Art inspired by music at the de Young Museum


Peggy Gyulai’s ‘Poissons d’Or’ from the Debussy collection

San Francisco’s de Young Museum hosts an unusual residency over the coming month, as artist Peggy Gyulai turns an exhibition space into an artist’s studio, in which visitors can watch what she describes as “a living, breathing, working artist interpreting the lyrical qualities of music on canvas”.

Peggy’s works of art are, literally, inspired by music, but this doesn’t mean that she simply paints to the sound of background music.  Her involvement with the music is far deeper.  “Music is the source of inspiration for my paintings,” she says. “Forged by the composer from air and sound, music has motion, shape and emotional substance.  As I paint, I listen over and over to understand the essence of each sound world, and try to feel its particular beauty, emotion and its unique character.  I listen for architecture and form.  Then I try to put all of that on the canvas.”  Peggy’s paintings, therefore, are artistic interpretations of the pieces of music which fill her studio while she’s working.


Painting inspired by Ravel’s ‘La Valse’

This unusual artist chooses to work primarily with great masterworks.  “They’re the ones that speak the most clearly,” she says.  “There’s so much material, so much to draw from, so they’re easier to work with.  A simple tune is much more difficult,” she explains.  “It’s more refined.  Eric Satie’s Gymnopedies, for example – there are no bells and whistles – the music is very pure, and there’s no hiding behind flashy brush strokes.”

Peggy, originally from the East Coast, was studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts when she experienced her ‘lightbulb’ moment.  She discovered that “the way we perceive a piece of music unfolding over time is not unlike the way we experience a landscape unfolding as we see it”.  She describes how later, when working in her own studio, “ideas about combining abstract painting and landscape gradually merged into a style of painting, with music as both a subject, object and inspiration”.


Peggy with ‘Varese: Arcana’ from the Philadelphia Orchestra series

Her breakthrough came when the Philadelphia Orchestra commissioned a series of large paintings in celebration of its Centennial Season in 1999-2000.  Subsequently working with the Philadelphia Orchestra Education department, Peggy presented to audiences at the Philadelphia Museum of Art – where she was artist-in-residence in the Art Futures program in 2002 – and also to audiences at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.


Reiko Aizawa with the Debussy collection

Peggy has had a number of solo shows at Philadelphia’s Pentimenti Gallery, where she collaborated with Steinway Artist Rieko Aizawa to produce a collection of works inspired by the music of Debussy, and at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art for a show inspired by holy music.  Since relocating to San Francisco, Peggy has exhibited at the SF MoMa’s Artist Gallery, at the city’s Nieto Fine Art Gallery, and from 2010-2012 she  was Painter-in-Residence with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.  Peggy currently has works in 86 private and corporate collections worldwide.


Reflections in D – inspired by the music of Bill Evans

Each week of Peggy’s current residency at the de Young will have a different theme, so the paintings that develop will reflect the music to be streamed into the ‘studio’, and she’ll be working on more than one painting at a time.  The theme for the first week is Reflections, featuring the music of Debussy – which has already inspired many of her works –  as well as the music Erik Satie, and jazz pianist, Bill Evans.

For the second week, Peggy has chosen Night as her theme.  Her plan is to work with the virtual choir of Grammy® Award-winning composer and conductor, Eric Whitacre, on his composition entitled Sleep, and also with a piece by Bay Area contemporary composer, John Adams – his City Noir which he wrote for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Weeks 3 and 4 will feature an interesting mix – music by Bela Bartok and by violinist, Gloria Justen, formerly Concert Master of the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who now plays for the San Francisco Symphony.  Gloria will collaborate with Peggy to create a new work for an electro-acoustic ensemble, which she will both write and perform.  In addition to actively working on this piece in open rehearsal, Gloria will also perform a selection of the Bartok Violin Duos with one of her students, and selections from her own compositions.

