Jump to content


Does music matter?Is anyone listening?


  • Please log in to reply
25 replies to this topic

#1 Fingers

Fingers

    New Member

  • New Member
  • Pip
  • 1 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 07:35 AM

I have had the enviable honor of working as a pianist at NYCB for the past 27 years. I have witnessed extraordinary performances in my early years from the pianists Gordon Boelzner and Jerry Zimmerman, and violin performances in recent years from our 2 extraordinary concertmasters Kurt Nikkanen and Arturo Delmoni. This in addition to orchestral performances on the highest level with our current Music Director, Faycal Karoui. The collaboration between musician and dancer is extensive, intense, and subtle, as anyone who knows the history of Balanchine's company would fully expect. And yet, my question is, does anyone really care, or does it really matter? Dancers and musicians often don't know the subtleties of each other's art, a woeful situation, and this can lead to a lack of appreciation and easy denigration of each other's minor failings. The decision of dance critics to exclude any mention of the solo musicians involved in performances (I cite a recent show with 2 soloists and an onstage pianist, none of whom was mentioned in the review in the Times) is an additional insult to the music side of the production. And as audience members, I ask you, does this matter to you? Is the quality of music-making an integral part of your enjoyment of NYCB performances, or are you so absorbed in the dance that the music becomes strictly a background feature and not particularly important?

#2 MakarovaFan

MakarovaFan

    Bronze Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 459 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 10:38 AM

The quality of the music is very important to me, be it in live performance or a taped one. For example, in the dvd of the Bolshoi's "Raymonda" starring Natalia Bessmertnova, Algis Zhuriatis's virtuosic and opulent conducting makes Glazunov's score sound fresh and literally glow with beauty. But I went to a ABT "Swan Lake" last Summer and the playing was so sloppy that it wrecked the dancing for me.

I don't mind "canned" music as long as it's a good peformance and well recorded.

#3 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,310 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 11:41 AM

APOLOGIES TO QUIGGAN. In the course of responding to a post by Quiggan I accidentally deleted the post while copying two sentences from it. This post should have been between Makarova Fan's and mine. I'll pm Quiggan and ask for a repost if possible. Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Does the performance of music matter? Yes, but less so than the dance, and I find it difficult to focus on both. When I listen, I don't see.


An interesting observation, Quiggan. The Balanchine suggestion about "seeing the music" has become a cliche. However, during recent preformances of Ballet Imperial (to Tchaikovsky), In the Night (to Chopin), and a new work by Liam Scarlett (set to Lowell Liebermann) I suddenly realized that I was NOT seeing the music as deeply or consistently as I expected. (It was a life performance and a very good one.)

There's a section in the Chopin Nocturne used for the third movement of Robbins' In the Night in which a sustained chord is followed by a single high note that goes "ping." This happens four times in succession. The first two times, Robbins has the man lift the girl who -- at the instant of the "ping" -- reaches the apogee and extends her legs in a near split, as in a grand jete developpe. D-a-a-h ... PING. (Pause) D-a-a-h ... PING. At that point, I suddenly became aware of the piano as an equal partner to the dancing.

Something similar happened in Ballet Imperial when a piano trill was illustrated by entrechats, performed by the men.

There are other occasions when a section of music is SO familiar that it pushes itself into forefront for a sustained period of time. A good deal of Swan Lake (Act II) operates on me like that.

After each occasion, the music retreated to the background quickly. It became something I was aware of subliminally, and would certainly have missed if it were shut off, but not at the forefront of my consciousness.

This suggests to me that Fingers' interesting question may not have a single answer.

Has any of this been studied by neuroscientists?

#4 Quiggin

Quiggin

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 795 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 12:10 PM

I think I said:

Does the performance of music matter? Yes, but less so than the dance, and I find it difficult to focus on both. When I listen, I don't see.

When the Maryinksy was here eight years ago in Berkeley, the pianist who was playing the Stravinsky capricco for Rubies was so brilliant - so rollicking - that I didn't know whether to look or listen - my ears finally won out over my eyes, at least for a while. With [Eugene] Onegin which SF Ballet did all this week, I made an effort to try to figure out which Tchaikowsky piece was which - they seemed to be strewn under the dancers feet like a thick carpet of decaying forest leaves - but found myself drifting off into the dancing - despite, perhaps because of the richness of tonality.

The other thing is that ballet music is different than stand-alone music like Mahler, Beethoven, non-devertimento Mozart - which have virtual dancework within them and which you completely immerse yourself in. Dance is destroyed by being set on them. Balanchine, who at one point studied to be a composer, had perfect sense in what went with what.

#5 Quiggin

Quiggin

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 795 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 12:24 PM

Something similar happened in Ballet Imperial when a piano trill was illustrated by entrechats, performed by the men.


