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A Discussion with David LaMarche, Conductor, American Ballet Theatre, and Elaine Chelton, Solo Pianist, New York City Ballet, at Mustang Harry’s
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A Discussion with David LaMarche, Conductor, American Ballet Theatre, and Elaine Chelton, Solo Pianist, New York City Ballet, at Mustang Harry’s

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Mustang Harry's, the Lunch Destination
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352 7th Avenue (between 29th and 30th Streets)
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A Discussion with:
David LaMarche
Conductor, American Ballet Theatre

Elaine Chelton
Solo Pianist, New York City Ballet

Mustang Harry’s
352 7th Avenue
Between 29th/30th Streets

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 31, 2013

(Click Here for ABT Reviews.)

(Click Here for NYC Ballet Reviews.)

This is a series of questions posed to David LaMarche, Conductor, American Ballet Theatre, and Elaine Chelton, Solo Pianist, New York City Ballet. Both ballet companies have upcoming Fall Seasons at Lincoln Center. I chatted with Maestro LaMarche and Elaine Chelton at Mustang Harry’s, in the private snug, on Seventh Avenue at 29th-30thth Streets, NYC, over a lunch of Grilled Salmon Salad, Harry Cobb Salad, Citrus Salad with Grilled Salmon, Tiramisu, and Vanilla Ice Cream. Niall Conroy, Mustang Harry’s Proprietor, joined us in the snug during dessert.

Conversation, Roberta and Elaine:

REZ: Tell me what enthused your recent, solo piano accompaniment in "Allegro Brillante" and "In Creases".

EC: “Allegro Brillante” has a very challenging cadenza. It has lots of right hand trills, while the left hand rolls chords and simultaneously plays the melody, thus making it sound like three hands are playing! It's a challenge to keep those trills controlled while bringing out the melody in the left hand. There are also many chromatic scales and arpeggios that have to be perfectly coordinated with the principal ballerina. You can't see her from the pit, so the timing has to be worked out in rehearsals.

“In Creases” was a wonderful ballet by Justin Peck. It is choreographed to a sonata for two pianos, written by Philip Glass. Alan Moverman and I spent many hours working out issues of balance and dynamics, so we would sound like a unified whole. We are onstage, and, at one point, the dancers come up and touch our shoulders. You have to stay very focused and not let that throw your concentration.

REZ: What music are you working on for Ballet's fall season? What is your process? Do you practice at home, then with the orchestra, then with the dancers? What are the musical challenges in the upcoming solos? Do you also play with the orchestra on other nights, without onstage solo appearances?

EC: I will be playing “Carnival of the Animals” with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and music by Saint-Saëns. It is a very beautiful piece and yes, I will be practicing my part while I am off in August. Then Alan and I will rehearse the two- piano part together, before we start the orchestra rehearsals. Both of us will be expected to be able to play the entire score for the dancers. There will be a lot of rehearsals, as this ballet has not been done in many years. Therefore the cast will be all new dancers. Generally I don't play with the orchestra on the other nights, although I do sub occasionally for the principal pianist. I have gotten to know many of the ballets very well from my years of rehearsing them in the studio and then from playing completes, which are stage rehearsals with dancers, lights, and costumes.

REZ: The readers of would love to hear about your offstage ventures. You recently premiered your own co-created musical play, "God's Country" at New York Musical Theatre Festival. It was reviewed in this magazine. Tell us very briefly what was most musically challenging and thrilling in the take-away.

EC: I worked on this show for five years. It was hard to compose while working full time at New York City Ballet and also having a husband and a son at the same time! This was a very dramatic musical, one that has Irish and American influences, and I had to find the right musical language for the show and the period. The challenge was preparing the score while finishing up the spring season. I was playing performances of “In Creases”, “Allegro Brillante”, and “Tarantella”, while spending hours at my computer on the finale. Songs had to be cleaned up; other songs had to be rewritten. I was very proud that our show got accepted to New York Musical Theatre Festival. We had many producers, press, and industry people attending the performances. Now we have the daunting task of figuring out what the next step for the show will be.

