September 21st, 2015
A friend recently noted that it’d been quite some time since I’d made a blog entry and after
a little reflection I realized that was quite right. After spending the first two months of the season with a different concert program literally every week, I then jumped down the rabbit hole of doing a long run of “Nutcracker” with the Paris Ballet. Including rehearsals, the entire production will have lasted 2 months from start to finish with 21 performances, as well as 2 preview performances of this amazing score by Tchaikovsky, with the world class Paris Opera Orchestra and the incomparable Paris Opera Ballet…it’s is a pretty swell way to spend two months and I’m a lucky guy to be able to do so!! (*author’s note: Since I’m making up for lost time, this blog will likely be a long one)
Many nuts will have been cracked in the making of this production!! That is in addition to many soloists (5 or 6 casts, I lost count), many orchestra musicians (2 complete sets of the exceptionally large orchestra of nearly 80 musicians they use here in Paris), 2 casts of the 40-50 member children’s chorus for the end of act 1, two sets of the children’s ballet around 30-40 in each group and around 60,000 audience members…oh, and 1 conductor…me!
Back in September and October when I was having a new concert program every week, (a schedule which will come up again shortly in January) there was always something well, new about which to write every week…different pieces of music, different soloists, different orchestras etc. I suppose it’s a legitimate question to ask how that compares to this very different type of work. I am not only doing this single work for this long, but it’s also worthy of note that this is the third revival series of it I’m doing here of this production by Nureyev here in Paris. That means by the end of this run I’ll have done around 80 performances of this production in this house. I did the same Nureyev production some years prior at La Scala in Milan also.
This is a very different sort of work for sure than basically preparing a full program of music in a couple of days with an orchestra and playing it once or twice maybe, and then straight on to the next thing. When you do a long run like this (and I know, it’s nothing compared to a long Broadway run, but since that’s not what I do, it isn’t a comparison to which I can speak) it becomes a way of life!! Those who know me well might say that I never go half way in performance, or only give half of myself. I don’t really even know how to do that. I’ve tried on occasion and it feel like I’m just phoning it in…to use a famous theater phrase.
So a big performance every other day becomes the thing around which one’s entire day is planned, of course…even that day in between performances, if there is one not to mention when there are double performance days, becomes either the release from and preparation for the next performance. To give an example of what I mean, a few weeks ago I met a friend for lunch, and had a meeting via Skype later in the afternoon on a performance day. It didn’t seem like much, but I noted I wasn’t as fresh in the evening for performance, which I hate!! I’m sure it was a completely successful performance, but that always seems like a missed opportunity when I feel like I’m not able to give 150%.
The contrast to concert preparation and performance is enormous. Often times with a concert rehearsal and performance cycle, one is quite drained by the time the concert comes around, but the sheer adrenaline gets one through it, since it always “opening night” so to speak. Just to mention one aspect in which the experience is so different, is that usually in the theater we’ll have the opening two days after the final dress…i.e. a free day in between. This contrasts to concerts where in my world for many logistical reasons, we have the final dress right before the concert, with only a 2 hour break in between!
I hope it doesn’t sound too self serving to say that many musicians of the orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris with whom I work here will comment to me that they appreciate my energy and enthusiasm for each performance. I’ve often been asked how I am able to stay enthused about performing a work so many times. I have to say that the thing I really miss about doing less theater these days and more concerts is the opportunity to spend a really long time performing a given piece. I LOVE repeat performances of a work, and if it’s one that is such sheer genius as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker with an orchestra as incredible as the Paris Opera Orchestra, then it is an unbelievable pleasure. If only I could play all of the Brahms and Beethoven Symphonies every season! It is also obviously always a big honor to work with the amazing Paris ballet and to conduct in these venues of the Bastille and the Palais Garnier…even after 10 years.