Post by Rebecca King, Corps de Ballet
It is Miami City Ballet’s 25th anniversary and what better way to start this season than by bringing the orchestra back! If you have attended any of our performances so far this season, you have experienced the delight of Opus One Orchestra. However, there has been a change in the pit; our Artistic Director, Edward Villella, recruited a new conductor to lead the musicians – Maestro Gary Sheldon. And Mr. Sheldon knows what he is doing! It’s obvious to the dancers as we interact with him, but his resume proves it.
Gary Sheldon is a native of Bay Shore, New York and a Julliard School alum. He was a conducting fellow for the Aspen Music Festival, Berkshire Music Center, and International Music Seminar. Mr. Sheldon has been the principal conductor for the Opera Theater of Syracuse and Ballet Met, and principal guest conductor of the Columbus Symphony and San Francisco Ballet.
In 1988, Mr. Sheldon founded the Lancaster Festival Orchestra, which won The American Prize in Orchestral Performance. In 2010, he won The American Prize in Conducting in the professional orchestra division. (To learn more about Gary Sheldon, click here.)
As we continue to celebrate the orchestra’s return throughout our run of Program I and Fanfare, I asked Mr. Sheldon if he would answer a few questions to enlighten readers about his role and his work with the dancers of Miami City Ballet.
You have worked with many ballet companies, including San Francisco Ballet and Ballet Met. Has your experience thus far with Miami City Ballet been different than these other companies?
In some ways, working with different companies is quite similar. Much of the repertoire is the same and the tireless commitment dancers must make to their art inspires me everywhere I go. That said, the difference between companies can be great. What repertoire does vary, and is usually very different, and dancer types and personalities will differ, both reflecting the preferences and repertoire predilections of the artistic director.
One striking observation I will make however is the remarkable connection I feel to the spirit and genius of George Balanchine working with Edward and our excellent ballet mistresses. Even having conducted Balanchine with other fine companies for nearly 30 years, there is something extra special in the air here. In just one month with the company, I’ve seen some truly outstanding performances of Mr B’s work.
How is conducting for the ballet different than conducting a performance for a symphony? What are the unique challenges that you encounter?
Conducting for ballet could not be more different than conducting for opera or symphony. It all begins with an understanding of dance technique, which is something no conducting class or school in the world offers. So one must find other ways to learn – like attend classes, competitions, apprentice with an established ballet conductor and ultimately, just jump in and “do it” if you are lucky enough to get the opportunity.
As we were in the final stages of rehearsing for Program I before opening at Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami in October, you attended many of our in-studio rehearsals. What did you gain from this time in our studios on South Beach?
I especially enjoy every opportunity I get to see the dancers rehearse in the studio. Doing so allows me to become familiar with the choreography which is helpful in several ways. Learning the tempo of the music is critical to what a conductor does. While one could simply listen to a recording to replicate the preferred tempos of the choreographer, going to studio rehearsals and becoming familiar with the choreography illuminates what prompted the choregrapher to pick those tempos.
Attending studio rehearsals also helps me become familiar with the individual dancers. When there are casting changes, it’s necessary to become familiar with the varying interpretations and tempos that different dancers might require.
On average, how much time did it take for each musician to prepare for Program I? How much of that time is on their own, and how much is the entire orchestra together?
The Opus One Orchestra usually has four rehearsals per program, including two rehearsals with the dancers. Prior to rehearsing with the orchestra, musicians practice countless hours on their own.
A special thanks to Mr. Sheldon for giving me a moment of his time for this interview.
If you still haven’t heard the orchestra play, you have one more opportunity to see Program I: Fanfare, Bugaku, and Theme and Variations at Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach. Come Friday, Nov. 19 at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 20 at 2:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m., or Sunday, Nov. 21 at 1:00 p.m.