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A Spring 2017 Discussion with David LaMarche, Conductor, American Ballet Theatre
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A Spring 2017 Discussion with David LaMarche, Conductor, American Ballet Theatre

- Offstage with the Dancers: Classical Connections

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A Spring 2017 Discussion with David LaMarche
Conductor, American Ballet Theatre

Exploring Spring Season Musical Scores

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 15, 2017

(See More ABT Interviews, Reviews, and Candids.)

This is a series of questions posed to David LaMarche, Conductor of American Ballet Theatre, which is presenting its Spring Season at the Metropolitan Opera House, May 15, 2017 to July 8, 2017. David LaMarche has been favorably reviewed as ABT Conductor on these pages for well over a decade. I recently chatted with Maestro LaMarche at Daniela Trattoria at 728 Eighth Avenue (45th-46th), NYC. (See a testimonial essay about this dinner at Daniela.)

David LaMarche will soon conduct Spring 2017 performances at Lincoln Center’s Met Opera House. (The full American Ballet Theatre performance schedule is here.) I posed a series of questions, below, about the musical scores for the eight productions, including the Tchaikovsky repertory program, which he will personally conduct.

REZ: You will conduct the pulsating and popular "Don Quixote" ballet. There are virtuosic variations in the solos and pas de deux for both Kitri and Basilio. You will conduct for Copeland and Cirio both nights. How will you take pauses in the renowned lifts with fans and tambourines, when Kitri kicks and bends backwards, in the fouettés, and when Basilio lifts Kitri? Also, this is a comedy with characters in vaudevillian theatrics. How do you prep the orchestra for lighthearted music?

DLM: In “Don Quixote”, the famous one arm lifts come near the end of Act 1. As long as they hold that lift, I will hold the chord, and then go on when they start to come down from the lift. For me, it's better when it's not too long, otherwise the momentum sags. No pauses in the fouettés! Just a good, solid rhythm for Kitri, and then the pause comes after she finishes and before Basilio starts his turns in second position. As for the orchestra, this has been in ABT's rep since Methuselah was born, so they know the style very well, no coaching needed here!

REZ: For Ratmansky's new production, "Whipped Cream", with which the New York audiences are mostly unfamiliar, you'll conduct the leads Cirio, Cornejo, Murphy, and Boylston. Tell my readers about your impressions of the score by Richard Strauss, I assume frothy waltzes. Is this music lighthearted along the lines of "Don Q"? How are the rehearsals going? How was the California preview?

DLM: The score for “Whipped Cream” is a ballet by Richard Strauss entitled, "Schlagobers". Like most Strauss, it's a dense, layered score, rhythmically complex, with melodies often in two different meters at once. But it's his homage to Vienna, written with warmth and sentiment, so yes, it does have some beautiful, lilting waltz melodies and stirring marches. It's a terrific score. I would not describe it as lighthearted, because it has truly dark moments and some sinister characters. If “Whipped Cream” is a Linzer torte, then “Don Quixote” is cotton candy. The California premiere was a great success, and I expect our New York audiences to respond well.

REZ: For "Giselle", score by Adolphe Adam, the NY ballet audiences hang on every turn of drama, motion, and tone. The female leads, as Giselle, on your three conducting dates, are either new in the role or recent. Hee Seo, Stella Abrera, and Sarah Lane are seasoned in the ballet but not in the lead role. Their Albrechts, Stearns, Simkin, and Gomes are highly experienced in partnering these fairly new Giselles. How are you adjusting the sumptuous score to this casting? Giselle's ethereal en air lifted sweeps in the Bavarian forest in Act II come to mind, as well as the mad side kick rushing, as the Wilis close in.

DLM: “Giselle”, more than many ballets, allows for many moments when the conductor can shape the music very closely to the ballerina's interpretation. It's an operatic ballet, as the music drives the drama, and vice versa. The most I can say about how I adapt this to each cast is that every couple has a personalized, slightly different interpretation. So, I have to watch a lot, especially in key places in the solos and pas de deux.

REZ: You will conduct all of the June "Golden Cockerel" performances, a new ballet also by Ratmansky, to a score by Rimsky-Korsakov, whose opera was adapted for ballet. How does the original Fokine ballet and score inspire the current ABT production, and why did you choose to conduct all four June performances? What's your impression of the music?

