianist must do all this at the direction of someone with, at best, little music training, and I'm sure it's just as painful for the pianist as it is for me when the students dance at their own tempi anyway.

That said, I couldn't agree more with papeetepatrick that playing bad music badly helps neither the music nor the dancers and musicians, and much ballet music is quite good (and plenty of opera and concert music isn't). I remember reading on this board a while ago (maybe Alexandra wrote it?) that the Kirov orchestra played Adam's score for Giselle as if it were Tchaikovsky, and it made all the difference.

Final thought: Musique dansante is just not the same as concert music, and that doesn't necessarily make it bad. I wouldn't want to listen to "Giselle" without the dancing, but it is perfect for the choreography and action. Music that is illustrating a plot doesn't have to sound like a choir of angels or be a deep study in complexity (the dancing is why we're there, after all) and if one recognizes that such music fulfills the purpose for which it is written and should therefore not be compared to more pretentious music, it does not seem unharmonious (pardon the pun).

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I trace the decline of the NYCB Orchestra back to the late 60s, when Balanchine would say, "If you don't like the dancing, close your eyes and listen to the music. We have a wonderful orchestra." Then they went on strike. Balanchine's next word on them? "Don't talk to me about them! They are monsters!" In one action the orchestra had become The Enemy, and the long fade into semi-competence had begun.

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Does NYCB's orchestra also play for New York City Opera? Is it employed by the NYST? If not, maybe the opera orchestra could accompany the ballet (if it's better). Then we'd have better music and the musicians would get more weeks of work.

They are not the same orchestra. There is a good deal of rehearsal overlap between seasons, so it is not feasible. Many of the NYCO's musicians play in the ABT orchestra after the opera closes.

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there's a superannuated pianist who's too deaf to hear that he/she is playing at rock show decibel level (well, almost). This explains why at least part of the audience may be oblivious to poor music - well, it's a darn sight better than what they heard when they did ballet.

I'm not quite superannuated, but the ones who are are 'not deaf' and they are doing what they have been told to do. That remark about the 'superannuated pianists who are too deaf to hear' is objectionable. I've been fired from doing ballet classes because I wouldn't do the hokey cornball stuff a lot of ballet teachers want; it's their decision, and they like those old-timers who bang it out.

I'm sorry if I offended you, papeetepatrick, I was (partly) joking. However, while there is you and, I am sure, a lot of other excellent pianists, none of this kind have ever found their way into any studio I danced or teach in. And boy, would I love to have a musical pianist! I am fully aware, of course, that the low pay and tiring hours make this very unlikely.

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No worries, Ostrich. I didn't do a lot of it myself, and usually disliked it when I did. It probably depends on the size (and degree of professionalism) of the class whether a real time-beater is needed. Sometimes these can do it with a certain amount of grace. There was a Hispanic woman named Gladys (don't know the last name) who was popular with many teachers in the 70s and 80s in New York. I heard her once; she was precisely a ballet pianist, knew exactly what was needed, and it sounded okay given that the context required that it sound exactly so. It requires a lot of being mechanical no matter what, and Gladys knew how to deal with huge traffic jams such as those at Steps, with odd birds like the late Bobby Blankshine, when the atmosphere was brash and Broadway. Some of them are good enough to become rehearsal and performance pianists too, of course, but there is a sort who does nothing else but ballet classes and they do serve a purpose, because they're totally reliable.

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Final thought: Musique dansante is just not the same as concert music, and that doesn't necessarily make it bad. I wouldn't want to listen to "Giselle" without the dancing, but it is perfect for the choreography and action. Music that is illustrating a plot doesn't have to sound like a choir of angels or be a deep study in complexity (the dancing is why we're there, after all) and if one recognizes that such music fulfills the purpose for which it is written and should therefore not be compared to more pretentious music, it does not seem unharmonious (pardon the pun).
Thanks for making that point, Hans, It seems to me that this is often lost during discussions of the ballet orchestra topic.

Your remarks also reinforce the idea that someone attending a ballet "utilizes" -- or "processes," or whatever else you want to call it -- music differently from they way he or she would do at an opera or the symphony or for chamber music. An awful lot of us are dedicated to ALL FORms of classical musical performance. Frankly, I don't know many people who JUST go to the ballet, which seems to be what the reviewer is suggesting.

I think also that you have to allow for differences among ballet companies -- the number of performances, the breadth of musical repertoire, etc..

For companies like ABT during its spring season in NYC city and on most of its its tours, playing Corsaire, Don Quixote, and even the more interesting Giselle and Coppelia, on a regular basis can't be very interesting. Even the standard Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev ballet scores must get tedious after a long season.

At the other end of the spectrum, many smaller companies who've managed to hold on to "live music" must find that the pickp-up orchestras or community symphonies they can afford can't really be expected to master every item in a program with equal skill, especially for relatively short runs with limited rehearsal periods. Contemporary rep -- which often uses music specifically composed for the recording studio -- is another variation, usually requiring the use of tape.

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For companies like ABT during its spring season in NYC city and on most of its its tours, playing Corsaire, Don Quixote, and even the more interesting Giselle and Coppelia, on a regular basis can't be very interesting. Even the standard Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev ballet scores must get tedious after a long season.

:) I'm not so sure that the artistic lives of musicians in most "regular" orchestras are always more exalted. Perhaps the New York Philharmonic is not so hard pressed, but orchestras in many cities have to fight to attract audiences. In addition to programs of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, they program "lighter classics," pops concerts, concerts for children, concerts with pop and country singers, and so forth. Consider this concert presented recently where I live:

Video Games Live TM brings the intensity and excitement of the gaming world’s most powerful compositions, as a live orchestra and choir recreate the best video game music on a spectacular stage. The evening combines exclusive video footage and music arrangements, synchronized lighting, solo performers, electronic percussionists and groundbreaking interactive segments to create an explosive one-of-a-kind entertainment experience. Special segments involving the audience will take place during the show, including a live interactive Space Invaders game, and a Frogger competition. New music and exclusive video has been added to the already spectacular line-up of games including MARIO™, ZELDA®, HALO®, METAL GEAR SOLID®, WARCRAFT®, MYST®, FINAL FANTASY®, and KINGDOM HEARTS. The evening also includes the exclusive HALO 3 announcement trailer score.

Shocking, isn't it? But the truth is that the London Symphony Orchestra has been recording film soundtracks for years. The orchestra doesn't include them among the CDs it sells on its web site, but it probably makes more money from them than it does off its recordings of Elgar or Sibelius. There is an interesting juxtaposition of photographs in the autobiography of Steven Staryk, former concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In one photograph he's shown on the jury of the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow; in the other he's seen recording a jingle. The financial reality of being a musician, he explains.

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I love it. :)

Video Games Live TM brings the intensity and excitement of the gaming world’s most powerful compositions, as a live orchestra and choir recreate the best video game music on a spectacular stage.
Just when I thought pop culture had gone as bizarre as it can go. Is there an annual Best Video Game Music Awards Show in the offing?

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I'm not too disturbed at someone who calls Minkus or Adam "trash"; when I attended the former's Don Quixote at Boston Ballet a few months ago I marvelled continually at the skill of a composer whose music sounded invariably professional but never seemed to have an idea in its shallow little head. But as musique dansante it worked well, supporting the dances and dancers by providing a framework that kept the story moving along. On the other hand when I heard Mr. Cameron Grant, a perfectly capable pianist, do the Goldberg Variations of Bach while a dozen dancers on stage were performing Jerome Robbins's choreography, I was for once less aware of that masterly work as a piece of music and more as a setting for the interesting and surprising things on stage. The situation is not quite the same as in opera, where one has both singers and orchestra, because there all the performers are engaged in making music, but with dance it's hard to know what element should be primary and which secondary, or if music and dance have or should have equal bearing on the performance. When I attended Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto 2 at NYCB last month, I commented on the lackluster playing of Susan Walters, and wondered if a true bravura soloist in the Russian manner would have brought more of a daredevil quality to the musical performance and also would have energized the dancers. Yet no one else from the forum here mentioned Walters's playing.

I tend to think that there is music that works best as an accompaniment for dance but which would never survive alone in the concert hall (e.g., Giselle, Don Quixote); music originally intended for dance but which is at least as strong in concert performance (Petrouchka, Agon, Miraculous Mandarin, Appalachian Spring, Le Sacre); music not originally intended for dance but which has attained new life as a vehicle for choreography (Bizet Symphony, Goldberg Variations, Brahms/Schoenberg); and music that is too independent or requires too much concentrated listening to succeed as an element in dance (Wheeldon's Klavier, set to the slow movement of Beethoven's Hammerklavier, certainly is in this class for me). One thing also that strikes me, as someone whose musical background is far stronger than his background in dance, is that, despite the important interrelations between music and dance throughout history, how unusual it is to find musical people who take much interest in ballet. I myself did not until a few years ago, and I know several classical musical fanatics who would not set foot in a ballet theater. A good friend who knows and loves Agon as a musical work has never seen the Balanchine choreography, but how can one separate the two? But part of the problem here is, if one can't get to a live performance, there are so few DVDs of many ballets, in contrast to the encyclopedic availability of music available on CD or DVD.

Just some incoherent random thoughts for whatever they're worth.

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I tend to think that there is music that works best as an accompaniment for dance but which would never survive alone in the concert hall (e.g., Giselle, Don Quixote); music originally intended for dance but which is at least as strong in concert performance (Petrouchka, Agon, Miraculous Mandarin, Appalachian Spring, Le Sacre); music not originally intended for dance but which has attained new life as a vehicle for choreography (Bizet Symphony, Goldberg Variations, Brahms/Schoenberg); and music that is too independent or requires too much concentrated listening to succeed as an element in dance (Wheeldon's Klavier, set to the slow movement of Beethoven's Hammerklavier, certainly is in this class for me).

Useful categories.

Just some incoherent random thoughts for whatever they're worth.

Incoherent and random? Not so you'd notice. I certainly wish I could be as incoherent and random on the topic as you, Klavier. :blush:

papeetepatrick writes:

I disagree with Leigh only in that there are only so many times it can be said to be dreadful before you stop including it; if it is that bad, it should be included in every single review.

