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Ballet Music in the Concert Hall

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Perhaps I should have titled this thread 'Another Major Peeve', but, like cargill, I'll burst if I don't get this issue off my chest.

Why is it that there is not more ballet music performed in the concert hall? I've attended many performances at the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall and rarely has a complete ballet score ever been performed. Suites from 'The Firebird' or 'Petrushka' appear on a program now and then, but why not, for example, a performance of Prokofiev's 'Romeo & Juliet' in its entirety? Do most conductors think that ballet music is beneath them?

I'm particularly baffled by the exclusion of Tchaikovsky's ballet scores from most orchestras' repertoires. Performances of his symphonies and concertos are a dime a dozen, but his ballet music is not performed. The lone exception to this trend that I know of was a complete performance of 'The Nutcracker' by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall several years ago. It was a revelation for me to hear a first-class orchestra perform this work: details of Tchaikovsky's brilliant orchestration were more vibrant and the melodies more vivid. It's ironic that in an age where so many orchestra administrators/music directors are trying to come up with ways to attract new and younger audiences that they keep churning out 'safe' programs featuring the umpteenth performance of Beethoven's 5th instead of exploring the riches that ballet music offers. I hope someday that a major orchestra or venue like Carnegie Hall will devote a season or part of a season to neglected works for the ballet like Stravinsky's 'Apollo' and 'Orpheus', Prokofiev's 'Cinderella' and 'Prodigal Son', and Tchaikovsky's 3 masterpieces.

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What a great idea! I think about this every time I see "Agon" -- what a great thing that would be to hear in a concert hall. And the recent double CD of Gergiev conducting "Sleeping Beauty" is packed with revelations.

The trouble in hearing ballet music in a concert hall, for me (and this may be slightly off topic), is that I always feel that something essential is missing. With "Agon," for example, I can never hear the music without seeing the Balanchine shapes and gestures that "complete" it. Same with "Apollo." The choreography has told me so much more about the music than the music alone could. With Balanchine ballets especially, I have trouble separating the two; the music seems richer in the ballet theater than on my stereo. Does that make sense? :confused:

Still, there's no reason for orchestras not to perform the many ballet scores that are unquestionably great musical works (you mention some ideal ones).

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Melissa, I think that one reason that suites from ballet scores are played by orchestras is that the composers wanted it that way.

There is a lot of music in a score that is not particularly profound in itself but is written specifically to accompany what is happening in stage. Composers realized that (as did conductors and impressarios) and rewrote the score to stand completely by itself.

Which, for a ballet fan who also attends orchestral concerts, is not a bad thing. The rewritten and reimagined suites for orchestra of the great ballet scores are works that can stand by themselves and might allow one to hear what the composer considered to be the essence of his work.

I would like to hear entire ballet scores played by great orchestras, but it might be a tough sell to the regular symphony going public.

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I aggree with Edd in that ballet suites are performed in the concert hall because the composers set aside these particular pieces to be performed on their own. The complete pieces were created to be performed accompanied by the staging.

However, I also agree with you Melissa, in that the complete works should be performed in a concert setting more often. As you aid, details are brought out, and you are paying more attention to the music. I have always been fond of the concert setting in particular because a concert hall is usualy more developed for acoustic than a proscenium theatre would be, and that you can actualy SEE the performers completing solos and such as they arenot hidden out of sight in an orchestra pit.

There are many ways of getting around this, however. When you go to your neighborhood music store (one that carries classical music as well as popular), you will find ballet recordings under the composers' names. (Opera can usualy be found in a following and separate section.) this is where you will find that detail and quality that you find at the concert hall. though it is isn't as great as being in front of the orchestra, you can still "feel" the music. (I like listening through headphones. It brings out the richness. Make sure you have a good brand.) Valery Gergiev's conducting is ideal for the concert hall. His Nutcracker is probably the best there is. Also, Charles Mackerras is one of those conductors who makes everything seem perfect in his recordings.Antal Dorati's older Mercury Living Presence recordings are also very beautiful.

Althought, I wish that it was possible to find more concert performances, I think we can live by buying recordings, or closing our eyes while playing a videotape. (I would do this at a live performance.) :)

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