Without music, you would not have a whole lot of ballet. Hmmm. Would you have any ballet? I don’t know of any without music, but I suppose it could exist. Shoot, music exists without music … look at John Cage’s 4’33”, after all. But those exquisite works are few and far between.

But anyway, a local ballet company will be doing Stravinsky’s Firebird in October. And no, before you start to worry, they aren’t dancing to silence. There will be music. Canned music.

So I wonder … do audiences care? Do tell! Do you expect an orchestra when you go see a ballet?

We are getting “virtual orchestras” in musical theatre productions, and we get canned music in ballet. Would opera ever move to canned music or a virtual orchestra? “Never,” you say. You think not? Try Brooklyn Opera. It was back in 2003, but Playbill wrote:

On Aug. 9, the company plans to present a one-night-only production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, using no live musicians, but only a virtual orchestra. According to the New York Times, the event has resulted in the resignation of two members of the outfit’s board, the well known opera singers Deborah Voigt and Marilyn Horne.

And reading at Andante.com I found this:

Critics who attended the performance said it came off without a hitch. Jeremy Eichler, writing in The New York Times, pronounced it “better than expected yet still rather odd, and substantially inferior to a live orchestra.”
He said the computerized performance had a surprising flexibility to it and the technology adapted nicely to the conducting of company director Jay D. Meetze. But for now, Eichler wrote, “musicians need not fear that their work will be obviated by computers; this technology still has a long way to go.”

Lest the “musicians need not fear …” sounds like a relief to some of you, do note the “long way to go” which implies to me that the reviewer (and certainly others) expect the “instrument” to get to where it needs to be in time. I’m sorry the reviewer didn’t just say “nix the darn machines”. Sigh.

Where will it go from there, I wonder? What if a symphony concert has only two speakers on stage — or hey, we can be generous and put even more speakers up there — and no live musicians at all? Will someone notice?

Sure, this seems like a preposterous idea. An over reaction on my part. Surely an exaggeration.

Of course!

But did you ever think Stravinsky’s Firebird would be performed without an orchestra?


  1. How about we replace not only the orchestra for ballet performances,
    but also the dancers?  You just need a big screen and a slide
    projector.  Or, if you’re in the really ritzy areas, a video



  2. Patricia Mitchell

    Heh … there you go! But should we even suggest anything in jest? Someone is bound to take us up on it. Yikes!