Curtain Up: The School of American Ballet Workshop Performances
Friday, December 12, 2014
The New York City Ballet and Live From Lincoln Center are old friends and colleagues. The Company made its first appearance on our series in January 1978, exactly two years after our launch with a concert by the New York Philharmonic. Since then we have been fortunate to count the New York City Ballet among our most cherished collaborators, beginning with “Coppelia” and continuing with many of the beloved classics of the ballet repertoire. Our next program, on the evening of Friday, December 12, will offer a different aspect of the Balanchine legend, the 50th Annual Workshop performance of the renowned School of American Ballet.
Lincoln Kirstein, Rochester-born scion of an American department store family, was a lover of ballet from his early adulthood. He harbored many dreams: the creation of a great new ballet company; the infusion of new works into the performing repertoire; the creation of a school in which highly talented dancers would be taught by the greatest dancers and choreographers of the era. He undoubtedly did not know it at the time, but all his dreams would eventually come true starting the day in 1933 when he met choreographer George Balanchine in Paris. Russian-born and trained, Balanchine was already a force in the ballet world. And by force of his own personality Kirstein persuaded Balanchine to join forces with him, come to America, and create a world class ballet company together.
But before a ballet company could take hold, Balanchine needed the talent to fulfill his ambitious vision. The first product of the Kirstein-Balanchine collaboration was in fact the creation, in 1934, of the School of American Ballet. True to Kirstein's vision, the School quickly became the magnet for aspiring young dancers. And Balanchine, for his part, created his first choreography in the United States, “Serenade,” as a workshop piece for students at the School. The following year the team of Kirstein and Balanchine brought together a company of dancers who toured the U.S.A. under the group name The American Ballet. For three seasons the group was also the resident ballet company of the Metropolitan Opera. It was during that period that Balanchine presented his choreography for three scores by Stravinsky, the living composer for whom he created three of his most enduring ballets: “Apollo,” “Le baiser de la Fee” and “Card Game.”
The team of Balanchine and Kirstein came together once again, this time in 1946, to form Ballet Society, out of which----two years later and in collaboration with New York's City Center---emerged the New York City Ballet, with its home at New York's City Center (formerly the Mecca Temple) on West 55th Street. For more than 35 years, until his death in 1983, Balanchine served as the Company's Ballet Master in Chief, creating dozens of new works set to the music of history's finest composers. A signal event in the history of the Company occurred in 1954 when Balanchine introduced his choreography for Tchaikovsky's “The Nutcracker” as a Holiday celebration for the Christmas Season. This was an instant success and served to inspire ballet companies all over the country---indeed all over the world---to follow suit. “The Nutcracker” and the New York City Ballet are inextricably tied together and the nearly month-long series of performances have long since been a highlight of Christmas-time in New York.
In the early 1960s, when the New York State Theater (now named the David H. Koch Theater) arose as part of Lincoln Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the New York City Ballet became one of its constituent institutions. Here, for an annual season of 23 weeks, the New York City Ballet performs under the artistic leadership of one of its former principal dancers, Peter Martins.
Throughout the long and inspirational alliance between Kirstein and Balanchine the original project that brought them together, the School of American Ballet, has flourished. Now housed in another building of the Lincoln Center complex, The Samuel B. and David Rose Building, the School has an enrollment of more than 350 hopeful young dancers from all over the United States and from around the world. Eagerly anticipated features of the School’s annual activities are public Workshop performances that take place in yet another of Lincoln Center’s buildings, the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. They are designed to showcase the ongoing excellence of the School's activities and are the full package, with costumes, scenery, lights and a symphony orchestra.
This, then, is the special event that awaits us on our next Live From Lincoln Center program scheduled for Friday evening, December 12. As always I urge you to contact your local PBS station to learn the exact date and time in your area.
New York Philharmonic New Year's Eve: Gershwin Celebration
with Dianne Reeves and Norm Lewis
Wednesday, December 31, 2014 at 8 PM
Ever since our very first telecast in January 1976, when the New York Philharmonic played under the direction of Andre Previn and Van Cliburn was soloist in the Grieg Piano Concerto, it has been our pleasure several times each season to bring you concerts by the New York Philharmonic on Live From Lincoln Center. On December 31, 1984 our cameras and microphones were in Avery Fisher Hall to inaugurate what has since become a fruitful tradition: the Philharmonic's New Year's Eve Concert as a highlight of the PBS end-of-the-year schedule. That tradition will continue on Wednesday, December 31 with an all-Gershwin program to be conducted by Bramwell Tovey and with singers Dianne Reeves and Norm Lewis as soloists.
