• Phil

MUSIC ‣ New York City Ballet Orchestra: A Musical Force – Setting the Mood, and Motivating Movement*

Updated: Sep 6

Phil Cartwright, Founder, HorizonVU Sound and Movement

Victoria Parker, Senior Editor, Dance, HorizonVU Sound and Movement


*We extend special recognition and thanks to the Strategic Planning Subcommittee of the New York City Ballet Orchestra and Cameron Grant, Pianist, New York City Ballet Orchestra.


This September’s installments of Dancer of the Month - Musician of the Month become one and the same in recognition of one of the world’s pre-eminent orchestras, the New York City Ballet Orchestra, and its exceptional musicians. Part 1 covers selected highlights from the 70-plus years of the orchestra’s history. Next month, Part 2, the focus turns to the current state with emphasis on the current repertoire, effects of the COVID pandemic, the future outlook, and recommendations for the best of the Orchestra’s recorded music.


Both music and dance excite emotions and activate our perceptions of movement. The complementarity between dance and music is widely recognized. It is beyond the realm of imagination that Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty or The Nutcracker could be performed in the absence of Tchaikovsky’s music. The New York City Ballet and the New York City Ballet Orchestra are exemplary in uncovering a grand unification of performing arts.


With a schedule of seven performances each week of rotating repertoire, the 62 members and three associate members of the New York City Ballet Orchestra perform together over 200 times each year with an active repertoire of more than 250 ballets.The Orchestra's instrumentation is

Woodwinds: 3 flutes, 2 oboes,1 English Horn, 3 clarinets. 2 bassoons;

Brass: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba;

Percussion: Timpani, 3 percussion, Piano, Harp;

Strings: 10.8.6.6.4.


The Company was founded in 1948 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. In 1964, it moved from City Center to the George Balanchine Lincoln Kirstein

New York State Theater,

since renamed the David H. Koch Theater, part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on New York’s Upper West Side. Along with the with the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the New York City Opera, the New York City Ballet and Orchestra has been a vital part of the core group of world class institutions that fulfill Lincoln Center’s cultural mission.


The Orchestra’s first music director was the Belgian-born American conductor, Léon Barzin. His influence on the quality of symphonic performance in the United States was enormous and long lasting. From 1963 to 1989, Robert Irving, or “the Duke” as he Léon Barzin Robert Irving

was known to friends and colleagues, worked in close collaboration as a triumvirate with Balanchine and Kirstein. Irving, who had the longest tenure of musical directors, is recognized as a major force for inspiration and guidance during the early years of the Company. He was a brilliant musician overall, demonstrating exceptional instinct for the music-dance synergy as well as abilities as a pianist and orchestrator.


Irving’s influence lives on to this day through the standard repertoire of the New York City Ballet, which was performed and finely honed by Irving, Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Robbins joined NYCB in 1949 as Associate Artistic Director and soon distinguished himself as a dancer and choreographer performing numerous ballets including his own such as Age of Anxiety.


From 1989 to 2000, Gordon Boelzner was the Orchestra’s Music Director. Boelzner started with the Ballet as rehearsal pianist in 1959. He went on to perform in such landmark ballets as Balanchine's Allegro Brillante, Duo Concertant, Four Temperaments, Sonatine, Tarantella and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, and the Rubies section of Jewels. English conductor, Andrea Quinn followed Boelzner in 2000. Fayçal Karoui was Musical Director from December 2006 until spring of 2012.