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Taped Music #2


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 08 February 1999 - 09:32 AM

Please continue the discussion about taped versus live music HERE. Please do NOT post any more replies under the first thread -- it takes about two minutes to load! (However, if you have the patience, you might want to read the last few entries; we have a musician and a dancer weighing in on this topic.)

Thanks to both Jonathan and Olivier for your comments. Olivier, I agree that the economics are complicated. One of the things that never gets looked at is that administrative staffs (and salaries) of companies and theaters have ballooned since the grant-giving days began; compare the programs of 20 years ago with those of today. That's responsible for a lot of the rise in ticket costs, too. And yes, presenters should stick to their guns and only have live music.

It is a problem. I remember that the Paul Taylor Company used to play a dinky little auditorium in D.C. to sold out houses -- for a week! Taped music -- scratchy taped music. Nobody cared. We'd sort of gotten used to the fact that modern dance companies used tape. Then they moved into the Kennedy Center and had an orchestra. It was sublime. The ticket prices tripled. The audience was reduced in directly inverse proportion. The dance students and college students couldn't afford to come any more. It was that simple.

The audience, however, can't really be expected to settle this. We don't have control of all the variables. We can't say, for example, "I'll trade you seven outreach education people for a string quartet." And most people in the audience can't be expected to know about, much less understand, the issues. Most won't even know whether there will be a live orchestra or a taped one until they do or do not see a conductor. If the choice were put squarely: In Theater A, there is a great company with an orchestra and in Theater B there is a company without an orchestra -- and all other variables were equal (like, we're not comparing the Kirov to the Dry Gulch Civic Ballet), then maybe the audience could vote.

I think also there is beginning to be a division, unfortunately, in ballet companies that has nothing necessarily to do with size. There is grand ballet, or serious ballet, and there is pop ballet. Most companies are a mixture of the two; almost all have some elements of both. Tape is not as offensive in the pop ballet rep. But the increasing dominance of tape (and pop ballet) intrudes on the rest of the repertory.

Alexandra

#2 Guest_Barb_*

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Posted 08 February 1999 - 10:12 AM

So, the questions I have to ask are:

Should ballet companies that cannot afford to present and tour with an orchestra 100 percent of the time cease to exist? And presenters that cannot afford to present a company whose contract demands orchestra cease presenting ballet?

#3 Guest_Sean_*

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Posted 08 February 1999 - 10:33 AM

This subject of tape vs orchestra is a complex one. It is not fair to say that ballet companies that do not perform with orchestra 365 days a year are not great companies. Other issues do apply, with recorded music you can still experience the professional quality of a touring ballet company. Even some of the largest ballet companies have had to cancel most of their touring due to large costs, recently a large company cancelled all but two cities...how is that fair to the 16 year old ballet dancer who is at a pivotable point in his/her carreer. He or she has eagerly awaited the arrival of this grand ballet company all year long orchestra or not. If you begin to elimate great ballet companies from touring all of america due to binding orchestra aggreements than how will the youth continue to be excited in ballet? Already ice skating is the 3rd most watched sport (not in the theatre) in the world. Remember that ballet is at a fragile state, we are now spending a large part of our year at blockbuster or the movie theatre. We must attack new concepts and ideas to continue to promote dance in america.

#4 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 08 February 1999 - 05:30 PM

Some things in this debate, which is really getting too long, still need to be made more clear. I don't think anybody implied that:

taped music = bad ballet company
orchestra = good ballet company
'we can only afford taped music' = 'you better stay away'

It is not because ABT performs on tour, in open air, with taped music that ABT is not a great company; same for the Kirov on tour in America. And no ballet company, big or small, good or bad, should cease to exist because it can't afford to pay an orchestra.

Nobody said anything along those lines. And the use of orchestra or tape doesn't say anything about the quality of the company. The issue here is that live music is by far PREFERABLE to playback of whatever quality, and that it's a PITY to have to watch ballet without live music, for the reasons that have been stated, by Alexandra and others, already a long time ago.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 08 February 1999 - 07:29 PM

Yes. Preferable, as Marc said. And, as Sean said, it's quite complex. But again, I wouldn't blame the economics of touring completely on the orchestra. There is one large company which shall remain nameless that has the problem of the dancers' contracts stating that they have to have a single room. In addtion to the other costs mentioned earlier.

