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A Spring 2016 Discussion with David LaMarche, Conductor, American Ballet Theatre
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A Spring 2016 Discussion with David LaMarche, Conductor, American Ballet Theatre

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A Spring 2016 Discussion with David LaMarche
Conductor, American Ballet Theatre

Exploring Spring Season Musical Scores

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 9, 2016

(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 9, 2016 to July 2, 2016. David LaMarche has been favorably reviewed as ABT Conductor on these pages for well over a decade. I recently chatted with Maestro LaMarche at Indigo Indian Bistro, at 283 Columbus Avenue (73rd Street), NYC. (See a testimonial essay about that dinner.)

David LaMarche is now conducting Spring 2016 performances at the Metropolitan Opera House, including works in the Spring Gala (The full American Ballet Theatre performance schedule is here.) I posed a series of questions, below, about the musical scores for those nine ballets (including one ballet trilogy) in the Spring Repertory, which he will personally conduct.

REZ: I gave you a rave review for your June 24, 2013 conducting of "Sylvia", Ashton's exquisite ballet, based on the mythological story of Sylvia, Aminta, Eros, and Diana. In that review I wrote that "Ballet Theatre orchestra gave (you) a truly memorable opening night presentation, filled with rapture, resonance, and relish. The brass and strings were sumptuous." "Sylvia" is not one of the best known in American Ballet Theatre's (ABT) repertory. How will you rehearse the Delibes score so that the ABT Orchestra once again exudes rapture, resonance, and relish?

DLM: For “Sylvia”, I try to bring out the nuances in the score, the complete range of dynamics, the power of the brass in the hunt scene. Really, Delibes wrote such a wonderful orchestration, you just have to be faithful to it to realize its potential.

REZ: The "Shostakovich Trilogy" is fast becoming a renowned trio of contemporary Ratmansky ballets. You will be conducting all three ballets in the trio. On two nights you'll conduct "Symphony # 9", the ballet presented first in the trio. Then on two different nights you'll conduct "Chamber Symphony" plus "Piano Concerto # 1". What was the reasoning in dividing the conducting nights, what are the orchestra's technical challenges, and what is your favorite musical moment in each Shostakovich score?

DLM: Actually, we made some changes in the schedule, so I'll only be conducting the Symphony and the Piano Concerto. But I have conducted the Chamber Symphony in the past. We customarily split the ballets, even the one-acts, between the conductors, to allow all of us to learn the repertoire. It's difficult to choose one moment in each of those pieces that is my favorite. But in general, the 9th Symphony has both humor and pathos, the Chamber Symphony is relentlessly pessimistic but heartbreaking, and the First Piano Concerto has the most beautiful slow movement and a cartoonish roller coaster in the finale.

REZ: You'll be conducting for Ratmansky's ballet, "Firebird", with the entire Stravinsky score, “L’Oiseau de Feu”, on a weekend matinee. This is a very animated story version of the Russian tale, with the propulsive instrumentations for the forestial monster, Kaschei, and the whizzing dynamics of the Firebird, in your case Roman Zhurbin and Isabella Boylston in these two roles. How do you create the wild and percussive dramatization inherent in Ratmansky's colorful choreography of this dynamic ballet?

DLM: Again, if you just play Stravinsky's score of “Firebird” as written, it's all there in the music.

REZ: Ashton’s "La Fille mal gardée" was last reviewed on these pages in 2003. This ballet has remained backstage for well over a decade. Why do you think this is the time for its staged revival? Is there anything special we should listen for in the musical score by Ferdinand Hérold, which was adapted and arranged by John Lanchbery? This is not a very memorable score, but it's a romantically upbeat ballet.

DLM: I think ABT has a strong relationship with the Ashton rep, and Fille is beloved by our audiences. The score is charming and suits Ashton's take on it to a “t”.

REZ: In contrast to the above ballets, "Le Corsaire" is so well known, and its music so frequently used in Gala pas de deux, that it must be a challenge to find new ways to add to the fervor of the 'en air' leaps and twirls. Do you have something in mind for Hee Seo and James Whiteside in June, to drive the catapulting choreography by Petipa and Sergeyev? This ballet lists five composers, whose music is combined for the score. Do you know which composer, Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Leo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo, or Prince Oldenbourg is the man who wrote those propulsive pas de deux and pas de deux à trois for Medora the slave, Conrad the pirate, and Ali the slave?

DLM: I believe that Drigo composed the music for the famous Act II Pas de Trois. The melodies and rhythms in “Corsaire” are simple, to say the least, so we just try to make them as dancy as possible.

REZ: Ratmansky's "The Golden Cockerel" is one of his two new works for the Met Season, the other being "Serenade after Plato's Symposium". Tell me about the musical score by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. This ballet was a hit in 1914 in Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. Tell me what you can about the music and how it affects the mythical, romantic story. Don't say too much that would take away the element of surprise for those of us unfamiliar with the plot.

DLM: Our version of “Golden Cockerel” is an adaptation of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera, done by Yannis Samprovalakis for the Royal Danish Ballet. Much of the music is narrative, with orchestral instruments substituting for the voices. Each of the characters has thematic music, which reoccur frequently in the course of the ballet.

REZ: As for Tchaikovsky's score for the McKenzie-Petipa-Ivanov "Swan Lake", I and most balletomanes could hum it from the first strike of the baton to the last. You'll conduct for three ballerinas, Gillian Murphy, Veronica Part, and Isabella Boylston, as the dual Swans, Odette and Odile, each requiring totally different tempos and dynamics. Will you vary your conducting for these three Principals, or will they follow a standard tempo and tone? How do you keep this annual ballet favorite fresh and thrilling?

DLM: Yes, with a ballet like “Swan Lake”, it is obligatory to shape the variations for the principal dancers to their interpretations. I often listen to old recordings of ballets like “Swan Lake” to stimulate my mind when I revisit them.

REZ: You will conduct for two Juliets on three nights, with another easy-to-hum-through score for MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet". How will you treat Prokofiev's tragic, propulsive score differently for Diana Vishneva (two nights) and Gillian Murphy on the third night? A quintessential musical moment occurs when Juliet sits on the edge of her bed, thinking of how Friar Laurence can help her escape a marriage to Paris. A second riveting moment in the score occurs earlier, when the Capulets dance toward the audience in propulsive majesty. Talk about conducting at these highly dramatic moments in the ballet.

DLM: For “Romeo”, there is much less adaptation to the individual dancer. I realize that I keep saying this, but Prokofiev wrote such a detailed, narrative score, that if you just follow his instructions, you will get all the drama that the ballet requires.

REZ: Tchaikovsky's music for "The Sleeping Beauty" can be ever so gorgeous, depending on the chemistry of Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré. Two key musical moments occur, first in the Rose Adagio, when Aurora remains en pointe, dancing with four suitors and roses, and later in the chemistry-driven, vivacious wedding scene. There are wild leaps into the Prince's arms, called fish dives. Tell me about conducting the Ratmansky choreography in those moments, as the Auroras dancing on your conducting dates are the virtuosic Gillian Murphy and Isabella Boylston.

DLM: The Rose Adagio is just about the most perfect piece of music Tchaikovsky wrote, with its slow build, variety of texture, and majestic climax. Likewise the Act III Pas de Deux is like a five minute novel, with an exposition, development, climax, and denouement. I'm certain there will be differences in moments of the variations for those two dancers, but in this version by Ratmansky, there is an overarching propulsion to the score that makes the story the primary force in the interpretation.

David LaMarche at Indigo Indian Bistro
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

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