Andrew Litton, conductor
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Andrew Litton to Lead New York City Ballet Orchestra

By Michael Cooper, The New York Times

Before Andrew Litton, who has led orchestras around the world, became a conductor, his first real job was accompanying ballet dancers: As a student at Juilliard, he was hired as the onstage pianist for one of Rudolf Nureyev’s engagements on Broadway.

So his newest job will bring him full circle, in a sense: Next season, Mr. Litton will take up the baton as New York City Ballet’s next music director. Peter Martins, the company’s ballet master in chief, announced his appointment to the orchestra on Tuesday.

“I think the City Ballet Orchestra are unsung heroes, because they go through more repertoire in a year than most symphony orchestras that I’ve ever encountered,” Mr. Litton, 55, said in an interview. “And the number of new pieces that are premiered or done by this orchestra — it’s extraordinary.”

It is unusual for a symphony conductor of Mr. Litton’s stature to decide to lead a ballet company ensemble: He is the music director of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in Norway, and was formerly music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony in Britain. But this will be a homecoming: Like Alan Gilbert, the music director of the New York Philharmonic, he grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan — so two of Lincoln Center’s big orchestras will be led by native New Yorkers.

Mr. Martins said he was looking forward to collaborating with Mr. Litton, who had a tryout of sorts last winter when he led the orchestra for several performances of George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova’s “Coppélia,” with music by Léo Delibes.

“It’s thrilling for me, because I want to learn, I want to know what I don’t know, and he’s very smart, he’s very sophisticated — I am looking forward to taking advantage of that knowledge,” Mr. Martins said. “I think it’s exciting for our audience to have a conductor of that stature, and that the quality of the orchestra will be even further improved.”

There will be trade-offs to having an in-demand music director: Mr. Litton will be able to work with City Ballet for only 13 weeks next season, and 16 the following season — which is not uncommon for symphony orchestras, but will be a departure for City Ballet.

“We have to now share him a little bit,” Mr. Martins said, “but I think it’s worth it.”

Ballet orchestras do not often get a great deal of respect, unless they perform other music as well — the way, say, the Mariinsky Orchestra plays not only ballet music but also operas and symphonic works. But the City Ballet orchestra gets to perform a highly varied repertoire: This year it will play the music of Bach, Vivaldi, Gluck, Mendelssohn, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Bernstein and John Adams, among others.

Mr. Litton, who will become the company’s sixth music director, already has big plans. He said he hoped to spend some time rifling through the closets of its home in the David H. Koch Theater, rounding up music that was commissioned over the years by City Ballet but never used in dances — there are rumors of an Elliott Carter piece floating around — and that he hoped to interest a label in recording the City Ballet orchestra.

“We’ll see what we can do,” he said. “It’s certainly not going to be business as usual.”

Mr. Litton will succeed Fayçal Karoui, who held the post from 2006 through 2012. Andrews Sill, who has been the company’s interim music director for the past two years, will become its associate music director.

Mr. Litton, who will begin in September, spoke with real enthusiasm about working with the company that performs the “Nutcracker” that he saw every year as a child, and that influenced his musical tastes when, as a young man, he dated a dancer there.

“I was — what did people of my father’s generation call it, a stage-door Johnny?” he said, recalling when he saw three ballets there a week.

Although he had heard Ravel’s G major piano concerto before, he said he had never considered learning it until he saw Jerome Robbins use it in his ballet “In G Major.”

“I completely fell in love with it, and, in fact, would go every time that was on,” he said, adding that he went on to play the piece, record it, and tour the world with it.

He credits Nureyev with giving him valuable advice when he asked him, just before the curtain went up on their first Broadway performance, if he ever got nervous. Mr. Litton said that Nureyev flashed him an angry look and said: “What a stupid question! Of course I get nervous. You must get nervous. Do you hear all those people outside? They’ve paid lots of money to see this, and of course it’s got to be great, you know?”

Then he said something that has stayed with Mr. Litton ever since. “He said you’ve got to learn to channel your nerves into energy and excitement,” he recalled. “And with that the stage manager said, ‘Places.’ ”

Courtesy of The New York Times, December 16, 2014

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