Barb, I/we are not saying that small companies should have orchestras or not exist. And, also as stated before, there are some programs where tape is appropriate, or at least not as inappropriate as, say, for Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty -- or, I would say, most Balanchine ballets.

There's been some silliness on the musicians' side, too. I remember when Twyla Tharp was working with ABT, there was picketing by members of the Musician's Union about the use of taped Sinatra -- something about there being many, many singers equal to Sinatra who should sing live.

So yes, it's complicated. As for the taped = bad, I'm afraid I was unclear about what I meant. It's not that taped = bad, it's that if a company wants to be a first-rank company, they need a first-rank orchestra -- and first-rank dancers, repertory, etc. Hope that makes more sense.

Alexandra

#6 Estelle

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Posted 09 February 1999 - 09:25 AM

I'm afraid I can't add much to the discussion,
but I'd like to say that that thread made me realize that, as far as I remember,
the only performances I saw with a live orchestra were those
at the Paris Opera (with the POB or with invited companies), and two performances at the Maison de la Danse of Lyon with traditional Japanese musicians or with
the orchestra of the students of the Conservatoire of Lyon (and perhaps one at the Lyon Opera, I'm afraid I don't remember whether there was an orchestra).
That's not much...

Perhaps sometimes there's also a problem with some theaters: for example, at the Maison de la Danse, the stage isn't big and usually there's no room for a big orchestra.
And also some orchestras or conductors seem to consider ballet music as "second-rate"; some critics often protest because at the Paris Opera, some performance of the POB are accompanied
not with the POO but with other, less good, Parisian Orchestras (orchestre Colonne, orchestre des concerts Lamoureux). Sometimes it's because the orchestra already is busy with other performances, and I understand that playing some Minkus must be a bit boring sometimes, but it's a pity not to get them to play some Stravinsky or Tchaikovsky...

#7 Ed Waffle

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Posted 09 February 1999 - 11:21 PM

Minkus, indeed. But, Estelle, think of the poor guys and gals in the string section of a pit band who have to saw their way through a run of "Giselle." (With apologies to Steve Keeley, who I think expressed on a.a.b. a liking for "Giselle" as a score).

And it is unfortunately true that because some conductors and orchestra members feel that ballet scores are beneath them the playing is sloppy or prefunctory. Keep in mind that major U. S. orchestras generally did not program Tchiakovsky until the 1930s--he was considered too popular, vulgar and common.

There is a story about Thomas Beecham, who loved opera but hated ballet, conducting at Covent Garden and sabatoging ballet performances by conducting at a much faster tempo during the first performance than he had at the rehearsals.

A true dolt, obviously, although he did leave some astonishing recordings.

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 10 February 1999 - 12:40 AM

Oh, Ed, have you heard Giselle live or just on tape? It's a lovely score!

The best Giselle I've heard was in Copenhagen, where the orchestra (the country's leading orchestra) played it as though it were a great score, and so it sounded like one. It never sounded pretty, and the tempi were brisk -- unlike Russian tempi, which tend to drag out everything. Giselle's death, especially, the suddenness of it, the confusion of the villagers, all the characters' emotions swirl around in that score, and the first act curtain was one of the most dramatic I've ever experienced.

I think you're absolutely right that many musicians condescend to ballet music, and sometimes it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. They think the music is second rate, and they play it as though it's second rate, ergo. . . .

alexandra

#9 Ed Waffle

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Posted 10 February 1999 - 01:25 AM

We must agree to disagree on the merits of "Giselle" as music.

I have heard/seen "Giselle" either 5 or 6 times in the theater, the last three with the ABT in February of 1998--three times in three days. It was played by the Michigan Opera Theatre orchestra, a pit band I have heard develop over the past three years. They are quite good, especially the strings. The conductor was Jack Everly, the ABT music director, who must know this score and how he wants it to sound as well as anyone.

By Sunday evening I felt as if it had been hard wired into my brain (I had been watching a lot of tapes of the work in preparation for the Motown Giselleathon.) Much of the early work of Verdi is derided as "oompah band" music and it is--but with flashes or occasional long passages of brilliant writing which show where the sublime middle and later works come from.

Adam's score makes one long for an "oompah band." It sounds to me like it was written to order by a not particularly talented composer--which it was.

