BWW Blog: Meet Maestro Peter Stafford Wilson
January is usually a light month for musicians. We tend to spend that glorious time recuperating from countless Nutcrackers, Messiahs, Strauss waltzes and polkas and a plethora of other Holiday extravaganzas that many colleagues rely on for a large portion of their annual income. Like retailers, musicians count on the Holiday Season's musical embrace to help them survive a somewhat lean winter.
But for me, January has been anything but restful! I have enjoyed a reunion with Bill Allen and his troupe, Cirque de la Symphonie, as well as a trip to the Tulsa Ballet for my final visit this season, a staging of Val Caniparoli's Lady of the Camellias.
The Columbus Symphony Orchestra presented Cirque on their pops subscription series, and I believe it was the third visit by the group to the Ohio Theater. I have had the pleasure of conducting each of these performances, and have shared the artists with my Springfield Symphony audience as well. If you are unfamiliar with Cirque de la Symphonie, the event combines acrobatic European circus style performers with the greatest warhorses of orchestral repertoire. Jugglers, contortionists, aerial artitsts, even a magic trick involving the conductor (no, I don't know how she gets out of the knotted ropes so quickly) and a humorously annoying clown amaze the audience while the Orchestra performs music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Khatchaturian, Berlioz, Saint-Saens, among others, and even takes the spotlight for several pieces during the course of the night. Synchronization with the acrobats is less difficult than it appears, as they plan their performances around blocks of time, and as long as the orchestra is in the general time frame, the collaboration appears meticulously rehearsed. I do recall one show I did with them where we had our timings a little askew. The strong men (two fellows, one of whom, at one point, balances himself above the other with his only his hand on his partner's forehead) experienced a flight delay and missed the rehearsal. Evidently our Bach Toccata and Fugue in d minor was a little quick for them. The Orchestra and I ended well before they did and some quick improvisation on their part had to take place. Probably not wise to have the strong men mad at you!
Lady of the Camellias is a gorgeous setting of Camille, the storied love affair recounted by Alexandre Dumas. It has been the inspiration of countless movies (including most recently Molin Rouge) and the opera of Verdi, La Traviata. Camille (or Margaurite in the ballet) was a quite desirable courtesan in Paris in the late 19th century, and an accomplished amateur pianist (although this fact does not make it into the ballet scenario). So it seems quite logical that the music be that of Chopin, one of the most gifted piano virtuoso composer/performers of the time. The score excerpts a number of both his known and relatively unknown works for piano and orchestra. The challenge for the conductor is to balance the roles of accompanist both for the pianist in the pit and the dancers on stage. Luckily, the Tulsa Ballet's amazing staff pianist, Yee Sik Wong has been playing rehearsals for the last month, so the tempi which complement the dancers are ingrained in her artistic psyche. For me, it is a matter of supporting her and keeping the orchestral traffic flowing in the right direction. But an extraordinarily beautiful work both musically and choreographically. Margaurite dies
of consumption in the end, and I don't think there will be a dry eye in the house.
As many of you know, I am a relative newcomer to the world of ballet conducting. I have pursued it at the urging of my friend Gerard Charles, now ballet master at the Joffrey Ballet. Marcello Angelini, the Artistic Director of the Tulsa Ballet has given me an amazing opportunity, and I am grateful to him for his patient tutelage. I find the collaborative spirit of this assignment to be extremely rewarding, and have always admired the extraordinary dedication that dancers bring to their craft. And a huge wealth of new repertoire awaits! Now, I must study!