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Boston, Boston, Boston. . .


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 March 2001 - 04:10 PM

The Boston Ballet has issued a press release naming principal conductor Johnathan McPhee as Interim Artistic Coordinator.

I'm sure Mr. McPhee is good at what he does, but has anyone up there considered the fact that this is a ballet company whose main product is dance? I'm beginning to worry more and more about The Talented Mr. Babcock.

With all the political machinations that seem to be going on, Boston looks to be turning into Copenhagen-on-the-Charles. Posted Image

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#2 4Ts

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Posted 09 March 2001 - 04:43 PM

Here is a link describing an extra-curricular project of Jonathan McPhee.

[url="http://"http://www.bostonballet.org/mediainfo/Laser.htm"]http://www.bostonballet.org/mediainfo/Laser.htm[/url]

It seems the idea is to accompany the best bits of ballet music with a laser light show. Is this dumbing down or is it popularizing? I don't know.

The Bolshoi also recently decided to put a conductor in charge. The Boston Ballet management indicated this was a temporary thing, but maybe they got their inspiration from the goings-on at the Bolshoi.

Who said they were anti-Russian at the Boston Ballet?

#3 Natalia

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Posted 09 March 2001 - 04:44 PM

Leigh - Why, didn't you know that it's perfectly "normal" for a ballet troupe to be headed by a conductor? Look at the Kirov (Valery Gergiev) and the Bolshoi (Gennadi Rozhdesventsky). Funny how Boston has opted to follow the "Russian" model in this particular decision! Posted Image

What's next? Hugo Fiorato replacing Peter Martins as head of NYCB? - Jeannie

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited March 09, 2001).]

#4 salzberg

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Posted 09 March 2001 - 04:56 PM

I might point out that the Metropolitan Opera is headed by a former stagehand.

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#5 mbjerk

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Posted 09 March 2001 - 06:59 PM

Stagehands are much too practical to run a ballet company! Besides they often have taste.

#6 Drew

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Posted 09 March 2001 - 07:07 PM

I realize people are kidding around a bit, but since the issue has been raised seriously elsewhere, I think one should clarify a bit...The Bolshoi and Kirov ballet companies are directed by dancers -- it's just that the ballet companies are contained/subordinated within a larger structure. Someone has to head that larger structure, and if it's a ballet dancer then, for example, the opera company can cry 'foul.' I assume, that -- one way or another -- the head of the theater as a whole is supposed to be committed to all of its parts. I well believe it doesn't always happen that way...but many big European opera house ballets run on a similar principal, and there's nothing scandalous or ludicrous about it. Presumably, it is partly because those ballet companies are part of larger institutional structures that they have so much of the great history that they do have -- along with the disadvantages that accompany that. (I know nothing about the Boston situation other than what I have read on Ballet Alert, but appointing a conductor to head the company is, one takes it, a stop gap measure, not an institutional reform.)



[This message has been edited by Drew (edited March 09, 2001).]

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 09 March 2001 - 09:36 PM

Drew, your points about the conductors at the Bolshoi and Kirov being more theatre chief than balletmaster is well taken (although we don't really know what the power structure is, and how "hands on" they are. Early reports at the Bolshoi, especially, were that the conductor was setting repertory.) But I think it's quite likely that, if Boston is looking there for guidance or a model, they're not looking at the subtleties.

#8 salzberg

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Posted 09 March 2001 - 10:10 PM

Well, folks, to be truthful, there are some musicians who are quite knowledgeable about dance and whom I would trust to select repertory (Leigh, you know at least one of the people I'm thinking of), but not many.

I think it's dangerous to generalize about people (but I'm gonna do it anyway). I think Boston's making a mistake -- a bad one.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 10 March 2001 - 12:49 AM

Originally posted by salzberg:
Well, folks, to be truthful, there are some musicians who are quite knowledgeable about dance and whom I would trust to select repertory.


I think this is one of the problems -- everyone on this board could select a repertory. Many might be very interesting, very good repertories. That's why the Babcocks of the world think they can do it -- cast it, too. We all have our likes and dislikes.

But there's so much more to it than just choosing the repertory. Of course, there's how do you find the choreographers -- pick from some Top Ten list? -- and the people to stage existing repertory -- lots of snake oil salesmen out there. But far beyond that, there's how do you build a season. You can't start off with, say, Balanchine's Symphony in 3 Movements if the company's strength hasn't been built up to do it, no matter how good the music, or the ballet, is.

Building a season (beyond, of course, clever marketing and seducing subscribers) is one thing that really needs a balletmaster, someone who knows ballet from the inside. What dancers are suited to what roles? What about a long-term plan. These two dancers could go very far, but how do you bring them along? Throwing them into star parts the first season may not be the best thing; there are stepping stone roles.

There's so much to building a season beyond personal taste or curiosity.

If the new wave of conductor-managers produces good, new danceable music -- 21st century music -- then that will be a blessing beyond price, for one of the things that is holding back ballet is the lack of good, serious music that reflects our own time. Because of its lack, choreographers have had to rely on music of other eras or today's pop and movie music, and neither is completely satisfactory.

#10 mbjerk

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Posted 10 March 2001 - 08:24 AM

Dancers do not look to conductors nor executive directors for artistic development, inspiration and leadership. Although both musicians and ED have given me much, the thought of having that type of person direct my artistry on a daily/career basis is painful.

I think it is the same for choreographers, ballet masters and teachers.

#11 felursus

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Posted 10 March 2001 - 12:20 PM

In view of all the upcoming vacancies in orchestral artistic directorships, I think Anna Marie Holmes should be appointed as the Artistic Director of one of our great orchestras. After all, I'm sure she has impeccable artistic taste and probably knows more about music than McPhee knows about ballet (other than the music). Posted Image

#12 doug

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Posted 10 March 2001 - 12:44 PM

My impression from BB friends is that McPhee's role as artistic coordinator is to help finish pulling the 2001-2002 season repertoire together in a very short time. The BB marketing department has deadlines in early April for renewals and season announcements. The staff is working together to complete the budget and McPhee is overseeing the communication among the various constituencies. Given the very limited time in which they have to do this job and keep their heads above water, following last month's period of paralyzing stasis, I think they are probably doing the best they can at the moment. McPhee is one of the artists at the center of BB. He may not have experience as a dancer, but he knows how to work with people and he is trusted, and those characteristics might be the most important at the immediate present.

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#13 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 March 2001 - 06:19 PM

In all fairness to McPhee, I have a feeling he has little to do with the situation that gave rise to his appointment. I also think that the right person for the job is the right person for the job, whether they were a dancer, a musician or a janitor. But the whole thing makes me wonder more and more about who's in charge at Boston Ballet and what their goals are.

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#14 Alexandra

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Posted 10 March 2001 - 07:33 PM

I don't think anyone was blaming McPhee, and I can see the utility of using the expertise of someone who's dealt with contracts, and the other messy paperwork of repertory setting. I'm not so worried about who's running Boston Ballet as that this will be a trend. I'm afraid more and more ballet institutions will think they can just run things themselves, without the messy assistance, or interference, of artists.

Sorta like the people who think all you have to do is stand up in front of an orchestra and wave a little stick and the music just happens.

#15 Ed Waffle

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Posted 10 March 2001 - 10:17 PM

A few thoughts while stuck at work on Saturday evening:

Felursus wrote: “In view of all the upcoming vacancies in orchestral artistic directorships, I think Anna Marie Holmes should be appointed as the Artistic Director of one of our great orchestras.”

She does have at least two of the qualifications necessary for such an appointment, according to her biography on the Boston Ballet web site. One is that she was not born in the United States. If the great orchestras are (in this case) the big five—New York, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia—she will fit comfortably into the tradition of hiring European music directors, with the occasional American (Bernstein) or Asian (Ozawa).

More importantly, though, is she has the proper attitude concerning her own importance, not only as a leader of the Boston Ballet but in the larger scheme of things. Quoting from the ballet’s site, she was not simply promoted to Artist Director but “ascended to that position in 1997”. Ascended is not a verb often associated with mere mortals, and music directors of symphony orchestras do not consider themselves such.

Conductors remain the stars of “classical” music—they are the ones who ultimately control things. Valery Gergiev is becoming the most powerful musician in the serious music world. If there were a scramble similar to the one at the Ballet at the top of the Boston Symphony Orchestra it would resonate far beyond the Hub and would be front-page news in New York and other music capitals.

From his PR biography, McPhee seems like an excellent interim choice. While he can’t create dance and doesn’t know it from the inside, if he has been in the pit for a few years the dancers will know and trust him. He obviously knows the music and knows about creativity, as a conductor himself.



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