Music Coordinator Andrew Lahti Reviews the Music of Age of Innocence

Sep 4, 2012 in Blog Posts

Tulsa Ballet Music Coordinator Andrew Lahti shares his thoughts on the composers and music for the upcoming production Age of Innocence featuring Edwaard Liang's Age of Innocence, Wayne McGregor's PreSentient and Jorma Elo's Slice to Sharp

Let's start with Age of Innocence composer, Philip Glass. Who is he and what is he known for?

Phillip Glass is one of the few composers of the last 50 years to achieve fame and success beyond the classical music world. His film scores, collaborations with popular artists such as Paul Simon, David Bowie, and Leonard Cohen, and his operas have earned him a reputation and acclaim beyond what most composers can realize in the 21st century. He could be considered one of the two most important American composers of his generation. He is most famous as a practitioner of the musical style of “minimalism,” which is characterized by consonant harmony, steady rhythmic pulses, and gradual transformation of small musical ideas.

Age is about the time of courting and social dances – how do you think the music reflects that idea?

Edwaard’s choice of music by Phillip Glass initially might seem somewhat counter-intuitive – modern, minimalist music is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about courtship and social dances from the time of Jane Austen – but I think it was an inspired choice. The dance is all about the contrast between the outer formality required by society and the inner turmoil and emotions felt by the dancers, and the music reinforces that contrast. The group dances are danced to very driving, rhythmic music that features a lot of unison lines in the orchestra. It’s very monolithic, and almost confining, like there’s no room for any individuality. In contrast, the music for the two pas de deuxs is full of surging, dramatic, passionate melodies that seem to express all the emotions that were repressed in the group dances. The music for the finale, taken from a film score by Thomas Newman, seems to synthesize these two extremes, and ends with a tender, melancholy piano solo.

Slice to Sharp is by von Biber and Vivaldi. How do you think these composers compliment or do not complement each other to make the ballet work?

Biber and Vivaldi were both composer of the mid to late Baroque period (1675-1750). Although they were from different parts of Europe (Biber from Bohemia and Vivaldi from Venice) and they probably did not know each other, they each wrote music of great virtuosity, and expanded the limits of what the musicians and the instruments of the time were capable of. A solo violin (either by itself or with orchestra) is very prominent in most of the music used in the ballet. The virtuosity Biber and Vivaldi demanded of musicians is echoed in the demands that Jorma Elo places on the dancers.

The words slice and sharp are in the title. Can we expect the same from the music?

The fast sections of the music are filled with exciting rhythms that demand much energy and quick attack. The energetic music and movement work together extremely well. During the slower sections, the music the rhythmic drive is replaced by a steady rhythmic pulse in the orchestra, while the solo violin plays freer, more florid melodies. The dance in these sections seems to be moving in counterpoint with the solo line, as Elo’s distinctive and inventive choreography echoes the rhapsodic nature of the solo violin.

PreSentient features Steve Reich. The ballet is full of extraneous movements from beginning to end, how does the music reflect that?

Reich’s music for this ballet is a work called the Triple Quartet. It is performed by a string quartet (made up of two violins, a viola, and a cello). However, the four players of the string quartet play the piece while two other pre-recorded tracks are playing simultaneously. Thus, instead of a four-part texture that you would normally hear with a string quartet, you hear a much denser, thicker 12 part texture. This is especially true in the outer sections of the piece, where the music is in constant turmoil, giving the sometimes frenzied movements a desperate, intense quality. In contrast, the middle section of the ballet has a calmer, more plaintive expression, accompanying a beautiful pas de deux.

Who or what ballet would you compare Reich's music to?

From the ballets that Tulsa audiences have seen recently, I would say the closest match musically would be the music used in Douglas Lee’s ballet Septet (composed by Dustin O’Halloran and Simeon ten Holt) would be the most comparable. Both ballets use music that is written for strings, in a somewhat minimalist style, with a strong emotional component.

If you had to describe the overall music experience for this triple bill, what would it be?

This triple bill will be an excellent opportunity for audiences to hear music by the two most important American composers of the last half century, Steve Reich and Phillip Glass. They will be able to see how contemporary choreographers Edwaard Liang and Wayne McGregor respond to contemporary music. In contrast to this, the music for Slice to Sharp is in a style that will be more familiar to most audience members. It’s also a style of music that many choreographers have used, including Ma Cong and Nacho Duato. Audience members can compare how choreographer Jorma Elo responds to this style of music to those other choreographers. Overall, the program is a fantastic mix of the old and familiar and the new and exciting. To quote the choreographer George Balanchine, I invite everyone to come to the ballet to “see the music and hear the dance”!