Dancers above, orchestra below make San Francisco Ballet work

Courtesy PhotoIn 2013

San Francisco Ballet music director and principal conductor Martin West is pleased to be preparing a “huge range of music” for the troupe’s upcoming 80th season, opening Jan. 29.

“From the Baroque music of Scarlatti to contemporary, such as John Adam’s ‘Guide to Strange Places,’ it’s never a dull day,” says West, who presides over the company’s integral, expansive and expensive orchestral program — a rare thing in today’s climate of tight budgets for the arts.

West — who conducted the English National Ballet, the Hallé Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and others before joining  San Francisco Ballet in 2005 — is particularly looking forward to works by Russian composers.

The musicians will revisit Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” in April’s Program Six, which, he says, will give the orchestra a chance to “explore a fantastic score even more deeply.”

For Program Eight, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s “Cinderella” is set to music by Prokofiev, about which West says, “I haven’t felt so much anticipation from the orchestra members to play a piece for a long time. [It’s] fantastically inventive, tuneful and magical.

Two Stravinsky masterpieces also are being presented: “Symphony in Three Movements” in Program Seven and  “perhaps most excitingly,” West says, “The Rite of Spring” in Program Three.

Ballet orchestra bassist Shinji Eshima, who has played in both opera and ballet orchestras for more than 30 years, says  the job requires musicians to be more flexible than their counterparts in symphonic orchestras.

“Singers and dancers do different things each night and the interaction with the orchestra then becomes a new living and breathing organism that really makes live music come alive,” he says, adding that performers and crew reach and strive for “that moment in a phrase where the audience literally participates as well in the anticipation of a musical climax or resolution.”

Eshima describes the connection: “That is the magic and wonder of it all — that at least for me — is ultimately convincing that there is meaning to life. It doesn’t happen every time, but once it does, there’s no going back.”

 

San Francisco Ballet 80th season

  • Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
  • When: Jan. 29 to May 12
  • Tickets: $35 to $298 single tickets; $67 to $775 for subscriptions
  • Contact: (415) 865-2000; www.sfballet.org

Selected musical highlights

Program 3 (Feb. 26-March 10)

  • Mark Morris’ “Beaux,” set to Martinu
  • Ashley Page's “Guide to Strange Places,” to Adams
  • Yuri Possokhov's “The Rite of Spring,” to Stravinsky

Program 6 (April 9-20)

  • Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House,” to Dvorák
  • Rudolf Nureyev’s “Raymonda” Act 3, Glazunov
  • Edwaard Liang’s “Symphonic Dances” to Rachmaninov

 

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