Also in Ballet Imperial - in the rough footage of the Paris performance from the second balcony - there's a moment when the ballerina duels? fights? with the wildness of the piano chords - there's a back and forth - and then she does a wild series of jetes circling and describing the stage, something a man usually does. A moment of pure madness - and so heightened that you are aware of the music and dance together.

#6 sandik

sandik

    Rubies Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,009 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 12:30 PM

This suggests to me that Fingers' interesting question may not have a single answer.


All the really interesting questions have multiple answers!

Has any of this been studied by neuroscientists?


I imagine so, but have they written about it in terms that I can understand? Possibly not.

#7 sandik

sandik

    Rubies Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,009 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 12:39 PM

Does the performance of music matter? Yes, but less so than the dance, and I find it difficult to focus on both. When I listen, I don't see.


An interesting distinction -- for me, my knowledge of dance is so much more developed than my knowledge of music that I automatically see distinctions in movement that I may miss in the score. But I have colleagues whose skills are more even, and I know they speak far more authoritatively about the performance of the score than I do on a regular basis.

the pianist who was playing the Stravinsky capricco for Rubies was so brilliant - so rollicking


What a fabulous description!

As a working critic, I do want to stand up for my tribe here. Most of my colleagues operate with very restricted space -- we're given a word count or a column inch allowance and need to fit as much information as we can inside that place. I know that for most of us, choosing what to write about is an exercise in exclusion -- I always have more to say than I have space to say it, and when I have to make a choice, I will usually opt for the choreography or the dancers rather than the scenic elements or the music performance.

#8 dirac

dirac

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 24,002 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 12:55 PM

Thank you for posting, Fingers, and welcome to this forum. Your query should invite many interesting responses - speak up, everyone!

The collaboration between musician and dancer is extensive, intense, and subtle, as anyone who knows the history of Balanchine's company would fully expect. And yet, my question is, does anyone really care, or does it really matter?

As I'm not a trained musician I'm hors de combat in this discussion to some extent, but yes, I am sensitive to what I hear from the pit. We are fortunate in San Francisco with Michael McGraw at the piano - he contributed mightily to my enjoyment of Symphonic Variations, even if the dancers didn't seem to have quite got hold of Ashton, and the pizzazz of the company's Rubies. It is indeed unfortunate that musical soloists don't get their due in reviews - unless they've goofed up....

#9 Ray

Ray

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 983 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 12:55 PM

Multiple responses indeed. I often think, for example, when watching Balanchine's Concerto Barocco, that that's just not the way musicians play Bach anymore--does it pain them to have to recur to older ways of understanding eighteenth-century music? I imagine this is true for many other pieces, baroque and otherwise, Balanchine and others. Does choreography to music freeze a certain interpretation of the music in time?

Readers may find this article from the Guardian (UK) interesting: it reports on the growing "renaissance" of classical music. Is the dance world paying attention?

#10 sandik

sandik

    Rubies Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,009 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 01:11 PM

Does choreography to music freeze a certain interpretation of the music in time?


Oh, what an interesting question! My first impulse is to say absolutely yes -- think of the Hershey Kay orchestrations of Gershwin and traditional Western folk music that Balanchine used for Who Cares and Western Symphony. And the orchestrated versions of Purcell with Limon's Moors Pavane.

#11 Ray

Ray

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 983 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 01:16 PM


Does choreography to music freeze a certain interpretation of the music in time?


Oh, what an interesting question! My first impulse is to say absolutely yes -- think of the Hershey Kay orchestrations of Gershwin and traditional Western folk music that Balanchine used for Who Cares and Western Symphony. And the orchestrated versions of Purcell with Limon's Moors Pavane.


Ah, but in the case of Kay, at least the composer is in on the "freezing"--i.e., it's a score commissioned for the dances which accompany them. But the Limon is a great example--those kinds of adaptations are decidedly out of favor in the music world (from my perspective). Certian others, though, are revered as masterpieces in themselves, such as Webern's orchestration of Bach, which Balanchine uses in Episodes, of course.

#12 sandik

sandik

    Rubies Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,009 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 01:23 PM

Ah, but in the case of Kay, at least the composer is in on the "freezing"--i.e., it's a score commissioned for the dances which accompany them.


His use of Western folk music might be so distinct from the source material that he qualifies as the composer here, but I wonder about the Gershwin -- Kay's version of those works feels light-years away from what I understand Gershwin's intentions to be. I always have a real disconnect with the score for Who Cares.

#13 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 10,571 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 01:25 PM

Not to mention the neutering of Sousa.

#14 sandik

sandik

    Rubies Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,009 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 01:27 PM

Not to mention the neutering of Sousa.


Even though I don't care for that orchestration, at least the original material is closer in instrumentation than the songs that are the source for Western Symphony and Who Cares.

#15 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 10,571 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 01:31 PM

Sappy violins in marching band music -- I object. It's counter to what Balanchine said was the reason Americans walked quickly and forcefully.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):