The conductor in Copenhagen must have been brilliant and the orchestra must have played like gods to bring out the passion, color and emotional content that you experienced there. But if they could do it, then so can others--I hope I can hear it played the way it should be.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 10 February 1999 - 11:21 AM

In further defense of Adolphe (who was a second-rate composer, but, I think, a first-rate ballet composer), I'd like to point out his historical role. Before him, we are told that ballets were a collection of tunes -- this was not because the composers were dumb, but as an aid to story telling. If the two leads were falling in love, the score would helpfully drag in "We're Falling in Love," or whatever the popular tune of the day along that theme was. When the villain began to skulk along the parapet, they'd lurch into "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Etc.

Adam's score for "Giselle" is credited with being the first (at least major) ballet score to use leitmotif, recurring themes (I know you know this, Ed) associated with action or character. The daisy-picking theme is repeated during Giselle's mad scene, for example, but there are many occurrences in the score. And the hunting horn incorporated into the score was, one reads, an advance.

I imagine other orchestras play the way the Danish one does, although I haven't heard it. Usually one doesn't hear great orchestras play ballet music -- which is one of the problem. The Bolshoi, using the Kennedy Center's pickup orchestra, made Raymonda sound gorgeous; I'd trust them to do Minkus in a way that would sound new and wondrous to me.

Copenhagen plays Coppelia differently than any other orchestra I've heard, too. Instead of being pink, fluffy frou-frou music, it sounds brash, Hungarian, masculine. My theory on this is that, like so many other things there, the way of playing was handed down. Other places, most places, musicians who are not used to playing together, who are not of a rank that enables them to enjoy a symphonic orchestra career, and with minimal rehearsal time with a strange conductor play music which, one reads, many of them despise. (I will never love Prokofiev because I have heard him hacked to death by the Kennedy Center "orchestra" more times than I can stand to remember.) Most of the Giselles I've heard sound sickly, although I've never loathed it. (Now, Don Q and Paquita, that's oom-pah-pah music.) Now Adam's score for the short-lived "Last of the Mohigans," that I'm not sure I could defend.

Alexandra

#11 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 10 February 1999 - 05:03 PM

Some interesting things have been touched here. Listening to ballet scores, especially those from composers like Lovenskiold, Adam, Minkus etc, is usually complicated by the existence of different versions of the same score. The music of these composers has been "re-orchestrated", "re-arranged" and "completed" at will, often by musicians who did their utmost to prove they could do better. One example: listen to Minkus' "Don Quixote" in the arrangement of Patrick Flynn, as played on the famous Baryshnikov/Harvey-video, and listen to the score on the Kirov Ballet video (with Terekhova and Ruzimatov) of the same ballet. Of course, Minkus will always remain Minkus, but hearing the music in its original form, without the later additions, may give quite another impression.
No, "Don Quixote" is not vulgar and crass, the orchestration is not thick and heavy, it has light and charming moments, with beautiful scoring for the woodwinds, it doesn't have any stylistical inconsistencies in its instrumentation, it uses interesting decorative counterpoint, etc. In short it's a completely different affair. "Good" or "bad" music? Well, let's begin by listening to the original scores without all the layers of later additions and alterations, and start the discussion from there.

Yes unfortunately, as Alexandra remarks, one doesn't usually hear great orchestras play ballet music. The Royal Danish Orchestra is one noticeable exception, as are the Kirov and Bolshoi Orchestras. And they DO care for the ballet music they play: Adam, Minkus, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Asafiev, you name it, they play the music with conviction and without contempt, they make you believe in the music. Hearing Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" for instance, played by the Kirov Orchestra is a tremendous and unforgettable experience: right from the start the sheer power and drama, the broad gesture, the multitude of colour in the music, it takes you by the throat and never lets go for the rest of the evening. And there again, suddenly, you hear all those things in the score you never heard or never remarked before.

And so we arrive at the issue of the taped music again. To some it will sound snobbish, but once you've heard live music-making like this... sorry for the tapes.

#12 Guest_jonathan s_*

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Posted 11 February 1999 - 02:36 AM

I used to be scathing about the scores for Giselle and Don Q etc etc. until I saw the ballets. The more dance I've seen, the more I forget about being a musician, and can simply enjoy what's in front of me. It's an occupational hazard of musicians that we tend to focus only on aural stimuli - and don't allow themselves to be moved by anything else.

I wouldn't actually discuss Giselle or Don Q on their musical merits (in terms of orchestration or whatever) because I think their purpose is to serve a stage work, not to be particularly of interest in their own right.


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