If the critic is permitted the latitude and the space, absolutely. Otherwise not mentioning it is just one more little assist in a collapse of standards.

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I know several classical musical fanatics who would not set foot in a ballet theater. A good friend who knows and loves Agon as a musical work has never seen the Balanchine choreography, but how can one separate the two?

That's very interesting because a few years ago the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produced a radio series about Stravinsky in which one participant talked about musicians going to NYCB performances just to hear some of the later Stravinsky works that are performed rarely in the concert hall. (He didn't express an opinion on the playing of the NYCB Orchestra.)

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But back to the "musique dansante" composers for a moment, and a parallel with another composer, working in another genre, comic opera. Franz von Suppe provided genial tunes for shows that may have been a scream in their times, but were all full of topical humor, so without a major updating of the librettos, all the wit is gone, except perhaps to specialists of Austro-Hungarian history, and they aren't exactly thick on the ground today. Minkus, Drigo, and the like were providing "oompah" music that supports perfectly a choreographic content which can still speak to all of us today.

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Klavier,

I agree with you wholeheartedly about music and dance and find your three categories most helpful. Regarding the third, I think that no one should ever choreograph to Beethoven (or Mahler). Beethoven's music is too saturated and self-questioning and complete to have dance set to it. Balanchine, once a composer himself (he composed music for Mravinsky's--who was then, in turn, a poet--lyrics) had impeccable taste in these matters. Only once did he approach Mozart directly, and only then a divertimento, albeit lovely and haunting.

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That really depends on the choreographer. If I recall correctly, Balanchine also said that Les Noces was undanceable. His taste was impeccable - for him. Other choreographers respond better to heavier music than he did.

Regarding how many times one can complain about the same topic in a review - I believe in the idealism of upholding standards, but I've been through this. It gets really old to the reader after about the fourth article with the same complaint phrased the same way - there are only so many different ways you can say "the horns sucked yet again."

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The "Big" Symphony Orchestra vs. the (small or less professional?) Ballet Orchestra...

For twenty years I have tried to find a recording of Swan Lake that was complete, with the full beautiful sound produced by a major orchestra. (In fact, I've always loved Tchaikovsky because he uses almost every instrument in his scores.) So currently I have 3 versions by 3 different Symphony Orchestras, and I can never listen to any of them without every muscle cringing because the tempos are either undanceable (usually too fast) or vary from piece to piece/variation to variation, destroying any continuity of action. :blush: My trade-off for wanting to hear a particular variation not usually performed, or to hear it in the context of the original Act in which it appeared. At least I knew the Vienna orchestra soundtrack of the Nureyev/Fonteyn SL was correct tempo since they had to dance to it. Or, I assumed the same for my Bolshoi recording of R&J.

Last November, I went to a concert by our local Symphony Orchestra thematically concerned with "Russian' music/composers. Both Tchaikovsky's Black Swan pdd, and a VERY extensive selection from Prokofiev's R&J (doing most of the major plot points by excerpting from ALL three orchestral suites Prokofiev had originally created for concert performance.) Knowing of this program ahead of time, I had contacted the conductor and orchestra staff to insure that they were played at correct dance(able) tempos. And luckily our conductor had worked previously for several years in Vienna (with the State Opera Orchestra I believe) and so had conducted numerous ballet performances and understood my concern. I was satisfied by the results when I attended the concert.

Smaller ballet companies are usually relegated to using pre-recorded music, or a "pick-up" orchestra, but I also remember larger companies doing the same. For example, I remember ABT bringing it's conductor on tour to Los Angeles, but not their orchestra, and so having to rely on the same "pick-up" of experienced (or not) instrumentalists. I believe the Joffrey did the same, or used mostly recorded music for many pieces.

If those orchestra players had also worked in the film industry, at least they should have been experienced with quick tempo changes. (Which always makes me wonder why no one thinks to use film composers to produce new ballet scores since they are so experienced with variations in length and tempi and conveying dramatic info thru music. Though Goldenthal's score for Othello is not my favorite.)

I also remember the L.A.Philarmonic complaining (c. mid '80's) about having to share the Music Center/Dorothy Chandler Pavillion dressing rooms with visiting dance companies and having to endure "smelly tights drying in the bathrooms". One of the reasons I think those dance companies were very glad to decamp to the OCPAC when it finally became available. And now the OCPAC, too, has constructed a separate concert hall, so their OC Orchestra doesn't have to share the space either.

Of course I recently witnessed an orchestra's unaccostumed speed forcing a dancer to compensate it mid-performance of a variation. It made me wonder if there had been a rehearsal before-hand, or any opportunity for the dancer(s) to "fine-tune" this with the orchestra.

BTW: Does anyone remember a famous female dancer (?) stopping mid-performance (or hopefully just a dress-rehearsal) of Don Q (?)to stalk off the stage because the tempo was wrong? I definately remember the "diva" attitude, but understood her frustration, and the controversey it produced. (Maybe that was the last time journalistic complaints about ballet orchestras 'reached a crescendo'.)

Q: Why is it always the horns? The woodwinds might have problems occasionally, but the horns?

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