In the historic tradition of artists’ and musicians’ compositions in the form of painters’ etudes and miniatures – Peggy will create a series of small paintings inspired by Bartok’s Bagatelles – she has 7 of them already in progress.


From the Debussy Images collection

For the final week of her residency, Peggy plans a grand finale – two works for large orchestra – paintings inspired by Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Debussy’s La Mer.  She will revisit the great wave of La Mer, having previously created a large version of it during the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Centennial Season.

During the entire residency, Peggy’s ‘studio’ will be a workspace in every sense of the word – just like her “everyday messy studio”, she says.  Anything and everything from which she derives inspiration will be thumbtacked onto the walls – ideas for the future, works by other artists, various items which she’s had on her studio wall since she was at art school.

There’ll be a video of Peggy’s collaboration with members of The Musical Arts Quintet, and an activity section where anyone – of whatever age – can sit down with the materials provided, and allow the music to inspire them to create their own works of art.  The results are likely to be fascinating.

Peggy Gyulai’s residency at the de Young Museum in San Francisco runs from July 31st to September 2nd.



‘Roza D’Shabbos’ inspired by the music of Osvaldo Golijov from the show at the Museum of Jewish Art, Philadelphia


‘Jersey Bounce’ inspired by the music of Benny Goodman


From the Debussy Images collection


Peggy Gyulai Studio SF
Eric Whitacre
Gloria Justen The Musical Arts Quintet

All images © Peggy Gyulai

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Bolshoi Ballet celebrates Golden Jubilee season at Covent Garden


The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Photo: Rob Moore, courtesy of the Royal Opera House

The Bolshoi Ballet, with the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, returns to the Royal Opera House this month to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Company’s first visit to Covent Garden under the banner of Victor Hochhauser.  In a season which includes three grand classics  – Swan Lake, La Bayadère and Sleeping Beauty – the Company also presents two UK premieres – Balanchine’s Jewels, and Alexei Ratmansky’s reworking of a Vasily Vainonen ballet, The Flames of Paris.

Founded in 1776, the Bolshoi is amongst the world’s oldest ballet companies, and, along with the Mariinsky Ballet in St Petersburg, is recognised not only as one of the foremost ballet companies in Russia, but in the world as well.  It is also the largest ballet company (“bolshoi” in Russian means “big” or “grand”) with a complement of around 220 dancers, and is known for its distinctive style of performance – colourful and bold, demonstrating a widely acknowledged strength of technique infused with expressiveness and dramatic intensity.


Svetlana Zakharova and Ruslan Skvorzov in ‘Swan Lake’
Photo: Nadezhda Bausova

The opening work of the Bolshoi’s London season is Yuri Grigorovich’s production of one of Russia’s greatest ballets, Swan Lake.  Considering the popularity which this ballet has enjoyed for so many years, it’s hard to imagine that not even Tchaikovsky’s glorious score could override its initial failure. Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write the ballet in 1875, and it was premiered in Moscow in 1877.  The choreography – by Julius Reisinger – was apparently thought to be dull and uninspiring, and the music was considered by conductors, dancers and audiences to be too complicated and not easy to dance to.  It wasn’t until 1895, after Tchaikovsky’s death, that Swan Lake was revived, by choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, who produced the magnificent version on which most of today’s productions are based.  London audiences will be delighted to learn that the role of Odette/Odile will be danced by Svetlana Zakharova.


Scene from ‘The Kingdom of the Shades’
Photo: Damir Yusupov

Swan Lake is followed by another Petipa classic, the exotic La Bayadère (the Temple Dancer), also produced for the Bolshoi by Grigorovich.  La Bayadère was first performed in St Petersburg in 1877, with a score by Ludwig Minkus, who at the time held the official post of Ballet Composer to the St Petersburg Imperial Theatres.  This dramatic legend of passion, mystery, vengeance and tragedy, set in Royal India, is probably most widely known for its Second Act – frequently performed alone as The Kingdom of the Shades (spirits), a vision sequence set against the starlit peaks of the Himalayas.  This new version by Grigorovich, with décor by leading Russian designer Nikolai Sharonov and costumes by Nikolai Sviridchikov, premiered in January this year, at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.


