Pennsylvania ballet studios filled with new Boston grands
As seen in the Fall 2018 edition of the Boston Chronicle
PHILADELPHIA, PA – Pennsylvania Ballet has chosen to equip its accompanists with Boston Performance Edition II grand pianos that provide the musical impetus for myriad hours of demanding studio rehearsals.
Under internationally-renowned Artistic Director Angel Corella, the Ballet closed out its 54th season with a stellar performance of Jewels – from legendary choreographer George Balanchine – at the Academy of Music. It was Balanchine who helped his protégé Barbara Weisberger establish the company in 1963.
Principal Pianist Martha Koeneman and Pianist Trisha Wolf serve as the melodic conscience for a cadre of chameleon-like dancers capable of adapting to ever-changing styles.
“Following graduation from Temple University as a piano performance major, I received an emergency request to play for a few weeks of summer rehearsal,” recalls Martha. “I had no prior experience doing this sort of rigorous work. Miraculously, it went well enough that I was given a formal audition, and it is now 45 years later,” she said.
Trisha fell into a burgeoning career at 14, when she was asked by her ballet teacher to play for a baby class. “I had no idea how far it would take me,” she said.
Accompanists must weigh a choreographer’s need against a dancer’s movement, striking the perfect balance between musical strictness and tempo. “Years of training give a sense of musical stylistic propriety,” Martha explains. “Years of experiencing the ways in which a human body moves physically through time and space, including how momentum and gravity are utilized in conjunction with music, contribute to facilitating the process. The choreographer provides valuable clues. It becomes apparent what the tempo needs are as we all become more proficient together. At a certain point, the ‘light bulb’ goes on when all the components seem to synthesize and everything comes into focus.”
Stepping inside the studios, they are thrilled to find either a Boston GP-215 or GP-178. Both agree that Steinway-designed rehearsal pianos contribute to a successful end product. “Having a good instrument is vital,” said Trisha. “Trying to replicate the feeling and sound of the whole orchestra on the piano is so difficult. Without a good quality piano, you really cannot do your job to the fullest extent.”
The piano is an extension of the player and the player’s mind. “It is similar to feeling as one with your car when you drive,” said Martha. “You are not thinking about how to shift or steer or brake. You decide to stop and the car stops. The same is true with a piano – if the instrument does not become part of you as you play it, it adds frustrating mental and physical steps. In ballet accompaniment, the pianist is mentally playing the orchestra, providing the sounds and colors of an ideally rendered orchestral vision. We often have to expand what is on the printed page to make the scale of the sound more realistic for the dancers, so that when we finally get to theater rehearsals, the transition from rehearsal piano to the orchestra is seamless in their perception. Our new Boston grands afford us the worry-free ability to immerse ourselves in the music,” she said.
“I love how responsive our Boston pianos are,” adds Trisha. “When you are playing up to eight hours a day it is such a relief to not have to work extra hard to get the sounds you are trying to achieve. Once we added them to the studios, I barely had any pain in my arms or hands after a long day of playing.”
Martha appreciates being able to focus on making music without fighting the instrument or compensating for the lack of functionality. “Pianos over time do not last when pianists feel they must constantly struggle with them. It is much better to have pianos well suited to each studio space, and our new Bostons have a lovely quality of sound and versatility,” she said.
As the Ballet’s longest-tenured employee, Martha cherishes her wonderful years of learning and the opportunities entrusted to her. She also thanked the Ballet for making arrangements with Jacobs Music “to ensure that we have the instruments
to make the highest quality of music possible.”
“We are delighted to provide and maintain these new Boston grand pianos that lay the groundwork for the highly-celebrated Pennsylvania Ballet performances,” said Robert Rinaldi, Senior Vice President of Jacobs Music. “We look forward to continuing our illustrious partnership with this historic company for many years to come.”
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