I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


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New York City Ballet in Paris – Balanchine, New York – Paris

Charles Gounod: Walpurgisnacht Ballet
Maurice Ravel: Sonatine, La Valse
Georges Bizet: Symphony in C

New York City Ballet
Choreography by George Balanchine
Orchestre Prométhée/Daniel Capps
Recorded in Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, July 2016
BelAir Classiques BAC 439, 1080i Full-HD, PCM 2.0 / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 106 mins

New York City Ballet in Paris

New York City Ballet in Paris

Of today’s top ballet companies, New York City Ballet is one of the least well represented on home video – a sorry fact the American dancers share with their colleagues from the Royal Danish Ballet in Europe. The company preserves one of the most significant and groundbreaking choreographic legacies on the planet – with George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins at its core – and is a foremost promoter of contemporary work. Yet, even in these multimediatized times, performance videos which highlight repertory and current dancers of New York City Ballet remain a precious rarity.

What a superb idea it was, then, to film the company while on tour in Paris in the summer of 2016, performing a selection of its traditional repertory. The choice was, I assume, readily made. The connection between Balanchine and the French capital is legendary. All four ballets assembled here are set to French music and both Walpurgisnacht and Symphony in C were even created for the Paris Opera. Often with nothing but light as setting and very simple costuming (except La Valse with its hints of a ballroom and slightly decadent gowns), and utterly delightful music (Gounod, Bizet and Ravel) to boast, this program is a continuous joy and may serve as an antidote against those trying to reduce dance to darkness, violence and angst. In these troubled times a shot of Balanchine is by all means a very welcome night out. By their intelligence, musicality, sense of harmony and purity of intent, his ballets are beacons of light and hope, and by their perennial modernity, continuing sources of delight and inspiration.

Try the lovely Sonatine from 1975 on a rainy day: just two dancers and a pianist on stage, yet it all is brought with effortless dignity, simple charm, and sunlit grace by Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz. In no time you will feel better. This is also a disc to admire the New York City Ballet dancers of today. Like the wonderful Sara Mearns in the romantically wild and theatrical Walpurgisnacht Ballet. Or Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar both superb in La Valse (combining Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales with La Valse proper), offering dramatic contrast. Finally, the irresistible Symphony in C, originally made as Palais de Cristal for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1947, a magnificent showcase for the company’s health and strength. Soloists and ensemble appear in tremendous form and if this performance is in any way representative of the current state of New York City Ballet, then the company is doing really well indeed.

With François Duplat and Vincent Bataillon as the producer-director team, well known from the successful “Bolshoi Ballet HD Collection” distributed by BelAir Classiques, we are in good hands too. They know their trade and have given us some of the best filmed ballet performance videos in recent times. “New York City Ballet in Paris” is no exception. The camerawork and editing is in effect pretty simple and straightforward, but you always see what you need to see in a ballet.

This video comes without any bonus features, but here is the dance speaking for itself as only Balanchine could master it, and it deserves a place in any serious ballet video collection. New York City Ballet brought several programs on its extensive 2016 Paris tour. May we hope for some more goodies, and not only the historical repertory but also new creations, from the treasure chest?

Warmly recommended.

© 2017 Marc Haegeman. All rights reserved


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Scandale

Francesco Tristano: A Soft Shell Groove
Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff: The Story of the Kalendar Prince from “Scheherazade”
Maurice Ravel: La Valse

Alice Sara Ott & Francesco Tristano, piano
Deutsche Grammophon 4793541 DDD TT 61:56

Scandale from Ott and Tristano

Scandale from Ott and Tristano

The “Scandale” popping up in pink font on the cover of this CD refers to the 1913 premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring in Paris, performed here in the composer’s version for piano duet. Never mind that the scandal – adroitly masterminded by impresario Sergei Diaghilev – had in fact more to do with Vaslav Nijinsky’s unconventional choreography than with Stravinsky’s music – the score survived unscathed, yet Nijinsky’s choreography was never seen again, until its resurrection in 1987 for the Joffrey Ballet. Pianists Alice Sara Ott and Francesco Tristano team up in what primarily looks like an homage to the visionary genius of Diaghilev and an extraordinary group of creative artists, who caused a hundred years ago with the Ballets Russes a shockwave in the arts world – one that clearly still ripples on.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Abdel Rahman El Bacha Saves the Day

Francis Poulenc: Orchestral Suite “Les Biches”
Maurice Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major
Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Op. 71, Act II

Abdel Rahman El Bacha, piano
Belgian National Orchestra/Andrew Litton
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, 2 October 2013

With ballet music – Poulenc’s Les Biches and Act 2 from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker – framing the Piano concerto from Ravel, the Belgian National Orchestra under American guest conductor Andrew Litton promised an evening full of elegance, color and sophistication. Soloist for the Ravel was the Franco-Lebanese pianist Abdel Rahman El Bacha, laureate of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in this very same place in 1978, then a mere 19-year old. The present concert was in aid of CAP 48, a fundraising initiative of the Belgian TV network working hard for the integration of disabled people – though sad to see in this respect that the concert hall was only two thirds filled this evening.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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The Rite of Spring 100 Years Young

Maurice Ravel: La Valse
Claude Debussy: La Mer
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, 15 May 2013

There is no way to escape it: on May 29 it will be exactly a hundred years ago that Igor Stravinsky’s seminal Rite of Spring was premiered in Paris, as part of the famous Ballets Russes seasons masterminded by Serge Diaghilev. While the fascination of dance-makers with the work has never diminished since its notorious creation at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées – very few scores have been so frequently choreographed throughout the years or triggered man’s boundless imagination – the centenary promises plenty of concerts and music-related events commemorating the Rite. For that matter, one of the most original renditions were to be found at London’s Royal Festival Hall where the complete Rite could be heard whistled in the lavatories – courtesy of Joao Penalva.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Lunch with Khatia Buniatishvili

Frédéric Chopin: Piano Sonata #2 in B Flat minor, Op. 35
Scherzo #2 in B Flat minor, Op. 31
Scherzo #3 in C Sharp minor, Op. 39
Maurice Ravel: La Valse

Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
London, Wigmore Hall, 11 February 2013

The weekly BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall feature much-loved international artists and young, up-and-coming performers from the BBC New Generations scheme. The many portraits decorating the Green Room at Wigmore remind us that practically all the great soloists in the business have performed here at some point in their career. Yet lunch with Khatia Buniatishvili is not an easy thing. The program proposed by the Georgian pianist on February 11 for a sold-out Wigmore was anything but a rush lunch at your nearest fast-food joint. For its mere 60 minutes it was quite a copious meal, food for thought as it were, taking a while to digest but eventually paying off. In fact, with playing this focused, relentlessly intense and passionate, insightful and quite stunningly virtuosic to boast, it was sheer delight.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Brazil Festival in Amsterdam

Manuel de Falla: Noches en los jardines de España
Darius Milhaud: Suite Op. 81a from La Création du Monde, Le boeuf sur le toit, Op. 58
Maurice Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte, Boléro

Nelson Freire, piano
Royal Concertgebouw Ochestra/Iván Fischer
Amsterdam, Concertgebouw, 16 October 2011

As part of the Brazil Festival in Amsterdam, which offers for two months a rich sample of art forms ranging from dance, visual arts, film and architecture to economics, gastronomy, theatre and music, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Iván Fischer programmed a remarkable concert of, well, not Brazilian music, but at least music partly inspired by it. More than anything, however, it was a marvelous opportunity to see and hear a great orchestra letting its hair down and sharing a great deal of fun.
Read the full review on Classical Net