Svetlana Zakharova as Aurora in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’
Photo: Marc Haegeman

The Sleeping Beauty, the second of Tchaikovsky’s triptych of so-called ‘white ballets’, was the work chosen to celebrate the reopening of the Bolshoi Theatre in 2011, after a massive six-year reconstruction. Based on Charles Perrault’s La Belle au bois dormant, with original choreography by Marius Petipa, The Sleeping Beauty was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1890.  This London production – the first performance of Yuri Grigorovich’s revival outside Russia – features costumes by Franca Squarciapino, and décor by celebrated Italian art director, Ezio Frigerio.


Ekaterina Krysanova and Vyacheslav Lopatin in Balanchine’s ‘Jewels’
Photo: M O Logvinov

The first of the Bolshoi’s two UK premieres is George Balanchine’s superb creation, Jewels, which was originally premiered by New York City Ballet on April 13th, 1967, at New York State Theater.  The first performance by the Bolshoi Ballet was at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on May 5th, 2012.  Inspired by the artistry of jewellery designer Claude Arpels, Balanchine expresses in this work his interpretation of the characteristics of each of the three jewels featured – the emerald, the ruby and the diamond.  According to the Balanchine Foundation, the master choreographer considered emeralds to be “an evocation of France …. of elegance, comfort, dress, perfume” for which he selected music by Gabriel Fauré.  Rubies is a “crisp and witty” jazzy piece, representing Balanchine’s collaboration with Stravinsky, and Diamonds is reminiscent of “the order and grandeur of Imperial Russia and the Mariinsky Theatre, where Balanchine was trained”, for which there could be no music more appropriate than that of Tchaikovsky.


Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in ‘The Flames of Paris’
Photo: Elena Fetisova

The season ends with the UK premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s remounting of The Flames of Paris, a ballet by Vasily Vainonen which was first performed in 1932.  Set against the dramatic backdrop of the French Revolution, it has a score by composer and musicologist, Boris Asafiev, based on songs of the Revolution, and depicts the tumultuous events of that era – including the storming of the Tuileries by the Marsellais and their victorious march on Paris.  Featuring what’s described as “one of the most stunning pas de deux in the whole of the ballet repertory”, these performances see the return to the Bolshoi of Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev.  From the book by Alexander Belinsky and Alexei Ratmansky, the ballet – which had its premiere on July 3rd, 2008 – has been choreographed by Ratmansky, based on the original libretto by Nikolai Volkov and Vladimir Dmitriev.

The Bolshoi Ballet will be at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, from Monday July 29th to Saturday August 17th, 2013.

Photo gallery:


Ekaterina Shipulina as Odette in ‘Swan Lake’
Photo: Damir Yusupov


Anna Tikhomirova as the Spanish Bride in ‘Swan Lake’ Act III
Photo: Damir Yusupov


Svetlana Zakharova in ‘La Bayadere’
Photo: Damir Yusupov


Svetlana Zakharova as Nikia in ‘La Bayadere’
Photo: Damir Yusupov


Evgenia Obrazisova in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’
Photo: Damir Yusupov


Vyacheslav Lopatin in the Bluebird pas de deux from ‘The Sleeping Beauty’
Photo: Marc Haegeman


Evgenia Obraztsova in Act I, ‘Emeralds’, from Balanchine’s ‘Jewels’
Photo: M O Logvinov


Olga Smirnova in ‘Diamonds’ from Balanchine’s ‘Jewels’
Photo: Marc Haegeman


Ivan Vasiliev in ‘The Flames of Paris’
Photo: Marc Haegeman


Natalia Osipova in ‘The Flames of Paris’
Photo: Elena Fetisova



The Bolshoi

M&C Saatchi Arts

Victor Hochhauser

The Royal Opera House 

The Balanchine Foundation


BBC Proms launches Companion for iPad


The new digital BBC Proms Companion

For Proms and iPad aficionados, the BBC has just launched a Proms Companion for you to download to your iPad free, so you can navigate your way through the world’s greatest music festival wherever and whenever you please.


