Thursday, February 13, 2003

The ballet's orchestra explains itself

Players don't dance around misconceptions

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

If it's not the symphony and not a pick-up band, what is the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra? We asked its members to tell us, explain common misconceptions about what they do (play during performances by Cincinnati Ballet) and why they love their work.

"We are the Avis of Cincinnati orchestras - we're second best but we try harder." - Carmon DeLeone, conductor.

"So many people come down to the pit and look over the edge, like we're zoo animals. I think it's the closest a lot of them have been to actual live musicians." - Kiki Bussell, concertmaster.

What: Cincinnati Ballet in A Midsummer Night's Dream
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center, downtown
Tickets: $12-$55 at Ticketmaster, 241-7469; Cincinnati Ballet ticket office, 621-5282;
"We used to be a pick-up orchestra (all freelance musicians), but it's almost always the same personnel the last couple of years." - Mike Andres, clarinetist and contractor.

"People still think we are the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. A lot of us have played with the CSO as extras, but we are a separate entity. (You might have seen some of us in the Blue Wisp Big Band, Broadway shows, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Middletown Symphony, Cincinnati Opera, Dayton Philharmonic or backing up Luciano Pavarotti.) - Bussell

"The public is always surprised the orchestra sounds so big and full (with 34 players vs. 99 in the CSO). They are shocked to find out that we've only had two rehearsals with the dancers before we open." - DeLeone

"We don't approach how we play differently than a symphony does, but we think about what's happening onstage. If someone comes down from a pose a little bit late, we need to wait for him." - James Olcott, trumpet player.

"We have to be ready in a split second to play a tempo that we hadn't rehearsed, for whatever dancer is onstage." - DeLeone

"The first rehearsal sounds so ragged and struggling. ... Carmon somehow has the ability to rally everybody from nowhere to a performance level. I've always been amazed at that." - Andres

"Our very first rehearsal for Nutcracker this year was a performance. We had not played it together since last year, yet we pulled it off. - Olcott

"In this year's Nutcracker (in Music Hall) the electricity went off on two different nights. The orchestra didn't miss a beat; they just kept playing even though they couldn't see their notes. ... One of the most frightening things was when a sword came apart, and slid into the pit." - DeLeone

"It's physically demanding. Most ballets are long, and we don't stop playing, because if we did, they would stop dancing." - Bussell

"If something should happen financially to the ballet company, there's no guarantee for us at all. ... We worry when the crowds are not good." - Andres

"There's no attitude; they pitch in and get it done. I remember times when we had to cut the orchestra to bare bones. Paul Piller, the trombonist, would have two music stands, because I'd give him French horn parts, oboe parts, and clarinet parts, and he played them all." - DeLeone

"I really like playing for dancers. I like the feeling that what we play is what makes them jump - or not!" - Bussell


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