DLM: Actually, I was assigned all of the “Golden Cockerel” performances, so although it was not my choice, I'm very happy to do them. The ballet version by Ratmansky follows the libretto as originally written, and Alexei has illuminated the characterizations to make it even more vivid. The score is superb, with consistently inventive, imaginative orchestration, and a wealth of Slavic folk tunes.

REZ: One of the showiest and most entertaining ballets, "Le Corsaire", choreographed by Sergeyev after Petipa, will feature a recently new Principal, the muscular Alban Lendorf as Conrad, the pirate, and Daniil Simkin, a quintessential Ali the Slave, along with the seasoned Gillian Murphy as Medora. These Principals will round out the iconic Pas de Deux à Trois and Pas de Deux with solo variations. You will probably drink lots of espresso before conducting the two performances for this high energy trio. What are you focusing on and how?

DLM: Yes, well you definitely need stimulation to conduct “Le Corsaire”, and also good tempo memory. As a colleague once said, there are six principals and three soloists, and they all have multiple variations and pas de deux in each act, so you do the math! I'll just try to pace it well and keep it moving.

REZ: In June you will conduct McKenzie's "Swan Lake" after Petipa on two performances, one of which is Devon Teuscher's New York debut as Odette-Odile. Her partner, Siegfried, will be Hammoudi, who usually dances as Rothbart in the Act III Ballroom scene. How are you and Devon working on the combined choreographic musicality? What will you do differently from the pit, if anything? You're also conducting for Seo and Stearns, a seasoned duo in the roles. How does the Tchaikovsky score shift as it adapts to the two stage couples? Can you preview any surprises in Devon's interpretation?

DLM: This will be Devon Teuscher's first “Swan Lake” in New York, yes, but she is a seasoned, confident dancer, and I think the audience will be astonished by the depth of her interpretation. There are, of course, differences in the way certain dancers respond to music, and I keep that in mind. But I try to stay in the moment during performance too, as often things can change for many reasons. So, I have a plan, but I still stay tuned.

REZ: You will conduct both of Ferri's returns to the Met stage as Tatiana in John Cranko's "Onegin", led by Ferri's former ballet partner, Roberto Bolle. This fiery Italian duo will compete for attention with Diana Vishneva's retirement lead in the same ballet, one week in June. Vishneva's Onegin will be Marcelo Gomes, her frequent, longtime partner. Also competing for audience demand that week is this season’s NY stage return of David Hallberg from longtime injury. He'll partner Hee Seo. Ferri, ten years after her retirement, will be closely watched and admired for resilience and stamina. How will the music change in tempo and dynamic to synchronize with Alessandra Ferri's current ballet skills and her deep emotionality? This will be a week that will live in ballet infamy!

DLM: All I can say is that Ferri's performances of “Onegin” have always been moving, and I expect that will remain so. She has always used the steps themselves as a means of expression, which is what we all want to see when we go to the theater. You're right, it's an embarrassment of riches that week.

REZ: A potpourri of Tchaikovsky scored ballets will complete American Ballet Theatre's season in July. Two by Balanchine: "Mozartiana" and "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux", two by Ratmansky: "Aurora's Wedding" pas de deux from "The Sleeping Beauty" and "The Nutcracker" pas de deux , plus Marcelo Gomes' "AfterEffect", all appear to be on your conducting schedule. This is an eclectic array of brief ballets, all scored to sumptuous Tchaikovsky compositions, created as story ballet commissions or as chosen scores for later works. Talk about the music and orchestral highlights of these Tchaikovsky ballets.

DLM: One interesting detail about this version of “Aurora's Wedding” is that Ratmansky has interpolated two divertissements from “The Nutcracker”, the Tea Variation and the Trepak (called Porcelain Princesses and Three Ivans here). Apparently, this was a Ballet Russes convention at some point. It's all wonderful music, with all the sweep and sophistication you expect from Tchaikovsky. I'm partial to “Mozartiana”, because I revere Mozart (as did Tchaikovsky), and because it's one of Balanchine's great works.

David LaMarche, Conductor
at Daniela Trattoria
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

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