The digital Proms Companion has articles on Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’

The development of the digital Proms Companion will surely be welcomed by both newcomers and seasoned Prommers alike – providing a comprehensive guide to what’s on and when, as well as a host of articles on the season by specialist writers.  Featured amongst these are Wagner’s Ring Cycle – the complete cycle of works to be conducted by Daniel Barenboim – the piano concertos – which form one of the main focuses of the season – a timeline of British  20th century musical milestones being celebrated at this year’s Proms, and a look at life backstage at the Royal Albert Hall.


The Companion has a timeline of 20th century British music at the Proms

In addition, there are contributions from the BBC’s team of Radio 3 presenters on their own particular highlights of a season which has a range of offerings, from large-scale classical works to diverse performances such as the first-ever Proms devoted to urban pop, beatboxing and gospel.


A digital version of official guide to the BBC Proms is also available

This BBC Proms Companion isn’t the only new development for the current season, though.  For the first time there is also a digital version of the BBC Proms Guide with full Proms listings.  This guide has been designed and fully optimised for iPad and Kindle, with some superb full-screen photographs and image galleries – and it’s now available to buy.

Download the Proms Companion free from BBC Proms Companion, and the BBC Proms Guide from the Apple iBookstore, for £4.99.

For detailed information on the 2013 BBC Proms season, visit

English National Ballet’s tribute to Rudolf Nureyev


Rudolf Nureyev in ‘Petrushka’
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

To mark the 75th anniversary of the birth of Rudolf Nureyev, English National Ballet celebrates his legacy with a programme of works which demonstrate the versatility of this remarkably gifted dancer, and with which he was closely associated – Fokine’s Petrushka, Béjart’s Song of a Wayfarer and Nureyev’s own version of  Act III from Petipa’s Raymonda.

“No male dancer ever had more influence on the history, style and public perception of ballet than Rudolf Nureyev,” wrote the late John Percival, former dance critic of The Independent and The Times.  “He changed people’s expectations. Starting out from inauspicious beginnings in a remote town in the Urals, he ended up changing the whole face of the art.”  Percival was a close observer of the career of Nureyev from the time he defected to the West in 1961 until his death 20 years ago.

Nureyev first danced the role of the tragic puppet, Petrushka, in 1963, a performance for which he was widely acclaimed, and which he continued to dance throughout his career.  Choreographed by Michel Fokine, with a score by Igor Stravinsky, the ballet was first performed in Paris in 1911 by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with Nijinsky in the title role. It tells of a love triangle involving three puppets – the hopelessly romantic Petrushka, the Ballerina with whom he has fallen in love, and the Moor to whom the Ballerina is attracted, and who returns her affections.  Ultimately Petrushka has to accept that he can never win the heart of the Ballerina, and he dies fighting the Moor for the one he loves so deeply.


Nureyev in his dressing room at the Royal Ballet School, London, 1973
Credit: Allan Warren via Wikimedia Commons

Towards the end of the 1960s, Nureyev – having danced the major works of the classical repertoire in London – moved on to the French contemporary repertoire, creating the title role in Maurice Béjart’s Song of a Wayfarer.  Set to Mahler’s first song cycle with lyrics by the composer, it has been described as “one of the most beautiful ballets ever created for the male dancer”, portraying the wanderings of a romantic wayfarer, going from town to town looking for freedom, but condemned by destiny to a life of eternal unhappiness and loneliness.  Béjart likened the work to an expression of the errant life of the dancer, going from one company and country to another, never to return to his home land.

