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A Spring 2019 Discussion with David LaMarche Conductor, American Ballet Theatre
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A Spring 2019 Discussion with David LaMarche Conductor, American Ballet Theatre

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A Spring 2019 Discussion with David LaMarche
Conductor, American Ballet Theatre

Twelfth Anniversary Edition on Ballet Scores

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 7, 2019

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

This is a series of questions posed to David LaMarche, Conductor of American Ballet Theatre, which is concluding its 2019 Spring Season at the Metropolitan Opera House. David LaMarche has been favorably reviewed as ABT Conductor on these pages for well over a decade. I recently chatted with Maestro LaMarche at New Wonjo, in Korea Town, at 23 West 32nd Street, NYC. David and I enjoyed a Korean Barbecue of Shrimp, Mushroom and Vegetables, and Small Specialty Plates.

David LaMarche and I have been wining and dining and interviewing about the ballet scores for American Ballet Theatre and about the process of conducting these scores for a total of twelve years, both for Spring and Fall Seasons. The link above includes all of these dinner interviews. So, for this Twelfth Anniversary Edition, I posed a few personal, aesthetic questions of David, and his thoughtful, eloquent responses are below. (The full American Ballet Theatre performance schedule is here.)

REZ: David this year our seasonal ballet music interview will focus on the music, as we have covered so much content, over the years, regarding adjusting rhythms to individual dancers' style and preference. Ratmansky's one-act "The Seasons" is a premiere work. The Glazunov score is gorgeous and complex. Please comment on your evolving impressions of the music and all its variations and highlights. Do you adjust the rhythms for winter, spring, summer, autumn?

DLM: The most compelling feature of Glazunov’s “The Seasons” is his mastery of orchestration. The melodies are beautiful, yes, but it is the setting of them that brings each of the seasons alive. Winter alone is a stunning example of descriptive music - the swelling crescendi that evoke a snow squall, the hailstorm of pointed staccato notes, all suggesting the beauty and danger of the natural world.

REZ: Ratmansky's one-act "On the Dnieper" has a dramatic Prokofiev score for the ballet's poignant plot. Please comment on the musical passages of serenity and yearning, as well as those of conflict and passion and how you adjust the conducting. What are the focal instruments and where are they heard?

DLM: Prokofiev was very fond of “On the Dnieper” and confident that it would one day attain the success he thought it deserved. The main love theme, which is heard several times in the ballet, is laden with emotion, passionate, but also melancholic, to reflect the forbidden romance at the center of the story. The music is rhythmically complex, with unpredictable meters and phrasing. Listen for the highest and lowest instruments in the orchestra - the piccolo and the tuba - a signature of Prokofiev’s orchestration, especially in his ballets.

REZ: The new, upcoming production of "Jane Eyre" is thrilling in anticipation of its debut. I will be watching the 1943 and 2011 films (recorded) just after viewing the ballet, to thoughtfully revisit the iconic drama. Please tell me all about the new music by Philip Feeney and the musical excerpts from Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Felix Mendelssohn, and Franz Schubert. How did you study the background of these compositions, and how do they project and propel the choreography of Cathy Marston? Did she work with you? Please also mention solo instrumental highlights to listen for.

DLM: “Jane Eyre” uses music of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn (exact contemporaries of the Brontë sisters) and Schubert for the more traditional set pieces in the ballet, plus freshly composed music of Philip Feeney for the more dramatic evocations of the internal conflicts of the main characters. I will be fortunate to have Mr. Feeney present at the rehearsals to consult if any questions arise about his concept and intentions. And yes, I did work closely with Cathy Marston in the studio to try to shape the music to the drama. The clarinet has a huge presence in this orchestration; it is practically the embodiment of the main character and all her conflicts and aspirations.

REZ: The four longtime ABT repertory, full-length story ballets, "Swan Lake" (Tchaikovsky), "Sleeping Beauty" (Tchaikovsky), "Le Corsaire" (Adam, Pugni, Delibes, Drigo, Oldenbourg), and "Manon" (Massenet), have been comprehensively discussed in our past eleven years of seasonal ballet music interviews. So, tell me your new revelations and ideas in keeping these renowned musical scores, all beloved by the Ballet Theatre audiences, fresh and compelling.

DLM: Even in such a long, densely packed season as the Met, I do try to find new ways to approach the Tchaikovsky ballets, “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty”. Sometimes I will experiment with tempo, balances, accents to shake things up a bit. There are always more depths to plumb. “Corsaire” just has to be entertaining, in an extroverted way. No depths there, just sparkle! For “Manon”, I respect Massenet as a great melodist and opera composer, so it helps to imagine his pieces as if they are being sung.

REZ: Tell me another favorite ballet from another season, that you love to conduct and why. Also please imagine a favorite musical score, orchestral or operatic, for which you wish a choreographer would design a new ballet. Please elaborate. Thank you so much, this is our twelfth year of seasonal ballet music interviews!

DLM: ABT hasn’t performed Balanchine’s “Symphony in C” in many years now, but it is truly one of my favorites. I favor French music, and Bizet’s “Symphony” is an exemplar of all that I like about the French style - light, effervescent, with beautiful woodwind writing. And of course, it’s a terrific ballet.

I’ve always thought that Gershwin’s “Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra” would make a great dance. Good tunes, the right length. But, perhaps someone, has already done that!

David LaMarche with Specialty Beer
at New Wonjo
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Preparing the Barbecue
at New Wonjo
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Small Plates of Korean Vegetables
at New Wonjo
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Small Plates of Rice and Vegetables
at New Wonjo
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

The Server Assists the Barbecue
Shrimp and Mushroom Barbecue
at New Wonjo
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

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