Thursday, March 1, 2012

Miami Ballet

We are back in Miami for the second week of our winter season here.  This week features two different programs -- a symphonic program and a ballet concert.

The ballet concert is our second collaboration with the Miami Ballet. The program is tomorrow night in the Ziff Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami.

A musician's perspective in a ballet concert can be very unusual and quite different from what the audience sees and hears.  We are in the pit at the Opera House and most of us cannot see the dancers.  The pit has two levels, with strings and brass on one level near the podium and a lower level with woodwinds and percussion in the back.  Some of us can't even see the conductor, so there are television monitors near us to watch for conducting cues.  Occasionally we can hear feet striking the stage floor above us, but that's about it.

The music for tomorrow evening's concert consists of Dvorak's Carneval Overture, Ravel Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, La Valse and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.

The Symphonic Dances have been choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky

Whenever a piece of music is choreographed the music is affected in some way.  For study purposes choreographers usually use a recording of the piece when working out the action.  This is then used in rehearsal and the dancers become accustomed to the tempos, nuances, etc. of that particular recording.

When paired with live music, i.e., an orchestra, this can cause difficulty.  The conductor needs to be familiar with the recording used by the dancers to prepare.  Thus, the conductor and orchestra are not free to pursue their own ideas, but must stay with the dancers so as not to become out of sync with the steps on stage.  This can lead to some uncomfortableness in rehearsal, but when everyone realizes that the priorities are different in this case, it usually works out fine in performance.

Sometimes a choreographer adopts a very radical approach to the pace of the music and the musicians end up playing something at a ridiculous tempo.  I remember a ballet concert I played many years ago with the Joffrey Ballet in which Rossini's Semiramide Overture was choreographed. The name of the piece was listed as "Confetti". The tempo in the fast section was so fast as to be nearly unplayable. 

Fortunately, this is not the case for tomorrow night.  While a few sections of the Rachmaninov are going differently from what we're used to, everything flows along just fine.  It should be a really great show!

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