Im Gespräch: Myron Romanul


Myron Romanul has already worked on numerous ballet productions. He conducted the premiere of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in Munich in 2017. The revival will also be conducted by him. In this interview, he reveals what is special about conducting ballet, what he particularly loves about ballet and what he appreciates about the Bayerisches Staatsballett.

Annette Baumann (AB): Where does your love of ballet come from?

Myron Romanul (MR): I have always loved bringing music together with the stage, in whatever form: Opera, ballet, even puppet theatre I've conducted. I grew up in Boston and had a lot to do with the Boston Ballet - first in the orchestra as an ensemble member and then as a solo pianist. I've always been very fond of ballet. The first time I conducted a ballet was in the 1970s, La Fille mal gardée.

AB: How do ballet and opera conducts differ?

MR: I think it makes a bigger difference for the orchestra musicians than for the conductor whether ballet or opera is being performed. In an opera, the musicians hear the singers. It's easier to follow the conducting. With ballet, all you hear in the orchestra pit is the clatter of pointe shoes on the floor. But you can't see the dance steps. So it's harder to understand why a phrase or even an entire performance has to be played a certain way. Sometimes orchestra members go to ballet rehearsals or performances when they don't have to play themselves to watch the choreography. This contributes to a better understanding.
The big challenge in ballet for me as a conductor is to respect the orchestra and the dancers equally. The music and the dancers' performance to the music are two things that have to go hand in hand and are equally important. Conducting a ballet is like conducting a silent film. The only difference is that the action doesn't take place on the screen, but on the stage.

AB: What do you admire most about about dancers?

MR:  I admire how they can express themselves with their bodies and how they form the individual phrases. Music and dance come together, the auditory meets the visual.

AB: How do you prepare for a ballet performance?

MR: First and foremost, you have to watch. And if you have seen enough ballet pieces and rehearsals, you know the individual types of dancers and how to respond to them. Big men need more time for the jumps, with smaller dancers you can usually conduct a little faster. Knowing this is especially important when conducting a piece with many different casts. The Nutcracker, for example, is a classic that, at least in the US, even people who normally never go to the ballet go to see. We often had 50 performances in four weeks with many different casts. If you know not only the piece but also the dancers and how they work, conducting is much easier. 

AB: Are there certain signs from dancers on stage that you have to conduct faster/slower?

MR: Not usually during the dance. It is the conductor's job to see if they need more time; or vice versa, if you need to conduct faster. A good ballet conductor recognises that and responds to it.

AB: You were at the Stuttgart Ballet from 1985 to 1990. What is your best memory of that time?

MR: It was a wonderful experience to work with artists like Marcia Haydée, Birgit Keil or Richard Cragun. Especially Marcia helped me and supported me a lot. I had the honour of conducting her first ballet production of Sleeping Beauty.

AB: You have worked with many companies. How would you characterise the Bayerisches Staatsballett?

MR:  For me, the Bayerisches Staatsballett is one of the top companies today. There are many talented, wonderful soloists here who also have personality. Munich is without question very high up in the rankings for me. Just as Stuttgart was in the days of Marcia Haydée.

AB: You are currently conducting Alice's Adventures in Wonderland choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. What is your favourite scene?

MR: I love the scenes where Alice and Jack meet. They are beautiful melodies and wonderful harmonies. I also really like the end of the second act. The glockenspiel and the harp give it a very special timbre. And the waltz is great too, of course - although the composer Joby Talbot didn't really want to compose a waltz in the first place.

AB: You have won many awards - what do they mean to you?

MR: They are special hounorings for me that you sometimes don't even expect. Once, when I was very young, we recorded ragtime music, Scott Joplin's "The Red Back Book". Looking back, everything happened very quickly. We were on tour, had sold-out concerts - and suddenly won a Grammy for best classical chamber music. It happened to me that I heard this recording in the supermarket. At a moment like that you think, wow, you did it (he laughs).

AB: Have you ever received an award for classical ballet conducting? Does such a thing even exist?

MR: Seven years ago, Vladimir Malakhov created the Marie Taglioni Award. There were categories such as best dancer, best female dancer, best choreographer, etc. And I was one of three nominees for best ballet conductor. But there is not really an award for the best ballet conductor in the real sense - although there are famous conductors who have done ballet performances. That is a great pity.

AB: Do you have a favourite opera house?

MR: Oh, it must be Munich (he laughs). No, seriously: my favourite houses are really Munich and Boston. I had the honour of working a lot with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Every time I go on stage there, it's a very extraordinary atmosphere. Munich also has a great opera house with great acoustics. So yes, Munich and Boston are my favourite places to make music.

AB: Myron, thank you for the interview!

Author: Annette Baumann and Annabell Frankenfeld


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