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#1 Dale

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Posted 27 December 1998 - 08:12 AM

Well, I've been watching a lot of skating (it is on all the time!!!), and they almost exclusively use taped music. However, the use of taped music is looked down upon in ballet performances. Why?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 27 December 1998 - 11:37 AM

Taped music has a "dead" sound, for one thing, and, probably more importantly, there can be no interplay between the conductor/orchestra and the dancers. It's also hard to find a tape that's exactly the right tempo. I watched a rehearsal for a competition once in Copenhagen with a young dancer struggling with Tape A, the 50-second version of Corsaire, and Tape B, the 90-second version. He simply could not dance slow enough to fill out the 90-second version (he was a demi) and the 50-second version would have defeated any human. So both practical and artistic reasons, I think.

But, since Balanchine could live without sets or costumes but kept the orchestra (with an excellent conductor, as long as he was alive), I'd trust his instincts!


Any more musically sensitive and/or aware people out there with other ideas?

alexandra

#3 Celia Yves

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Posted 27 December 1998 - 06:01 PM

Well, there are those machines which, although small, are frightfully expensive (along the lines of $1500), but they allow for tapes of an extraordinary high quality - no background sound whatsoever - and I think that you can regulate the speed too. It would seem to be a good compromise.
Anecdote: I don't remember where I saw this, but it struck me, so here it is: (attempt at paraphrasing/recalling the correct quote) "There was this new piece which was to be danced. The lights dim. The music starts. The dancers remain in place, but their muscles contract extremely hard. The music goes on, and the dancers just stood there, the tension building, it was magnificent - almost palpable. At which point one dancers says between his/her teeth: 'You... are... playing... the... wrong... tape.' The actual piece was an anticlimax."
Has anybody heard of this?

Celia, trying hard to picture a 50 seconds version of Corsaire in her head.

#4 Dale

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Posted 28 December 1998 - 02:53 AM

As a former musician, I'd be loath to get rid of all those jobs!! And I like the flexabilty and collaboration that comes with having a live orchestra.

When I think of taped music, I think of those "Stars of the Kirov" groups that come around: taped music, programs changed at the last minute, never knowing what dancer is going to perform. All poor planing that almost defeats the usually fine dancing.

A few seasons ago, the NYCB had a ballet to Wourinin's (I might have spelled his name wrong) two-piano transcription of an orchestral piece by Schoenberg. The two pianos were on stage. I liked the ballet very much and never missed a performance. However, the next season the costumes changed and the pianos were replaced by an orchestral version. But when I looked into the pit, it was dark. When I asked one of the information people what happened, they said I must of got two ballets confused. They were really demeaning. Well, the next time the ballet was performed a protesting member of the orchestra thrust a flyer in my hand. It said that the Schoenberg performance was the first time in the 48-plus (or so) years that NYCB used taped music. I never could understand why the company just didn't have the orchestra play the piece live. It's not as if they couldn't handle it.

Dale

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 28 December 1998 - 01:55 PM

Celia -

The 50-second Corsaire was just the man's solo. Sorry I wasn't clear.

I'd also say that in live performance, a live orchestra matters. It's part of the electricity.

Dale -

Agree wholeheartedly about the little Russian touring companies. It's especially unfortunate when they make tapes to accommodate five-minute curtain calls -- except the audience stops clapping after about 90 seconds, and there's just dead air and huffy dancers.

alexandra

#6 Celia Yves

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Posted 29 December 1998 - 10:18 AM

Alexandra, sorry that I, myself, was not clear, but I did understand that it was the male solo. I have seen it many times, both live and on video, and I had some troubles picturing it in such a fast version.
Regarding the taped music with pre-set intervals you were telling about, I had heard that things like that happened. I have never seen it, but I would assume that it can get pretty awkward. I also recall, and correct me if I'm wrong, that Russian dancers, amongst others, expect lengthy applause after each variation, as it is, amongst other reasons, a good way to recover.

