A Spring 2015 Discussion with David LaMarche
Conductor, American Ballet Theatre
Exploring Spring Season Musical Scores
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 27, 2015
(See More ABT Interviews, Reviews, and Candids.)
This is a series of questions posed to David LaMarche, Conductor of American Ballet Theatre, which is having its Spring Season at the Metropolitan Opera House, May 11, 2015 to July 4, 2015. David LaMarche has been favorably reviewed in his capacity as ABT Conductor in these pages on multiple occasions in recent years. I recently chatted with Maestro LaMarche at El Azteca, at 783 Ninth Avenue at 52nd Street, NYC, over Homemade Chicken Soup, Fresh Guacamole and Chips, Maria’s Arroz con Pollo, Sizzling Shrimp Fajitas, David’s Imported Beer, and Roberta’s Piña Colada.
David LaMarche has already begun conducting the performances at the Met Opera House, including works in the Spring Gala, and, as I write, he is conducting Paloma Herrera’s farewell ballet, Giselle. (Tonight I will attend Xiomara Reyes’ farewell ballet, also Giselle. On June 20, 2015, Julie Kent will have her farewell, in Romeo and Juliet.) We recently met for dinner and spoke about the current and upcoming scores for productions that David is conducting. Not listed below are the very few ballets he is not conducting. The full American Ballet Theatre performance schedule is here. The ballets below, on whose scores Maestro LaMarche comments, are ordered chronologically for this Spring Season.
Click here to learn more about the ballets below. This Season’s The Sleeping Beauty is a new production, and its reviews will be added to this link with the Season reviews in the coming weeks.
On each ballet paragraph, please describe:
1. Your favorite musical passage/s; 2. How you may adapt to the specific ballerina and/or danseur for each (like Paloma for "Giselle" farewell); 3. How you have adapted your conducting style over the years for that ballet and score; 4. A specific musical solo (which instrument) or high point my readers should listen for and when it would appear.
Fancy Free: The opening dance is brilliant, rhythmically, and in the way that it quotes popular music of the era. And I love the last piano solo for the entrance of the third girl, a real blues that sounds improvised, but every note is composed by Bernstein. The music dictates the dance completely. This is Robbins after all! There are some sections of this score which are tricky rhythmically, so I have to be very clear in my conducting. Listen for the honky-tonk piano solos and big band style woodwinds. To answer another question, the recorded song heard, as the curtain comes up, is “Big Stuff, which has been recorded by Billie Holiday.
Jardin Aux Lilas: This music, called Poème, by Ernest Chausson, is a virtuoso turn for the solo violinist, in this case, our brilliant concertmaster, Benjamin Bowman. He has a cadenza at the beginning of the ballet, as Caroline dances her first solo, which is shaped completely in conjunction with the choreography. This is a concerto, so I have to be aware of the soloist at all times, and also give slightly more expansive tempi for the dancers in certain places.
The Spring Gala: The challenge for the conductor in any Gala is twofold. First, to switch musical styles and dynamic at the drop of a hat, and secondly, to build tension and relevance in a 5 minute excerpt. But there is a chaotic, thrilling aspect to it also. I actually enjoy them.
Giselle: I think the Act II Pas de Deux, a solo for viola, is the best music in the ballet. It has a placid, spiritual quality, a suspension of time which allows Giselle and Albrecht to bond before their final separation. Giselle is all about adaptation to the ballerina, and her interpretation. I've done it a million very different ways. The aforementioned viola solo is a big feature, as is the cello solo which accompanies Albrecht's entrance into the woods in Act II.
The Sleeping Beauty: Actually, my favorite music in this ballet is in Act II, in both the Vision Scene and in the Awakening. In Alexei Ratmansky's version, there is very little tampering with the tempi, and because of this, it has great flow and momentum. It's a massive score, and requires great stamina for a conductor. There's an elegant violin solo for Aurora's Act I variation, a long, elegiac melody for solo cello in the Vision Scene, and the classic oboe solo in the Adagio of the Act III pas de deux.
La Bayadère: There's a section in Act III, which they call the Pas de Quatre. It involves all the principals; it's very string heavy, big full sound, and the main theme resembles the Grieg “Piano Concerto”. The dance which requires the most specific tailoring to an individual dancer is the scarf dance for Nikiya in Act II, fiendishly difficult and exposed. I would say there are probably more nuances in tempo change in this ballet than almost any other, and it's all dancer driven. From the orchestra, there are two very beautiful violin solos in Act II, and a quintessential Russian, melancholic solo for cello in Act III.
Romeo and Juliet: Again, I think Prokofiev has composed a sublime ending for the ballet. I am still moved every time I hear it. The dance tempi are very close to concert tempi, except for the mandolin dance in the ballroom, a solo for the male which is drastically slowed down to accommodate the choreography. This score has weight and power, and the brass section is featured heavily throughout, but especially in The Dance of the Knights and in Tybalt's Death, which ends Act II.
Swan Lake: Act IV of Swan Lake (in our version, the end of Act II) contains the most symphonic, dramatic music in the whole piece. It drives the action inevitably to the final climactic scene. In the first three acts of Swan Lake, there are many dance solos for Odette/Odile, Siegfried, and the Pas de Trois which require shaping from the conductor to support the dancers. Again, the triumvirate of violin, cello, and oboe feature most prominently in solo passages, and the harp is used extensively, especially in Act II.
Cinderella: My favorite musical passage is the very last one, where the love theme returns for a final time after the prince finds Cinderella. It's cinematic, but not overblown, just very moving. Cinderella's solo at the ball is hard to get right musically. You have to do some very fine tuning of tempi. Throughout this ballet, there is very challenging writing for the strings, often very high and chromatic. In Ashton's version, he puts the two violin soloists for the dancing lesson on stage, in period costume, so they have to memorize the music.
David LaMarche, ABT Conductor
at El Azteca Mexican Restaurant
with Maria, El Azteca Proprietor
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower