Do ballets always have live music?

November 28, 2016 at 08:13 PM · Yesterday I read that an Arizona ballet performed The Nutcracker without live music. It made me wonder...

Do ballets always have a live orchestra that performs the music?

Or in many cases, many ballets just playback the music?


Replies (36)

November 28, 2016 at 08:58 PM · Maybe the orchestra should play and the dancers should be on a big screen. Sort of like a Philip Glass show.

Or a string quartet where the violist is a speaker sitting on a chair. (Solves the neurosis problem. LOL!!)

November 28, 2016 at 09:31 PM · This is actually a serious question.

I want to know if when a ballet is represented, it always have an orchestra playing live. Or in the other hand, I wanna know how many times they just put music in the speakers of the theater and they dance. If so, is it done many times or it's just an exception?

November 28, 2016 at 09:57 PM · Back in the olden days, all ballets were performed with live music because there was no recorded music. Nowadays it depends on the budget of the production. Generally, if you go to a ballet in a world renowned venue in Paris, New York or Moscow, you will most certainly have live music and the ballet company willhave its own orchestra wth highly skilled and well paid musicians (check out for example the web site of the NYC Ballet). If you go see a ballet performed in, let's say, Tucson, Arizona and you pay $10 a ticket, you get what you paid for. Simple math.

November 28, 2016 at 10:25 PM · So, is that an usual thing?

Since there are many, many ballets whose tickets cost $10-30.

If you had to say a percentage, what would it be?

May be 30% of ballets use recorded music?

November 28, 2016 at 11:47 PM · Travelling ballet companies use canned music. It's too expensive otherwise.

Even the logistics of having a live orchestra ready for a one night performance in a smaller city is mind boggling. Then just imagine how much it would all add to the ticket price.

November 28, 2016 at 11:54 PM · Then, what can you do if you want to enjoy, for example, The Nutcracker, with a full orchestra playing live during the entire ballet?

November 28, 2016 at 11:59 PM · See if you can find a full performance of it being offered sonewhere and then be prepared to travel!

November 29, 2016 at 12:06 AM · The National Ballet of Canada does a full performance I think. Tickets start at $40.

It is booking up fast!

November 29, 2016 at 01:06 AM · I agree with N.A Mohr, full orchestra ballets are done in huge cities. Usually done with famous ballerinas or, well-known ballet schools such as the Russian ballet.

In local ballet shows, live orchestra isn't much a priority. So, the ballet in Colorado with live orchestra is rare to me.

November 29, 2016 at 02:33 AM · The Ballet San Antonio production of Nutcracker uses the San Antonio Symphony in the pit. I don't think we're all that unusual either. You don't have to go to New York to see ballet performed the way it was intended to be.

November 29, 2016 at 03:11 AM · i don't know the exact percentages, but a ballet snob will demand a real orchestra and will not waste his time with canned music. But recorded music in ballets makes it more accessible to more people. My friend, an opera buff, will only go to venues were there is no sound amplification (the performers are not wearing wires and there are no microphones in the orchestra pit) - you only hear the natural sound from the performers and the instruments, undistorted by sound equipment - of course, you need a hall with top acoustics. Do the best violinists in their best public performances play without amplification? I heard that the old recordings of masters such as Heifetz and Oistrakh electronically increased the volume of the soloist and, without amplification, those violins would not have sounded as loud as we hear them when playing them today.

November 29, 2016 at 04:22 AM · Classical violinists never play with amplification, unless they're playing in a stadium or the like. (There are crossover works for electric violin, etc. as well.)

Recordings of violinists through the ages use microphones to pick up the sound. Closely miking the soloist results in a different sound. Most recordings, both older and modern, place a microphone right near the soloist, with more microphones picking up the orchestra. So the balance is not what you would naturally hear in the hall. But no one is amplified, either in the live performance or the recording.

November 29, 2016 at 06:13 AM · When you go to hear the Roanoke Symphony play their holiday pops concert it's amplified but that's because they're playing in the Salem Civic Center which is basically a huge basketball-type arena. If you hear the same concert at the Moss Center in Blacksburg it's without amplification, except for the singer.

November 29, 2016 at 12:46 PM · I have played lots of live Nutcrackers in small cities all over the Midwest. I actually consider it a privilege to have played it so many times. Of course, I'm not there when they don't have live music, so I can't comment on the ratio of live to canned. I think a lot of them do use canned music.

November 29, 2016 at 04:09 PM · Thanks, Lydia. But one could say that when closely miking the soloist results in a different sound, that leads to an amplification of the soloist with respect to the rest of the orchestra, when the recording is played.

November 29, 2016 at 06:24 PM · Lydia - if the balance on the recording is different to what you would hear in the hall then I would say that something has been amplified. Otherwise the recording should be done with a pair of microphones out in the hall.

November 29, 2016 at 08:10 PM · It depends on the Company, performance venue etc. For example, The Alberta Ballet came to Ottawa to perform at the National Arts Centre. For a full ballet at a performance venue like this, a live orchestra is used (in this case it was the NACO) However, playing with live music can come with draw backs, especially if something unexpected happens like a rit. isn't as slowed down as the dancer was used to when they were practicing with just a recording. As well, this makes it harder for young professionals, such as the students of the National Ballet School of Canada or other ballet schools that perform full ballets. When it's students, even if performing at a beautiful venue, will most likely use a recording because they're not as used to mistakes and such happening in the performance and they most likely spent a year practicing with those recordings, so if magically after a year there's a full orchestra that does an acc. too quickly, the students will not know what to do. Hope this answers your question!

November 29, 2016 at 08:13 PM · every orchestra will play the Nutcracker differently, and if the ballet company is small and works with a different orchestra at every venue they perform, they need to rehearse with the new orchestra, which adds to the cost of the production. if they now the canned version, no need to rehearse every time

November 29, 2016 at 09:16 PM · If the dancers are used to something in a recording, or otherwise need something that isn't written, then the orchestra just makes that happen for them. If they say cut this section and replace it with this other section, we do it. If they say vamp these four bars a hundred times, we do it. If they say slow down, we slow down. If they say speed up, we speed up. More or less, if they say jump, we say how high.

Learning to dance with live music would be an important part of learning to dance, I should think. Music and dance have a long and lovely history together.

November 29, 2016 at 10:42 PM · I loved playing the Nutcracker and did so many times! I have not played in it for a long time, though, with so many companies that have switched to playing with a recording... :(

November 30, 2016 at 04:11 AM · A bit of pedantry, but important: Recording balance is not the same as amplification. Amplification is a different approach, generally requiring a pick-up on the violin. Recordings are normally done with microphone placement alone.

The degree of natural balance depends on the particular recording. Perlman in his later years has preferred extremely close miking, for instance -- he wants the listener to hear the violin the way he hears it, not the way it sounds in the hall. Oistrakh in his Soviet recordings has a fairly natural balance but often those old Melodiya recordings sound like everyone was playing in a box. Heifetz in his earliest recordings has a natural balance, but as recording techniques improve, his later recordings have a more prominent violin balance.

Go hear a major modern soloist, though, and you'll usually hear them loud and clear over the orchestra, even if the balance isn't what it is on recording.

November 30, 2016 at 07:02 PM · I saw the Bolshoi(or was it the Kirov, one or the other) perform in Los Angeles around 1990, it wasn't a full ballet performance but sort of a greatest hits excerpts from multiple pieces including ballet sections, the music was recorded, which was slightly disturbing but the dancers performance was stunning.

I remember how much better the dancing was than the American Ballet Theatre

November 30, 2016 at 08:39 PM · The violinist I heard live with the biggest tone by far was David Oistrakh. That sound was voluminous and cut right through the orchestra, even in quieter passages.

Has anyone ever been to a ballet where the orchestra was live but the dancers were on film?



November 30, 2016 at 10:16 PM · Wow, many replies, that's nice. I never thought it would be that usual. I thought it was a very ugly and dirty move from a ballet company not to hire a real orchestra.

Hahahaha, now that would be awkward, to go to a ballet where the orchestra is live and the dancers are in a giant screen.

Now the next question...

Has anyone ever been to a ballet where the music is recorded and the dancers are on a big screen?


December 1, 2016 at 12:37 AM · Oh, a discussion right up my alley! I performed in a local dance company back in my university days. Our Nutcracker was live orchestra and most of the other programs used recorded music. (The other live music was stuff like jazz ensembles, once a string quartet.) Frankly, I found it much, much easier to dance to the taped music. You knew every nuance of the recording and it never surprised you. The performances to live music had an element of uncertainty, especially on opening night, that was a little disconcerting. These days, I review ballet performances, and while most of the big ones feature live orchestral music (The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra is peerless; almost as good as the Symphony, right across the street), I'll review performances that opt for smaller live music ensembles, or high quality recordings. Ballet San Jose, struggling financially, had to drop their orchestra from everything but Nutcracker, and, okay, it was a jolt the first time I attended with the recorded music. But when it came down to a choice of quality programming and dance performance, with recorded music, versus humbler fare with a live chamber ensemble, well, I was okay with that. They did a stellar performance of Giselle with taped music. That's so orchestrally rich, I would have thought it would be ... challenging, especially since I'd seen San Francisco Ballet's Giselle with their astonishing orchestral sound a year earlier. But it was absolutely lovely; I'm so glad they presented it.

Regrettably, even in spite of the budget-crunching tactic of using just recorded music, Ballet San Jose went under last spring, and now there's nada. Breaks my heart. I think (or I hope) that patrons are understanding that ballet companies are being forced to make choices, and you can't always have your big name story ballets with the live music anymore. That costs a whole lot of money. And it hurts the ballet company worse when people turn their nose up at the canned music idea and skip the ballet. When that happens too many times, the company risks going under.

Sorry, long-winded reply. But one doesn't get to talk ballet too much, here at, and I'm sort of stuttering in my excitement to talk on and on. : )

December 1, 2016 at 12:49 AM · >Learning to dance with live music would be an important part of learning to dance, I should think.

Sarah - regrettably, this isn't the case. Even having a pianist in the ballet class is something only reserved for the higher levels of ballet class, or elite ballet training. I'm going to guess that 80% of young dancers will practice/perform at recitals to canned music. Kayla, your response was right on the money. It's my experience, too, that most young dancers practice to the same recording all season long that will be played for them at the recital.

I agree, though, Sarah, that this isn't ideal. I trained in a humble dance studio until I was fifteen. When I got up to a higher level of training, performing to live music (aside from the pianist in the studio during class, an "upgrade" that I LOVED) was an odd experience. Probably in part from the fact that the orchestral sound came from a community orchestra, and it had its own learning curve going on!

December 1, 2016 at 01:43 AM · Well, right, I agree that the majority of dance studios will have canned music. I meant dance students with professional aspirations. I've done a lot of dance in my life, for my entire life, in many styles (never ballet, alas), and have occasionally been paid gas money for it. I've never tried to do it professionally, though, so I don't really know the industry.

December 1, 2016 at 07:12 AM · When the home of the San Francisco Ballet was under renovation, I saw them do Swan Lake in Berkeley at UC's Zellerbach Hall. My recollection was that they had no live orchestra for that concert! How hard would it be to take the orchestra across the Bay? (And if it *was* recorded ... according to Wikipedia, that orchestra hasn't recorded Swan Lake--I wonder what recording it was.)

Anyone have a better memory than me? Terez? Lydia?

December 1, 2016 at 05:46 PM · I'm guessing that Berkeley would count as a runout for the SF Ballet's orchestra, which means that there'd have to be higher payments. But it's also possible that the hall didn't have a sufficiently large pit for the orchestra. (I didn't see that production though.)

The last Nutcracker I attended was canned music. I forget now which ballet company it was, but I haven't attended a ballet since.

December 1, 2016 at 06:42 PM · @Lydia, I did consider whether Zellerbach would have a sufficiently large pit. Technically speaking, there is no pit, but there could be room for the orchestra to sit in front of the stage. Depends on how many seats they want to sell. :-) But, that year the SF Ballet did ALL its performances "away". You'd think they'd take that into consideration.

I saw the Nutcracker performed by the Oakland Ballet with an orchestra. In my experience, that Ballet company falls under the category of "canned music unless it's the Nutcracker".

December 2, 2016 at 03:55 AM ·

December 2, 2016 at 08:06 PM · Francesca, I wasn't in the Bay Area during that time; I wince to think of what it must have been like for SFB subscribers/patrons to live through those renovation years. (Was it two seasons or just one?) Shocking that they'd do Swan Lake w/o live music. Must have had a different contract with their orchestra during that period. Yikes. Surely tough on everyone, dancers, admins and musicians alike! I know Symphony Silicon Valley suffered when Ballet San Jose had to drop them. Ugh, I'm still so sad about the way wealthy Silicon Valley let that treasure die away. : ( Wonder how Symphony Silicon Valley is doing? I guess I'm part of the problem - I skip more local San Jose in favor of more opulent San Francisco. But I just adore the SFS.

December 3, 2016 at 06:30 AM · Terez, The Berkeley Symphony seems to be hanging in there. And they are

generous with their education of Berkeley students. Thinking about that makes the situation of Symphony Silicon Valley even sadder.

December 3, 2016 at 06:46 PM · When I lived in the Bay Area, I'd go see a lot of SF Symphony concerts despite living at the south end of the Peninsula. I'd only go to the San Jose Symphony (now Symphony Silicon Valley) when the concert had a specific soloist I was interested in hearing. With the abundance of community orchestras, I'd go hear those orchestras too when they were featuring particular soloists. And then there were all the other arts performances... I went to something practically every weekend without having to be a subscriber to anything in particular.

Of course, ticket sales only comprise a small part of any group's budget, but there's no shortage of arts organizations that Silicon Valley folks can donate to, either.

December 4, 2016 at 12:33 PM · One of my violas in the Giselle/Act 2 Pas de deux, Kiev Ballet and Orchestra, viola soloist Yaroslav Wenger.

December 5, 2016 at 07:04 AM · Beautiful, Luis. Thanks! And that's a great recording.

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