I also agree with your and Dale's opinions on the importance of a live orchestra. I have some musical training, and I can picture how hard it would be to get the orchestra and the dancers completely in touch with each other. But when this connection is achieved, when everything is there, the result can be pure magic. For example, in Les Sylphides, Chopin's music can require a lot of rubato. And the dancers don't necessarily need to be perfectly on the beat, especially, perhaps, when the music is played rubato - sometimes, being just ahead of or just behind the music can convey more feeling. When in a ballet, there is total fusion between a top-notch orchestra and top-notch dancers, it can become absolutely magnificent.

Celia



[This message has been edited by Celia Yves (edited 12-29-98).]

#7 Margot

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Posted 29 December 1998 - 10:57 PM

On the subject of lenghty applause for russian dancers, I read somewhere (the problem is I can't remember where and when) that it was also a matter of russians dancing so little on stage. Under communist government, even the principals might dance only once a month on stage, because everybody had to be equal, so each principal got the same number of performances as all the others. Management would not consider the public's preferences, the star system did not exist and selling tickets was not an issue because there were always full houses (politicians, party members etc.) So if you love dancing enough to make it your life, but get to dance in front of the public once a month or even less, then you really want that applause... and I could understand that.
The problem is, I think conditions changed a lot, russian dancers are a lot more exposed to public performances but they did not change and they still try to "milk" the applause. That can be very disturbing.

Margot

#8 Ed Waffle

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Posted 02 January 1999 - 12:15 AM

A lot of modern dance troupes use taped music--possibly because that is what they can afford. Many companies barely pay their dancers, so hiring musicians would be prohibitive.

Taped music for ballet, however, is another matter. I saw a touring French company last year that used prerecorded music and it was distracting. The two piano reductions that have been mentioned can be extraordinary in the hands of talented pianists (although I prefer the pianos in the pit). Opera companies on tour sometimes use the piano reductions to some very complex works--and the music seems to be all there. Such is the magic of the theater.

The interaction, when it happens, between the pit and the stage is probably better mentioned in another thread--possibly one on the dearth of good conductors available now.
A few years ago the Louisville Opera tried what they called a virtual orchestra--some especially programmed synthesizers in the pit, run by two or three people. An idea whose time has not yet come and which I pray is not the wave of the future.

Hope everyone had a joyous holiday season and did not get Nutcrackered and Messiahed to distraction!

ed waffle

#9 Olivier

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Posted 02 January 1999 - 02:10 AM

Sometimes taped music is required by the choreographer...
For example : some Forsythe works have to be performed with taped music...His ARTIFACT II, have to be performed on a particular recording of Bach's Partitat No 2, Chaconne. A live performance by a soloist violonist could destroy the work, as it was choreographed on the special nuances of a particular recording.
But I agree, a performance without live music, is missing the magic that happens when performers bound...

#10 Guest_Barb_*

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Posted 04 January 1999 - 06:54 PM

The reality is that an orchestra is a hugely expensive investment. I agree that it can be wonderful; I have also seen, heard, been involved in shows where it was not so wonderful to have a live orchestra. (let's just say that a bad French horn solo in Nutcracker's Spanish can give you a headache for days)

As to tapes...the tape is only as good as the engineer making it. It doesn't matter how noise-free your playback system is, if you are not playing a good piece of source material. And there are many options besides the tapes now. Many companies have CD playback, and mini-disc, in addition to the standard DAT and reel to reel and cassette.
Unfortunately, few companies have the luxury have having a good sound tech on full staff, whether they are using live or recorded.

The speed of the music can be unobtrusively altered, by computer, to fit whatever the ballet master needs, or even to particulars of each dancer performing the variation. And it is not the overall length that matters, so much as the tiny variations through a piece of music. Slower here, faster here, etc.

And once in the theatre, assuming that the homework was done for the recording, varies parts of the music, that make the whole, can be sent to different speaker locations through the space and pit and stage, to essentially recreate the orchestra.

Care, planning, and artistry, and yes, money, have to go into the sound tape from the very beginning. And if this is done, you can have people peering into the pit, wondering how you did it.

I have worked with ballet and modern companies, and have heard great music from both venues, recorded and live.

Barb
(whose dead hands will still be gripping her beloved mini-disc player)

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 05 January 1999 - 12:55 AM

Thanks, Barb, for the information on how a good tape can be made. I found it fascinating.

