The Los Angeles Ballet recently launched its inaugural season at the Beverly Hills Wilshire Theatre with an original production of The Nutcracker—and 33 virtual orchestra musicians. In a landmark first, 22 live musicians played along side 33 virtual members, by way of Garritan Personal Orchestra, to round out the 55 musicians called for by the Tchaikovsky score.
“Without the Garritan Personal Orchestra, we wouldn’t have had musicians in the orchestra pit,” explained Julie Whittaker, executive director of the LA Ballet. “We only had room for 22 players, and we desperately wanted live musicians. We want that experience, we want that sound, so we found a way to make it work with Gary Garritan’s kind help and his collaboration with our music director, Michael Andreas.”
Andreas added, “It is the first time that the Musician’s Union has permitted the use of preprogrammed tracks in this way. They understood that playing a CD was totally unacceptable to the LA Ballet. We wanted to use a full orchestra, but the pit was too small, as is true of many regional theatres. When they realized that we were going to use the technology to provide work for musicians, they were pleased, and the musicians were delighted to be here.”
Gary Garritan, creator of the Garritan Personal Orchestra, explained: “We started working on The Nutcracker three years ago for a ballet company in Washington state. What distinguishes our software from other orchestral libraries is that we have a sample library made up of the individual instruments rather than sections for strings, horns, etc. Bear in mind the magnitude of this endeavor:100 minutes of music for a minimum of 55 individual players. One of our users, Jim Ortner, sequenced every note with phrasing and articulation for every instrument in the entire ballet, using Cakewalk’s SONAR program.”
With the monumental task of sampling and sequencing complete, the tracks were delivered to Andreas, who worked with conductor Eimear Noone to verify that all notes were entered correctly. Next, the proper tempo maps were developed to fit the movements of dance choreographers Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, followed by the fine tuning of such elements as the dynamic range and expression with the proper articulations for the many scenes in the time-honored ballet.
Software was run on a Pentium 4/2.8 GHz PC from Canyon Computers with 2 GB of RAM and a Frontier Tango soundcard. During the performance, the programmed parts for the 22 live musicians were muted while their instruments were individually miked in the theatre. With programmer Craig Stuart Garfinkle on hand, mixers Bill Daly and Benjamin A. Maas worked the console to blend the two sources into one singular event.
Conductor Noone summed up the ambitious project: “We couldn’t have music that was stationary and pedantic. We had to interpret the piece and then produce results that sound absolutely live, with changing tempos and meters. We have a moving click that changes from quarter notes to eighth notes to triplet eights and so on. It has been very exciting, very challenging, and we have been pushed to the limits of our wits and concentration. It’s definitely a first, and it has taken the best musicians in Los Angeles to even attempt it. They have worked their brains out, and with Gary’s help, we’ve had the chance to make this all happen.”