'Cinderella': a fairy-tale beginning for PNB's new music director Emil de Cou
Emil de Cou, currently the associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., takes over the baton from longtime Pacific Northwest Ballet musical director/principal conductor Stewart Kershaw on Feb. 4.
Seattle Times arts writer
'Cinderella'Pacific Northwest Ballet, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4-5 and 10-12, 2 p.m. Feb. 5 and 12, 1 p.m. Feb. 6 and 13, 6:30 p.m. Feb. 13; McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $27-$165 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).
When Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of "Cinderella" opens Friday, a new musical director will be at the podium — for the first time in 27 years.
Emil de Cou, currently the associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., takes over the baton from longtime PNB musical director/ principal conductor Stewart Kershaw, who retired at the beginning of the 2009/2010 season. Though not on staff yet — de Cou's tenure officially begins this summer, with conductor/pianist Allan Dameron serving as acting musical director until then — he's here in Seattle this season to conduct "Cinderella" and "Giselle" (in June), getting to know the company dancers and the PNB orchestra.
Originally from Los Angeles, de Cou is now in his ninth season with the NSO, but his background includes much ballet, with eight years at American Ballet Theatre (under Mikhail Baryshnikov, in New York and on tour) and eight with San Francisco Ballet, in the city in which he still lives. He describes his new job as "like a gift from heaven — there are just so few companies of this stature artistically."
There are also very few companies in the U.S. that have their own orchestras. De Cou explained that though more regional ballet companies exist than ever before, few can afford a resident orchestra like PNB's, which is made up of approximately 60 local professional musicians, many of whom also play for the Auburn Symphony Orchestra and other groups.
Mentioning how a colleague at another company told him of the possibility of performing "Giselle" with taped music, de Cou grimaced, describing the idea as "like kissing someone over the phone — it's possible, but it's not very good," he said. "I look forward to letting people know how fortunate we are here."
In the meantime, de Cou is learning to navigate PNB's Lower Queen Anne neighborhood (before his audition last year, he'd never been to Seattle), and immersing himself in Sergei Prokofiev's score for "Cinderella."
"That's a great score," he said. "People know [Prokofiev's] 'Romeo and Juliet,' but you don't hear 'Cinderella' very often."
De Cou points out that this version, choreographed in 1994 by former PNB artistic director Kent Stowell, is musically unique. It includes, along with the ballet score, other music by Prokofiev: incidental music from the play "Eugene Onegin," an excerpt from the opera "A Love for Three Oranges," and other works.
"Kent wanted to have lighter moments, brighter moments," said de Cou, noting that the "Cinderella" score was written around the time of World War II. "It's a stunningly beautiful piece, but it can be very dark, very melancholy."
As music director for the company, de Cou's duties extend beyond the podium: he'll be kept busy with studio rehearsals, auditions, meetings and assisting the company's other artistic staff with any issues pertaining to music. Clearly passionate about the importance of the arts to a community, he looks forward to getting involved in educational outreach, as he's done for the NSO, to bring in new audience members. Ballet can, he says, "in difficult times, make people's lives better, happier, freer, lighter."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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