AUDIO EXCLUSIVE: Five Songs from Maury Yeston's Tom Sawyer – A Ballet in Three Acts
By Adam Hetrick
August 15, 2013
PS Classics will release the world-premiere recording of Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Maury Yeston's Tom Sawyer – A Ballet in Three Acts Aug. 27. In anticipation of the album's release, Yeston has made five tracks available for preview to the readers of Playbill.com, offering plot, background and insights into how the music came to be written.
Adapted from Mark Twain's classic novel, Tom Sawyer received its premiere in October 2011 with the Kansas City Ballet and the Kansas Symphony. It featured direction and choreography by William Whitener.
Martin West conducts the 70-piece San Francisco Ballet Orchestra for the PS Classics recording, which is produced by two-time Grammy winner Adam Abeshouse. The album is currently available for pre-order at PSClassics.com.
"I wanted the music to feel visual, to reflect the great heritage of our American music, and to be accessible to people of all ages," Yeston told Playbill.com. "After the premiere of the work in Kansas City, I was thrilled when the ballet and music world took notice. And then came an invitation from the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra to record the entire three-act, 85-minute work at George Lucas’s Skywalker Sound, with a full complement of forty strings under the baton of Martin West. It was a genuine dream come true."
Click through to listen to five tracks from Tom Sawyer – A Ballet in Three Acts and to read Yeston's insight on the piece.
"Huck Finn bursts onstage early in Act One just after Tom and Becky have become infatuated with each other in their school classroom and have danced a romantic but imaginary pas de deux. Just as this dance ends, Huck swings in on a rope, arriving in an explosion of musical energy, and pulls Tom out of his reverie – as well as out of the classroom. It's so helpful to envision an action like this onstage because finding the music for it becomes more of a specific task. Barefoot and rambunctious, these two paragons of boyhood leap out and dance athletically onto the plains. Tom may one day become civilized, but Huck will always retain his freedom and wild spirit. I wanted to give the two of them a story, to avoid too generic a scene. That's when I realized that, like most boys, they would compete to outdo each other, in this case they even dance a whistling contest!"
"Act Three centers first on the trial of Muff Potter (who has been wrongly accused of Injun Joe’s murderous crime) and Tom's heroic testimony, which has exonerated the hapless Muff. All the townsfolk express their praise for Tom. Relieved that an innocent man has been released, they spread out quilts and blankets in the bright sunlight and set down for a town picnic. For this section I had to find a kind of musical storytelling where careful shifts of musical tone, in short strokes, can allow the scene, the location, and the atmosphere to evolve fluidly. It took a while before I realized that I should be using as little time as possible to connect the dots, because the shifts in action are so fast, but they make sense and are logical. Here, the picnic unfolds easily in effulgent light but then, just as quickly, a sun shower begins and even darker clouds and rain appear, causing everyone to fold up their blankets and escape. Tom and Becky immediately have to seek shelter, rushing for cover, and come upon the entrance to a cave. They warily begin to enter it, to get out of the rain…and the music tells us we are now on our way to the next episode: lost in the cave. And it all happens in under a minute and a half."
"The murder scene at the end of Act Two features Injun Joe, Doc Robinson, and Muff Potter (the town drunk) excitedly digging up a chest of gold from behind a grave in the cemetery. At first sight of the gold, a fight begins. Muff has drunk so much he passes out, but the other two fight to the death. A knife appears, and Injun Joe stabs Doc, places the bloody knife in the hand of the unconscious Muff, and steals away with the chest of treasure – all under the twinkling stars. The music must not only be exciting and support the violence of the fight choreography, it has to imprint itself on our memory because I must have Tom dance a version of it during the Trial as his testimony, when he later 'describes' (in dance) the action, the thrusts of the knife, and the truth of who actually committed the crime."
Tom and the Town
"Tom's first entrance into the town square in the bright morning of Act One was a chance to rely on leitmotif to present the quicksilver and playful nature of his character. Here he joyfully cartwheels into the scene, with his irrepressible spirit, youth, humor, and spunk already in place in the music. Sometimes the very first image that comes into your head leads to coming up with the music right away. This theme flew from my fingers almost the moment I thought of that boy taking stage – a complete picture: fishing pole over the shoulder, straw hat, bare feet."
Dance of the Fireflies
"Act One focuses on Tom's life on the Mississippi; Act Two presents the story of a murder committed by Injun Joe, as witnessed by the hidden Tom and Huck at darkest midnight in the spooky cemetery. This led to a chance I'd been looking for – a chance to invent: a way for the music to stray from literal narration and create the kind of enchantment that the world of ballet can deliver so exquisitely. As twilight falls, Tom and Huck set out toward the cemetery – but we are in Missouri, in summertime…and boys have imaginations. Out of the corner of their eyes they catch, first one, and then another glimpse of two fireflies. In a moment, they are completely surrounded and entranced by ballerina fireflies twinkling and sparkling in the night."
Yeston won Tony Awards for Best Score for Titanic and Nine, and was nominated for Grand Hotel. His works also include Phantom, Death Takes a Holiday, Goya and the song cycle December Songs.
(Numerous theatre recordings are also available at PlaybillStore.com.)