Evanston-based orchestra to play for Joffrey

May 17, 2012
Glencoe News
Dorothy Andries


The Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, which gives a series of concerts at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston, has been named the official orchestra of the Joffrey Ballet.

“We’re thrilled,” said Donna Milanovich, flutist and executive director of the Chicago Philharmonic. “They asked us to submit information on the cost of providing live music for all their concerts next season. But frankly we get requests all the time. When we heard Tuesday night that we were chosen, we were amazed.”

“It’s like a lightning bolt,” said James Berkenstock, bassoonist with the orchestra and artistic coordinator for the ensemble. “The Joffrey does some interesting things. When we sat down to talk to them, I told them that when they visited Chicago from New York years ago I had played in the pit.”

More live music

According to Christopher Clinton Conway, Joffrey’s executive director, the cost of hiring the Chicago Philharmonic makes it possible for the company to have live music at all four of its programs in Chicago next season. “In our spring concert earlier this month,” he said, “we had recorded music for two of the works because of budgetary restraints.

“They were more affordable than the Chicago Sinfonietta,” he continued, speaking of the orchestra that played for the Joffrey from 2003 through the 2011-12 season.

Scott Speck, who is music director of the Mobile (Alabama) Symphony, was named Joffrey’s music director in the summer of 2010. For the first time this April, he was guest conductor of the Chicago Philharmonic, and he liked what he heard. “The Joffrey has been aspiring to have live music at every show,” he said, “but it was always just out of reach.”

Speck is adamant when he speaks about accompanying ballet. “Live music allows the conductor to stay with the dancers,” he said. “If a ballerina balances an extra split second en pointe or if a dancer is taller and he makes longer leaps, the orchestra can make the adjustments in real time.”

There is no leeway with a recording, however. “Without live music, it is just karaoke,” he insisted, and added, “The word is Japanese and it literally means ‘empty orchestra,’”

The Chicago Philharmonic, whose music director is Larry Rachleff, has a roster of about 200 musicians. “We supply players to the Ravinia Festival Orchestra,” said Berkenstock. Plus, this January musicians from the CPO performed in Orchestra Hall during the annual “Salute to Vienna” concert.

Top musicians

About half are members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, but many others are A-list freelancers who play for American Ballet Theatre or the Grant Park Orchestra, as well as in pit orchestras when Broadway shows come to Chicago, and with numerous chamber ensembles throughout the area.

“A lot of the Chicago Philharmonic musicians play with us for ‘The Nutcracker,’” Joffrey’s Conway declared.

Speck concurred. “When I started rehearsing the April concert with the Chicago Philharmonic,” the conductor said, “I knew half the players in the orchestra.”

“Joffrey is a premiere ballet company,” said the orchestra’s Milanovich, “and we whole-heartedly embrace the opportunity to work with an artistic organization striving, like us, to do work of the highest calibre.”

The Chicago Sinfonietta learned of Joffrey’s decision on Tuesday, May 15, as well. “We submitted our numbers as we’d always done,” said Jim Hirsh, the Sinfonietta’s executive director. “They reached out to someone else. We had a wonderful nine-year run with the Joffrey and we wish them nothing but the best.”

The Joffrey Ballet season begins 2012-13 begins Oct. 17 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. For more information on the Chicago Philharmonic visit www.chicagophilharmonic.org and for more information on The Joffrey Ballet visit joffrey.org.