University Symphony Orchestra prepares for ‘tremendous honor’
March 7, 2012Tweet
One adjective springs to mind when Timothy Perry thinks about the first time he directed the University Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
“I’ve never been so nervous for anything,” the professor and Music Department chair said of the October 2009 performance. “It’s very precise and demanding work. … The more complex and artistic the choreography is, the tighter the constraints are on what they can accept. It has got to be just the right speed.”
But the show went so well that Perry and the orchestra will again accompany the legendary dance troupe when it returns to Binghamton University for a performance at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 10, in the Anderson Center’s Osterhout Concert Theater. Tickets are $41, general public; $36, faculty/staff/seniors; and $21, students. The performance is the culmination of a three-week residency at Binghamton University from Taylor’s adjunct dance company, Taylor 2.
Not only is it unusual for Paul Taylor and other dance companies to perform with live music, it is extremely rare for a university orchestra to provide the accompaniment, Perry said.
“It’s a tremendous honor to perform with (Paul Taylor Dance Company),” Perry said. “To our knowledge, we are the only university orchestra with which they will perform. … The company feels that it’s a special opportunity to perform with live music. There is something extraordinary that can happen in the interchange between dancer and musician.”
The University Symphony Orchestra consists of 65-70 players and auditions take place each fall (“It’s a meritocracy,” Perry said. “They have to earn their seat every year.”). The ensemble usually performs four major concerts per year. The orchestra is open to all students on campus: students from 20 different majors are represented in this year’s group.
One such student is violinist Ella Serrano, a junior economics major who played as a freshman in the 2009 performance with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Serrano said she was not quite as nervous as Perry with providing live music for the company.
“With any orchestral performance, the responsibility of the players is No. 1: To know the music well, and No. 2: Be able to watch Dr. Perry,” she said. “Our job is different from Dr. Perry’s because he’s trying to keep his eyes on two groups at the same time.”
Keeping that exact, steady time is crucial while watching both the dancers and his musicians, Perry said.
“You have to get a number of steps in – and you can’t fight gravity,” Perry said of the dancers. “If you have to do a series of jumps, gravity will not wait for a piece of music that’s too slow.”
Another challenge for the orchestra is the lack of pre-concert time with the dancers. Even though the orchestra has been rehearsing for five weeks, the Paul Taylor Dance Company will not arrive until Friday night, March 9. The company will conduct a walk-through to the music that night and give advice on tempos. The dancers and orchestra will then rehearse the performance the next afternoon, just hours before the audience arrives.
“Whatever is wrong has to be fixed between Friday night and Saturday afternoon,” Perry said.
The program will consist of four pieces, with the orchestra being showcased on the first: “Cloven Kingdom.” The piece features a string orchestra (with two violin solos and a cello solo) joined by a 20th-century percussion ensemble.
“These two things are co-existing in a remarkable way,” Perry said. “At times, they are literally playing on top of one another, not always at the same speed. There are times when just the baroque orchestra is playing and there are times when just the percussion ensemble is playing.
“The first time I heard it, I thought: ‘That has to be a mistake.’ But once I started listening to it carefully, I thought: ‘This is a wonderfully wild idea.’”
Serrano, who will perform one of the violin solos, agreed.
“It’s a nice surprise,” she said of the disparate sounds. “It is wild, but it’s still pleasing, somehow.”
The second piece is “Troilus and Cressida (reduced),” which is set by the orchestra to Ponchielli’s “The Dance of the Hours.” Its melody will be recognized to many as Allen Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.”
The third piece is “3 Epitaphs,” which is the only part of the program that will use recorded music. It features New Orleans jazz street musicians from a century ago and was premiered by Taylor in 1956.
“We can’t capture that sound,” Perry said. “Even the best players in the world would have great difficulty trying to emulate it.”
The final piece, the tango-based “Piazzolla Caldera,” will see Binghamton University faculty members and invited musicians take the place of the orchestra, while the students in the orchestra will get the chance to watch the dancers they have been providing music for.
Perry praised the orchestra members, saying that they have done “wonderful work” over the last five weeks.
“They’ve taken to the music really well and have shown a lot of interest in the entire project,” he said. “We feel privileged to be on the stage with (the dance company). This is something that anyone who is in the orchestra can tell people for the rest of their lives.”
Serrano said that the opportunity to accompany the Paul Taylor Dance Company is indeed something to remember.
“As a music student, to be able to play with one of the most well-known dance companies is an honor,” she said. “It says a lot about the Music Department that a significant dance company can come here and trust us with their program.”
More on the show
Chris Kocher of pressconnects.com talks with dancer Michael Novak of the Paul Taylor Dance Company.