The music of George Gershwin and the New York Philharmonic share a long and distinguished career. His Piano Concerto was premiered in December 1925 by the New York Symphony (which later merged with the Philharmonic), with Gershwin himself at the piano. In the early 1930's all-Gershwin programs were highlights of the Philharmonic's Spring and Summer concerts in the City's Lewisohn Stadium, usually with Gershwin playing his “Rhapsody in Blue.” The Broadway stage was enriched by a seemingly endless series of superb Gershwin musicals, and he appeared many times on national radio broadcasts that originated in New York’s radio studios. Gershwin, a native New Yorker, reflects in much of his music the vitality and 24/7 energy of the city.
Conductor Bramwell Tovey made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 2001. Three years later he was invited to return to the Philharmonic and become the conductor for a new Spring and Summertime series, “Summertime Classics.” Those concerts have since become treasured events on New York's musical calendar. Maestro Tovey, since September 2000, has been the much-admired Conductor and Music Director of Canada's Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. And in 2008 he was named Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Hollywood Bowl Concerts. This past summer he made his debut at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducting a much-admired concert performance of Leonard Bernstein's “Candide.”
I serve as Moderator for Tanglewood's Friday evening pre-concert Roundtable discussions, and the evening before the “Candide” performance Maestro Tovey was one of my guests. I seized the opportunity to ask him a question which had long puzzled me: “Maestro, are you related to the formidable British writer and musicologist, Sir Donald Francis Tovey?” Ever the performer, Maestro Tovey took his time replying. After a long, pregnant pause, he finally gave a four-word answer: “No, I am not.” I detected that he had been asked that question dozens, perhaps hundreds of times!
Singer Dianne Reeves comes from a musical family. Her father, a fine singer, died when she was two years old. Her mother played trumpet, a cousin was a keyboard player and record producer, and an uncle was a bass player in the Denver Symphony Orchestra. She herself knew at an early age that she wanted to be a singer “when she grew up.” The trumpeter Clark Terry became her mentor and between 1983 and 1986 she toured as a lead singer with Harry Belafonte. At the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City Dianne Reeves sang at the closing ceremony. As a recording artist she is a four-time Grammy Award winner for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. The music of Gershwin is in her bones.
For his part, baritone Norm Lewis has had a distinguished career as both a singer and actor. Since making his Broadway debut in 1993 in The Who's “Tommy,” he has been featured in “Miss Saigon,” “Chicago,” “Les Miserables” and in a number of starring roles in the New York Public Theater's summer season performances of Shakespeare in the Park. Lewis has played Porgy in Gershwin's “Porgy and Bess” on a variety of stages. For his portrayal in the 2012 American Repertory Theater production he was nominated for a Tony Award; as Outstanding Actor in a Musical by both the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle; and for Distinguished Performance by the Drama League.
The New York Philharmonic's all-Gershwin program on New Year's Eve will bring us the Cuban Overture, the concert suite that Gershwin himself drew up out of his music for “Porgy and Bess,” the rousing “Strike Up the Band” and a cornucopia of Gershwin songs from the great American Songbook.
So celebrate with us the exit of the year 2014 and the arrival of a better (we hope) 2015 with the New York Philharmonic, conductor Bramwell Tovey and celebrated singers Dianne Reeves and Norm Lewis---all on Live From Lincoln Center on Wednesday evening, December 31. As always I urge you to contact your local PBS station to get the exact day and time for the telecast in your local area.
Happy New Year!!
"The Nance" Starring Nathan Lane
Friday, October 10, 2014 (PBS Arts Fall Festival)
Nathan Lane delivers the performance of a lifetime as Chauncey Miles, a burlesque performer of the 1930s who specializes in playing gay men for laughs - at least onstage.
Beane, Lane and director Jack O'Brien return to Lincoln Center to reflect on the significance of the Broadway production and its broadcast on PBS, in an expanded version of "The Nance in Conversation." Highlights of this conversation were featured at the end of the telecast.
Also, from PBS SoCal's arts series LAaRT, Nathan Lane sits down with the remarkable playwright Douglas Carter Beane to reminisce, re-cap and regale with stories from working together on “The Nance.”
MARTIN BOOKSPAN was Commentator for Live From Lincoln Center for 30 years, since its very first broadcast in January, 1976 until our 30th Anniversary broadcast in 2006. Martin's lifelong love and appreciation for music and all the performing arts have fueled and shaped his distinguished career in both print and broadcast media, which has included associations with the Boston Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, classical music radio station WQXR, and television Channel 7 News and Channel 11 News in New York City. He is the author of 101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers (Doubleday) and Consumer Reports Reviews: Classical Recordings (Consumers Union), as well as biographies of Zubin Mehta and André Previn, written with Ross Yockey.