REZ: Tell us what else you've done in the New York musical community. I read that you've worked in cabaret and other genres.

EC: I started writing musicals in my early twenties. In addition, I wrote two cabaret reviews that were performed in New York. “A New Voice” was seen in 1996 at Don't Tell Mama. My director took songs from the many musicals that I had written, and they became the material for the revue. My show “Oscar's Foibles” about Oscar Levant was also a revue. I have always been attracted to the night club scene and started performing at the Comic Strip with my singing partner in the late 70's. Jerry Seinfeld was the MC!

Conversation, Roberta and David:

REZ: Tell me what enthused your conducting in this past spring's performances of the Ratmansky "Shostakovich Trilogy" What music are you working on for the ballet's fall season? "The Tempest"? Bach? "The Moor's Pavane"? What is your process? Do you practice the piano version at home, or jump right in with the orchestra, then with the dancers? What are the musical highlights in the upcoming pieces? Will you be on piano solo on other nights?

DLM: I conducted “Symphony #9” in the “Shostakovich Trilogy” during the spring Met season. There were two things that were a great pleasure in that piece. First, the sheer inventiveness of Alexei Ratmansky's choreography, and, second, the very high level of playing achieved by the orchestra, especially our woodwinds.

I haven't yet received my conducting assignments for the fall season, but it's likely that I will do “The Moor's Pavane”, “Les Sylphides”, “Theme and Variations”, and much of the other repertoire, since we often share the pieces.

I study the scores at home in preparation for the orchestral rehearsals. Sometimes I do play through certain pieces at the piano, but only if it is something unfamiliar to me. And, when I accompany the dancers' rehearsals, I often get to play the pieces I will eventually conduct.

There are many beautiful moments in all of the fall repertoire, but, to choose a few, Mark Morris' “Gong” is set to music by Colin McPhee “Tabuh-Tabuhan”, and it is a Western orchestra treatment of a Balinese gamelan. There's a haunting flute melody which starts the second movement. And, in Ratmansky's new ballet, “The Tempest”, the music is all by Sibelius, taken from incidental music which he wrote for a production of that play. Like Mendelssohn's “A Midsummer Night's Dream”, it has a small chorus. It's a great score, which is not heard much. I do play this season, but as part of the orchestra in “Gong”.

REZ: The readers of would love to hear about your offstage ventures. Tell us what else you've done in the New York musical community. Do you ever play for jazz or cabaret? Other genres?

DLM: Since I have immersed myself in the ballet world, I haven't had much time to do other work, because, in addition to ABT, I have a fairly busy guest conducting schedule with other ballet companies. But yes, I used to play for cabaret artists, worked in musical theater, and even played cocktail piano!

REZ: When you travel with ABT do you get to attend concerts or jazz in other countries or on tour in the US?

DLM: I do try to get to see things in other cities. I've seen the LA Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony, National Symphony, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and many other great orchestras. And, I have friends who are composers and players, so I try to catch their concerts, if I can, when I'm traveling.

REZ: Thanks so much. Can’t wait for fall ballet season!

Elaine Chelton, David LaMarche, and Roberta in Mustang Harry's Private Snug
Courtesy of Robert at the Bar

Roberta's Grilled Salmon Salad
with Marinated Scottish Salmon, Mango,
Grapefruit, Avocado, Cherry Tomatoes, Candied Walnuts,
Baby Arugula and Radicchio, Balsamic and Olive Oil
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

David's Harry Cobb Salad
with Grilled Chicken, Tomato, Avocado,
Crumbled Blue Cheese, Chopped Eggs,
Cucumbers, Chopped Bacon, Baby Greens,
Ranch Dressing
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Elaine's Citrus Salad with Grilled Salmon
with Mixed Baby Greens, Arugula, Mango,
Grapefruit, Orange, Cherry Tomatoes,
Cucumbers, Red Onions, Grilled Salmon,
Citrus Vinaigrette
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

David Presents the Tiramisu
with Fresh Whipped Cream
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Scoops of Vanilla Ice Cream
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Elaine Chelton, Niall Conroy, David LaMarche
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at