I understand that orchestras are expensive but there is an edge to live music that just can't be replaced, even by a good tape, I think. The unpredictability is gone. And I'd miss the horn player (in the Kennedy Center orchestra, some guy has managed to play the same wrong note in every performance of Romeo and Juliet I've ever seen. But he always plays it wrong a little differently).

alexandra

p.s. Hi Ed! Good to hear from you. Missed you.

#12 Dale

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Posted 05 January 1999 - 05:53 AM

As a "former" horn player who studied for four years with the principal horn player for the NYCB I have to say that the French Horn is one of the hardest and most unpredictable instruments to play. It's not like the piano or flute, where you push the right button (s) and presto! the note comes out. The horn has three keys (as does the trumpet and tuba) but unlike those instruments, the interval system on the French Horn is so close, especially in the upper register that you can play a note such as G with no keys pressed, 1, two, 1 and 3 or all. The range of the instrument (as written by most composers) is tremendous, spaning sometimes four octives. So, please be kind to your local French Horn player as he or she is butchering the nocturn solo from Midsummer Night's Dream, they are probably doing everything right but that blasted funny instrument is getting in the way!

Thanks, Dale

#13 Ed Waffle

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Posted 09 January 1999 - 12:06 AM

To Dale and all current and former pit musicians:

God bless you!

It will be straight to heaven after you shuffle off this mortal coil, because you have served your time in purgatory in various orchestra pits. Often ignored when they play beautifully, always vilified when problems arise, hidden from the audience who often don't even know that they are taking a bow when they finally get to do so.

Those on stage, of course, know just how important the orchestra is. While it is often the prima donna who first acknowledges the orchestra during the calls, it is not unusual for several singers who take bows before the star to do so. They know what went on during the performance and just how much they were dependent on the musicians under the stage. A great orchestra can't make a poor singer (or dancer) sound or look great, but it can elevate a performance--from average to good, from good to great, from great to demented.

There are lots of just horribly exposed solo parts that are commented upon only if there is a bobble--and some are as difficult as anything can be. Dale mentioned the French horn solo in MND. Add to that the first flute in "Lucia Di Lammermoor", the third horn in "Fidelio", the concertmaster in "Swan Lake", all the first chair winds in "Carmen," many more than I can list here. The artists who fill these roles should be listed in the program and take a bow on stage.

The other side of it is boredom. You don't have to be able to play an instrument or even read music to appreciate these talented people. Just listen to your favorite ballet with score in hand a few times. You will find some really sublime passages and a lot of really boring passages that seem to go forever--page after page of the most banal "ompah" band music. Lots of it, in both ballet and opera.

So, give a thought and a few BRAVOS to those artists in the pit, without which whom the magic could not happen.

#14 Guest_Lugo_*

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Posted 04 February 1999 - 02:49 AM

I would have to concur with Barb on the benefits of using CD's in a house with a wonderful sound system....cost...and the fact that many orchestras in small towns or cities just do not have the caliber of musicians to handle a score properly...Of course it is magical when you have a wonderful orchestra, conductor, and enough rehersal time with them to achieve the ultimate harmonious balance between dancers and musicians! - but unless you are in a major city and have major financial backing - these days it is near to impossible to achieve this, and i dare say i would rather hear a quality soundtrack any day than a poor quality orchestra or even a wonderful orchestra without the sensitivity to the dancers.

#15 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 04 February 1999 - 03:35 PM

I can understand, Barb, that when you had to sit through a performance of the Nutcracker with a French horn solo in the Spanish variation, you ended up with a severe headache, simply because it's usually played by a TRUMPET.

And although I agree about the unlimited possibilities of sound recording and reproduction at present, using taped music in a ballet performance is like playing soccer without a real ball. It's really no use doing it. Besides, most ballet companies won't even consider investing in the first-rate equipment needed for reproducing decent sound.

Many ballets which are available on commercial video were filmed with playback, by the way. Even the applause is playbacked. This also explains why sometimes a variation or a solo, where the dancer has to start and the music has to fall in at the right time, is missing on the tape, simply because the technician wasn't able to push the button of the player at the right moment... How ridiculous can you get?


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