Raymonda, a ballet in the classical Russian tradition, was originally created by Marius Petipa in 1898 for the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.  Act III depicts the wedding celebrations of Raymonda and her knight, Jean de Brienne, following his return from the Crusades, and is said to represent some of Petipa’s finest choreography.  This persuaded Nureyev to mount his own production of the final act in 1969.  Having performed the ballet as a young dancer with the then Kirov Ballet, he revived much of the choreography from memory.  Raymonda is set to a score by Alexander Glazunov, described by Balanchine as “some of the finest ballet music we have”.

Rudolf Nureyev

Nureyev taking a curtain call after ‘Romeo and Juliet’
© English National Ballet

English National Ballet’s A Tribute To Rudolf Nureyev takes place at the London Coliseum from 25th to 27th July.  Benois de la Danse winner, Vadim Muntagirov, dances in Song of a Wayfarer and Raymonda, and Tamara Rojo appears in Raymonda.


English National Ballet 

Rudolf Nureyev Foundation

John Percival 

Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s Summer Dance season


Opéra de Monte-Carlo is part of the Monte-Carlo Casino, designed by Charles Garnier
Credit: Monaco Press Centre Photos

The Summer Dance season of Ballets de Monte-Carlo opened last week with Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Vers un pays sage and Sheherazade, and continues this week with a triple bill of three very different works – Alexander Ekman’s Rondo, Blind Willow by Ina Christel Johannessen and a new work by Jeroen Verbruggen, Arithmophobia.


Ekman’s ‘Rondo’ has a festive air about it
Credit: Ballets de Monte-Carlo

Rhythm is the theme that runs through Ekman’s joyful ballet, Rondo.  Described as “a love letter to the beats of our body movements”, it includes both tap dancing and ballet, delving into an exploration of man’s primal urge to dance.  It’s rhythm, not music, that invites us to dance, says Ekman, so from the moment the curtain rises, each of the five dancers uses their body to perform an individual rhythmic segment which, when they’re strung together, creates a chain of sound which develops into a combination of steps and movements.


Ballets de Monte-Carlo in Ekman’s ‘Rondo’
Credit: Ballets de Monte-Carlo

In the succession of sequences which follows, the dancers, through their imagination and skill, contrive to outdo each other in their individual representations of rhythm.  The ballet has a festive air about it, with the transformation of the Company into “a giant mechanical piano” – a concept which is consistent with the humour and creativity for which this choreographer is known. “It has been a great joy creating this piece together with the dancers,” he says. “Never thought I would ask someone to literally run on a piano or bang its keys with their feet.”


‘Blind Willow’ – created by Ina Christel Johannessen
Credit: Ballets de Monte-Carlo

Ina Christel Johannessen has taken the title of her ballet, Blind Willow, from a book of short stories – Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman – by award-winning Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami.  “The blind willow,” she says, “looks small on the outside, but it’s got incredibly deep roots, and actually, after a certain point it, stops growing up and pushes further and further down into the ground. As if the darkness nourishes it”.  For her imagery, though, Johannessen has turned to the Greek mythological figure, Themis – the personification of divine or natural law, order and justice – who was depicted with a bandage over her eyes, representing the objectivity with which justice should be meted out – and holding a pair of scales in one hand and a sword in the other.


A scene from Ina Christel Johannessen’s ‘Blind Willow’
Credit: Ballets de Monte-Carlo

“The dancer in the ballet who chooses to blindfold herself is perhaps in denial of wanting to see or to be,” says Johannessen, “filtering out her surroundings, because of the difficulty, otherwise, in remaining objective.  The scales represent the dancers’ investigation and challenge of balance in the body – the detail in the touch of a hand, a word, a gaze – how may that  pull us off balance or back on balance, THAT is important for me”.


