text reprinted from Cincinnati CityBeat 11/5/14
Above: James Gilmer rehearsing his role as Captain Hook in Cincinnati Ballet’s Peter Pan
- by Kathy Valin
Celebrating his forty-sixth anniversary as music director for Cincinnati Ballet under every artistic director since 1968, Carmon DeLeone, has a lot to be proud of. The company is well known for its frequent performances to live music, under the Maestro’s baton. However, this weekend is extra special, when DeLeone conducts his own original score for the full-length Peter Pan.
“Although this is the third time we’ll be performing this ballet in Cincinnati,” says DeLeone. “it is the very first time that the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will play my music.”
Above: “Take that, Hook!” James Gilmer and Cervilio Amador joust during a Peter Pan rehearsal
DeLeone is excited. “Not only because of the skill and world class ability of the players in the CSO,” he said last weekend in his tidy office just off studio A at the Ballet Center. “But because we are able to have many more musicians than usual. In fact, this may well be the largest orchestra (some 65 players) that’s ever played the piece.
“So, for me, I’ll be surrounded by the lush sounds of my own music. That’s gonna be a thrill, I’m sure. I’m gonna have a lot of goosebumps.”
DeLeone’s presence on the podium is a familiar one to ballet fans. His conducting style has been called supple, natural, and athletically elegant, and even though during the performance, most of the audience can glimpse only the top of his curly, grey-haired head, he’s a popular fellow. After the entire cast has taken their final bow, he’ll take the stage with them. He frequently gets the loudest accolade of the evening.
In the early 90’s, DeLeone conceived the score. “I felt I was gonna have two summers to work on it. Kind of leisurely – I planned the first to compose the music and the second to do orchestrations.”
Unfortunately, the financing did not come through in a timely way, and DeLeone had to crowd all that activity into one summer. “Between Memorial Day and Labor Day of 1994, I stayed up every night. I started working about midnight after David Letterman was off the air, until the dawn rose, about seven in the morning, and got it done.
“However, I wasn’t able to finish all the orchestration myself, so I had lots of good help from my friend, the conductor, composer and arranger Steve Reineke, who was right with me in the whole process. The other member of the music team was the late, wonderful arranger and copyist Joe Price, who did a lot of work for the Cincinnati Pops and the CSO as well.”
Above: Lost Boys battle Pirates
“We always knew that the flying sections would be tricky, and a sort of faux-flying gear was set up, I think it was outdoors, to test it out,” he remembers. “That was quite exciting, it was the first time I sort of heard the music and saw people fly. A few months later it was on stage (with choreography by Peter Anastos) and that was also quite an event.”
One moment in the ballet that never fails to get out-loud laughs from the audience is when Captain Hook, dances with the Crocodile. “Well, that’s one of the silliest moments in the whole ballet,” says DeLeone. “So for that I decided to borrow an old Russian song everybody knows as ‘Dark Eyes.’ I turned it into a tango. I also quote some Richard Strauss. I knew that the interaction between a crocodile and a pirate with a hook was gonna be silly, anyway, so I just made the music kind of silly as well.
What makes music silly? “You know,” he says, “Over the years, I’ve seen comedy either too far over the top or too subtle, and you can’t make it out. You can use funny musical quotes or a funny combination of instruments. Luckily, choreographer Peter Anastos, who was one of the founders of the comic travesti company “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo” kind of had humor in his bones. It’s true – drama is easy, and comedy is hard.”
And how did he create the wonderful music during which Peter Pan, Wendy, John and Michael fly? “It’s another one of those ‘I don’t knows.’ You face a blank page and try to dream of what flying might sound like, soaring lines. My music features sort of octave skips for the violins to play.
“I feel that as a musical project, Peter Pan has worked out well. My wife and other people believe that it is their favorite. I’m not gonna argue with that. It may be my best work.”