New York City Ballet
The Pianists of NYCB
A Ballet Seminar
(New York City Ballet Seminar Web Page)
Moderator: Joan Quatrano, Managing Director,
Volunteer & Programmatic Services
Panelists: Elaine Chelton, Cameron Grant
Nancy McDill, Alan Moverman
Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief: Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress: Rosemary Dunleavy
Children’s Ballet Master: Dena Abergel
Orchestra, Music Director: Andrew Litton
Resident Choreographer: Justin Peck
Managing Dir. Communications and Special Projects: Robert Daniels
Associate Director, Communications: Katharina Plumb
Communications Associate: Kina Poon
The David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 22, 2016
(Read more NYC Ballet Reviews)
Tonight’s New York City Ballet Seminar brought out four of the five piano soloists in the company, all of whom have been performing in some or all of the following: “piano ballets” (to solo piano), “concerto ballets” (piano with orchestra), “instrumental ensemble ballets” (an ensemble in the pit or onstage), “duo piano ballets” (ballets with two solo pianists), and “ballets with enhanced soloists” (ballets with, e.g., a trio onstage and orchestra in the pit). The orchestra level of Koch Theater was packed for this Monday evening special event, with Moderator, Joan Quatrano asking each of the pianists (Susan Walters had a prior work engagement), Elaine Chelton, Cameron Grant, Nancy McDill, and Alan Moverman, her own questions, followed by a few from the audience. The experience, as always, was enriching, especially with such a devoted ballet audience.
Within the program notes, we learned that Elaine Chelton has been with the Company since 1990, wrote the music for a 2013 show presented by New York Musical Theatre Festival, and wrote songs that were sung at Don’t Tell Mama and The Comic Strip. We learned that Cameron Grant has been with the Company since 1984, was pianist in the Leonardo Trio for 15 years and won a prize at the Munich Competition. We learned that Nancy McDill has been with the Company since 1994, performs with chamber groups, and performed with the company for “Dance with America”. And, We learned that Alan Moverman has been with the company since 1995, toured the US with the Martha Graham Company and was its onstage pianist, and performed in the Mostly Mozart Festival. On these pages, among my hundreds of New York City Ballet archived reviews, all four pianists have received rave reviews for piano accompaniment in the various formats noted above, such as Elaine Chelton for “In G Major”, “The Concert”, and “Interplay” (all ballets by Robbins), Cameron Grant for “The Four Temperaments”, “Movements for Piano and Orchestra”, and Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze” (all ballets by Balanchine), Nancy McDill for “2 & 3 Part Inventions”, “In the Night”, and “Tarantella” (ballets by Robbins and Balanchine), and Alan Moverman for “After the Rain”, “Polaris”, and “Thou Swell” (ballets by Wheeldon, Walton, and Martins). Once again, all five of City Ballet’s Piano Soloists have been widely featured on these pages. Click here to see archived New York City Ballet reviews.
During the seminar, Ms. Quatrano and the pianists explored an expansive array of topics related to performances, rehearsals for the ballets, involvement with School of American Ballet (the affiliate training school for children and teens), and outside performances and professional projects. There were also kudos for the new Music Director, Andrew Litton. Some of the most difficult piano ballets cited by the panel were “The Goldberg Variations”, “Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2”, and “The Blue of Distance”. In a discussion about their early days with the company, Ms. Chelton mentioned her previous experience with the Eglevsky Ballet on Long Island and working with City Ballet dancers Edward Villella and Violette Verdy, both Eglevsky teachers. Ms. McDill spoke about her work with School of American Ballet, Mr. Grant spoke about splitting his time with freelance work and the ballet company, at first, and Mr. Moverman arrived during his Graham Company years. The subject of rehearsals was fascinating, as the piano substitutes for the orchestra, when dancers work on new choreography and repertory works in the studios. It’s not uncommon for a pianist to rehearse segments of numerous ballets in a given day. For premiere works, Ms. McDill spoke of meeting Paul McCartney, the composer of the score for “Ocean’s Kingdom”, Mr. Grant spoke of Christopher Wheeldon's “Mercurial Manoeuvres”, and Ms. Chelton spoke of Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s “The Seven Deadly Sins” and meeting Patti LuPone.
In a discussion of their earliest introduction to the piano, Mr. Grant told the audience that he and his three brothers all took lessons, and Ms. Chelton first studied at home, prior to Manhattan School of Music. Mr. Moverman mentioned, regarding outside work, that he presents a piano recital every couple of years with a chamber ensemble or orchestra, while Ms. Chelton mentioned writing her musical, “God’s Country”, as well as cabaret songs. Mr. Grant has completed piano recordings. The four pianists are also called, on occasion, to assist in orchestral auditions and they travel with the full company and the smaller Moves ensemble, nationally and internationally, with a company tour in Paris scheduled for this summer. On a light note, Mr. Grant regaled the crowd with a tale about performing the challenging “piano ballet”, “The Goldberg Variations”, with the keyboard inadvertently positioned, in half shadow. He was a trooper and managed like a pro. Soon after, for “Robert Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze”, the same stage crew left a book of matches on the keys as a joke. Kudos to all the virtuosic, New York City Ballet Pianists.