Artist Spotlight: Q&A with Maestro Charles Barker

Newly reappointed for a second three-year term with PBT, Music Director Charles Barker takes the baton for his fourth season at the 2012-2013 season opener, Giselle with the live Orchestra. Here, Barker shares his perspective from the orchestra pit on Giselle, conducting for dance and more.

As you begin your fourth season with PBT, what do you look forward to most for the season?

Performing is its own reward. Being part of a large group of people all working their respective jobs in order to create a spectacle is a thrilling experience. At PBT it seems to happen every time so I have that to look forward to. It is always great to work with the PBT dancers.  They are quick, musical, artistic and, perhaps best of all, very gracious to work with. The PBT orchestra is excellent.

The season premiere, Giselle, was the first ballet with an original score composed for the production. How do Adam’s score and the live orchestra contribute to set the scene and develop characters in this ballet?

My wife and I (she was a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet) once discussed the last 5 minutes of Act 1 of Giselle, the “mad scene”, for 3 hours.  We went over every note and every step and talked about what they meant and how best to make the emotion and energy of the section come across to the audience. The only way for this to happen is to have live music. The dancer must respond to what they are hearing, if they perform steps by rote there is no art; the conductor must respond to what he sees and how the action is progressing, if he merely plays the music without regard for what is happening on stage there is no art.

How does your rehearsal and preparation differ for a ballet production compared to other performance settings?

One major difference between symphonic preparation and theater preparation is that the music must be ready and at performance level by the dress rehearsal.  The dancers are expecting everything from the pit to be there and right! The orchestra’s dress rehearsal is the final orchestra-alone rehearsal.

What are the unique rewards and challenges of conducting live for ballet dancers?

The first paragraph above says it: Creating a theatrical event working with many others is both a challenge and reward.

Looking ahead to PBT’s Season finale Cinderella, Prokofiev’s score is considered one of the most brilliant in ballet.  What do you think earns it this distinction; what makes it special to perform?   

Prokoviev is still underrated. I believe his music is on a par with Mozart. There is not a note out of place or any extra gratuitous markings. The orchestration is exacting and the timbres it creates are some of the most amazing in all of music. Specifically in Cinderella, the final pas de deux (in D-flat major!) is perhaps the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard.

2012-2012 Season Premieres with Giselle with Live Orchestra