Each of the dancers in ‘Arithmophobia’ portrays a personal story
Credit: Ballets de Monte-Carlo

Arithmophobia, the title of Jeroen Verbruggen’s ballet, is the suffering associated with the fear of numbers, and although he translates this fear into a reflection on the remaining time in which we have to live, he does it in such a way as to avoid the gloom and doom which might be associated with that subject.    Each of the eight dancers on stage portrays a personal story, none of which is dark. Verbruggen, a member of the Company, has drawn inspiration from a range of written works – the Apocalypse of Saint John in particular – pulling them together to create a performance which is said to be full of surprises.


‘Arithmophobia’ in rehearsal
Credit: Ballets de Monte-Carlo

He explains that despite the serious nature of the subject matter, Arithmophobia is actually an allusion to the ‘Acte blanc’ in romantic ballet – the often carefree act in which everything is light. “The end of the world,” he says, “will mean everyone dying together at the same time. A more comforting thought than travelling through life alone.”  The work is set to Mahler’s 10th “unfinished” symphony, adapted for the occasion by electronic artist Matthew Herbert.

Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s triple bill takes place in the Salle Garnier, Opéra de Monte-Carlo, from 17th to 19th July.  The Opéra de Monte-Carlo, is part of the Monte-Carlo Casino, designed by Charles Garnier and opened in 1879.


Festival de Sole celebrates the art of life


The Castello di Amorosa estate
Credit: Jim Sullivan

California’s Napa Valley is once again preparing to host its annual Festival del Sole, a celebration of classical music, dance and theatre, featuring a line-up of international stars.  Every July, some of the finest wine estates in Napa provide a theatrical and dining experience par excellence against a backdrop of some of the most beautiful settings in The Golden State.


Audra McDonald
Credit: Michael Wilson

The central courtyard of the Castello di Amorosa – inspired by a 13th century Tuscan castle – is the venue for the First Night Gala which stars soprano Audra McDonald.  Winner of two Grammy Awards® and five Tony Awards® – her most recent for a memorable performance in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess – Ms McDonald is as much at home in opera and on Broadway as she is on film, television and the concert stages of the world.  In this intimate concert, Audra McDonald – joined by a jazz ensemble – will perform a selection of favorites from the shows, classic songs from the movies, and some original pieces written specially for her.


The Russian National Orchestra
Credit: RNO

The Russian National Orchestra – founding and resident orchestra of the Festival del Sole – launches the season’s celebration of Rachmaninoff’s 140th anniversary.  Conducted by Carlo Montanaro, the Orchestra – the first Russian ensemble to win a Grammy® – will perform Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No 2 at a concert in which French pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, will play Saint-Saens’ rarely performed Piano Concerto No 5 – the Egyptian.


Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Courtesy Festival del Sole

At its second appearance, the RNO will be joined by violinist Sarah Chang for a performance of  Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto – and Ms Chang will also appear in recital at the Castello di Amorosa, accompanied by pianist Andrew von Oeven, in works by Brahms and Prokofiev.

The Opus One winery – noteworthy for its unusual design, featuring a mix of classical European and contemporary Californian elements – will be hosting an intimate soirée featuring some of Rachmaninoff’s most well-loved works.  Guest artists are cellist Nina Kotova, soprano Ekaterina Scherbachenko and pianist Vadym Kholodenko.

The Festival’s annual Dance Gala presents the first opportunity to see a suite from the restoration of the ballet Paganini, by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Michel Fokine.  Set to the composer’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the ballet was premiered in London in 1939 by the Ballets Russes, but was lost after the Company disbanded during World War II. This performance is part of a multi-year project to recreate the work, and there’s an exhibit at Napa Valley Museum featuring materials uncovered during the ballet’s restoration.  Also on the program – which features principal dancers from Ballet San Jose, San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre – are other classic divertissements, and the Russian National Orchestra is led by George Daugherty.


Dinner under the stars at Far Niente
Credit: Vi Bottaro

With its reputation as one of the world’s great wine estates, Far Niente has an opportunity to present its finest as it hosts two intimate soirées, both featuring mezzo-soprano, Frederica von Stade.  Following an exquisite dinner under the stars, guests will be treated to a performance by one of America’s most celebrated vocalists.  After the second concert, there’s to be “a special surprise”, courtesy of the cast, writers and directors of the 24 Hour Plays – an annual event which will have reached its conclusion earlier in the day.  This event involves  a group of award-winning of film and television stars who are given 24 hours in which to create, write, rehearse and perform four 10-minute plays.


Ekaterina Scherbachenko
Credit: Damir Yusupov

The Festival closes with an Opera Gala, a programme of arias presented by Ekaterina Scherbachenko and leading dramatic bass, Raymond Aceto.  Ms Scherbachenko, known as one of the most talented lyric sopranos of her generation, is a member of the Bolshoi Theatre and was also the winner of the 2009 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Mr Aceto’s performances continue to attract both popular and critical acclaim, and he has established an important presence among the world’s leading opera companies and symphony orchestras.  Included in this programme are excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Dvorak’s Rusalka, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.


Vadym Kholodenko
Credit: Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn Competition

The programme also includes a special appearance by Ukranian pianist Vadym Kholodenko – in his first concert performance since winning this year’s Van Cliburn Competition.   With the Russian National Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Montanaro, Mr Kholodenko plays the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1, a very grand finale to one of California’s most elegant summer festivals.

Stage production of West Side Story on tour



Hot on the heels of San Francisco Symphony’s West Side Story in Concert comes news that the Michael Brenner stage production of this Broadway classic has just opened its 2013-14 European tour.  Presented by BB Promotion GmbH, in co-operation with Sundance Productions Inc NY, West Side Story will be on stage in major international centres across Europe until March 2014 – at theatres including the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, the Dresden Semper Opera House, and Sadler‘s Wells in London – with performances at the Tel Aviv Opera as well.

Following the 50th anniversary of West Side Story in 2007, this production – featuring the rarely seen original choreography by Jerome Robbins – enjoyed a hugely successful international tour, with sell-out performances delighting critics and audiences alike, in London, Sydney, Tokyo, Beijing and Vienna, culminating, in 2012, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.


With critics hailing it as “A thrilling, hurtling triumph!” (The Observer, London), “…. a masterpiece of musical theatre” (London’s Daily Mail), “Ravishing” (The New Zürcher Zeitung), and “A first-class production” (Le Monde), the show won two Theatregoers’ Choice Awards in 2009 – the most coveted theatrical awards in the United Kingdom – and in the same year it was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for the Best Musical Revival.

It’s not hard to see why West Side Story has retained its phenomenal popularity since it first opened to rave reviews on Broadway in 1957.  “West Side Story is a spiritual work,” says director Joey McKneely.  “It is about true love. And each and every one of us carries an aspect of this story within him.”


The story of the musical is also as relevant today as it was at the time of its creation, dealing with the lost innocence of young adults, their fears of having to face the adult world – which often seemed incomprehensible and hostile – their aspirations, and their desire to live according to their own rules. With Bernstein’s powerful score and timeless melodies breaking new musical ground, Arthur Laurents’ laconically direct dialogue, Stephen Sondheim’s now legendary lyrics, and Robbins’ sensational choreography, the show which set new standards in drama and music back in the 1950s continues to draw crowds the world over.


A particular feature of this production is that McKneely presents the choreography just as it appeared at its premiere in New York on 26th September 1957, and which drew the following comments from the New York Herald Tribune’s Walter Kerr:  “The radioactive fallout from West Side Story must still be descending on Broadway this morning.  Director, choreographer, and idea-man Jerome Robbins has put together, and then blasted apart, the most savage, restless, electrifying dance patterns we’ve been exposed to in a dozen seasons.”


The performing rights for the original production of West Side Story are subject to strict conditions regarding artistic standards, in accordance with the exacting criteria laid down by Robbins himself – and director and choreographer Joey McKneely, a former apprentice of Jerome Robbins, was one of the few entitled to work on the unique dance vocabulary of this production as based on the vision of its creator – a production which provides the only opportunity in the world to enjoy the choreography in its original form.


Having worked closely with his artistic mentor through the rehearsal period for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in 1989, McKneely knew that, in order to do the work justice, this production would require a new cast of young professional performers. “The story”, he says “is about teenagers. Therefore the performers should match them in age as much as possible, for only then do they have the feeling and the energy necessary for these parts. Incidentally, only four characters in the cast are specifically defined as ‘adults’ – and they do not have dancing parts.”

The cast features 36 performers, and extensive auditions are held exclusively in studios on Broadway, with the creative team engaged in a continuous quest for outstanding talent – young artists who are first class vocalists, dancers and actors.


Similar restrictions exist on performing Bernstein’s music as well.  Inspired by American jazz, classical and Latin-American music, it requires a particular size of orchestra – no fewer than 24 musicians – to authentically reproduce the quality of sound which Bernstein created.  Musical director for this production is Donald Chan, who met the maestro, and is well versed in these requirements – “a generously cast percussion group with versatile multi-instrumentalists from the US [who] together with a classical strings section, create that original, luscious, ‘typically American’ sound”.

It was Producer Michael Brenner’s entrepreneurial courage and vision to bring a first-class production of West Side Story to the international stage which won him the trust of Robbins’ and Bernstein’s respective rights managers, and who was granted the licence to the work by Music Theatre International, one of the world‘s leading dramatic licensing agencies specialising in performing rights for Broadway.  According to Freddie Gershon, co-owner and Chief Executive of MTI, and one of the great personalities of Broadway, “The secret of West Side Story is without a doubt the chemistry in the casting. It has to be young and sexy, just like the piece.”


Since appearing in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, Joey McKneely has directed and choreographed productions of West Side Story throughout the world. He was also the Reproduction Choreographer for the new Broadway Revival directed by Arthur Laurents.  Joey’s choreographic debut on Broadway was Smokey Joe’s Cafe, followed by The Life, Twelfth Night at Lincoln Center, The Wild Party, and The Boy From Oz starring Hugh Jackman.  He has earned two Tony Award Nominations, two Outer Critics Circle Nominations, an NAACP Image Award, and an LA Ovation Award.

He has also directed and choreographed US tours of productions which include Thoroughly Modern Millie, Annie Get Your Gun, Crazy For You, and Smokey Joe‘s Cafe, in addition to numerous musicals in Japan, and the world premiere of Love U, Teresa in China.  Joey McKneely’s choreographic works for ballet include  American in Paris / Rhapsody in Blue for Bordeaux National Opera, and Il Principal de Youth at La Fenice in Venice.


Musical Supervisor and Conductor Donald Chan has served as musical director for more performances of West Side Story than any other conductor, including special productions in 2000 and 2003 for La Scala Opera Company in Milan.  He has worked as conductor, music director and composer with some of the most respected names in American music, and some of the most influential works of American musical theatreincluding Cabaret , Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Pirates of Penzance and Phantom of the Opera.  Maestro Chan has also worked with prestigious organisations such as the American Conservatory Theater, Cleveland Opera, Seattle Opera, and Seattle Repertory Theatre, and served for 12 years as music director of the historic St Louis Municipal Opera, the largest theatre in the United States.  He has collaborated with stars such as Gene Kelly, Ethel Merman, Chita Rivera, Carol Lawrence, Joel Grey, Len Cariou, Sid Ceasar and Martha Graham.


For more information on this production of West Side Story please visit, and to see the touring schedule and details re ticketing, please follow this link.  For details of performances in the United Kingdom, aside from those at Sadler’s Wells, please follow this link.

All photographs by  Nilz Böhm


BB Promotion GmbH 

Jerome Robbins 

Leonard Bernstein

Joey McKneely

BB-Promotion GmbH
Amanda Vaill – ‘Somewhere – the life of Jerome Robbins’