20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Choreographer Peter Martins

Classic Arts Features   20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Choreographer Peter Martins
The informal Q&A series is back with a bang, featuring this latest installment by New York City Ballet Master-in-Chief Peter Martins. The choreographer will unveil his newest creation, a ballet set to Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto, this June.


Born in Denmark, Peter Martins began his association with New York City Ballet in 1967, when he was invited to dance the title role in George Balanchine's Apollo during the Company's appearance at the Edinburgh Festival. He then performed as a guest artist with NYCB for three years before joining the Company as a Principal Dancer in 1970. Prior to retiring from dance in 1983, Martins danced a tremendous variety of roles with this Company, and as a guest artist with companies throughout the world, and was lauded for his outstanding partnering skills and noble stage presence. He is now the Company's Ballet Master in Chief.

This season, Martins will unveil his newest creation, a ballet set to Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto; Salonen and soloist Leila Josefowicz will make their NYC debuts with the work (June 22, 23 and 26), which is part of the Company's "Architecture of Dance" festival (May 2 _ June 27). The ambitious and far-reaching festival features seven new ballets and four commissioned scores, with set designs by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Information about the festival is available at: http://www.nycballet.com/aod/index.html


1. A few works of classical music that you adore:

There are too many to name, and it would be hard to pick just one. But my desert island work is probably Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings. When I heard Gergiev conduct it in St. Petersburg I got goose bumps. I also adore Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements. It is monumental.

2. Classical music recordings that you treasure:

Anything with von Karajan.

3. Favorite non-classical musicians and/or recordings:

I am a big jazz fan. I love really sexy jazz, especially by some of the great pianists, including Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner. For me this is real relaxation music. Classical music isn't relaxing for me because I'm always listening for a possible ballet! My all time favorite is Ray Charles.

4. Music that makes you cry _ any genre:

There are moments driving into New York City on the West Side Highway that I know that I'm a sucker for Tchaikovsky. There are passages in his Romeo and Juliet overture that make my tears flow. I say to myself, how can anyone pick the notes like he could? He was a sublime melodist.

5. Definitely underrated work(s) or composer (s):

Delibes. It may be that everyone will get their due ultimately if they are good enough _ though it may take some time. I can't remember which composer said it, but I think it was Saint-S‹ens who said, and I paraphrase, "I am not in the big leagues with the big ones _ Bach, Beethoven and Mozart _ but on the second tier I'm as good as they come."

6. Possibly overrated work(s) or composer (s):

I will leave that question for others to decide.

7. Live music performance (s) you attended _ any genre _ that you'll never forget:

Ray Charles at the Koch Theater in the late 80s _ though it was the State Theater then.

8. A few relatively recent films you love:

I never see movies: I fall asleep!

9. A few films you consider classics:

West Side Story was the reason I came to America. Leonard Bernstein. and Jerome Robbins made me come to NYC! All I wanted to do was to go snapping my fingers on the Upper West Side and dance around in sneakers!

10. A book (or two) that is important to you (and why):

I am very much into political science. I enjoyed Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat _ a great book.

11. Thing(s) about yourself that you're most proud of:

I never throw in the towel.

12. Thing(s) about yourself that you're embarrassed by:

I wish I spoke better English. After 40 years I speak pretty well, but my vocabulary hasn't really expanded enough. [Editor's note: after a lengthy conversation with Mr. Martins, I can assure you that his English is quite impressive.]

13. Three things you can't live without:

My family, cheese & wine, and music.

14. "When I want to get away from it all I..."

Listen to music and have cheese and wine with my wife and daughter at home!

15. "People are surprised to find out that I..."

I can't answer that question, as I have no idea what people think of me!

16. "My favorite cities are..."

New York City

17. "I have a secret crush on..."

[Look of surprise including sly grin.] When I was very young it was Jane Fonda.

18. "My most obvious guilty pleasure is..."

Cigarettes. I don't smoke much, but enough _ like President Obama.

19. "I'd really love to meet _ or to have met..."

It would have been interesting to meet JFK and to see what he was like one-on-one. I'm sure he would have been impressive.

20. "I never understood why..."

In NYC you can have all these cultures side by side getting along. NYC is an example that it can work, but it obviously doesn't work everywhere else. Why not? If it can work here, why not there?


21. Question you wish someone would ask you (and the answer to that question):

Q: What would you do if you had the chance to do it all over again?

A: I'd become a conductor! Many things interest me. I wanted to be a lawyer, an architect, a soccer player, but my real love is music. I imagine having been trained since age three, playing instruments and becoming a conductor _ much more so than becoming a composer! A composer sits in isolation and writes and creates sounds out of nowhere _ pretty astonishing. A conductor gets to recreate that sound and bring it to life. I watch Fay‹al Karoui [music director of New York City Ballet] with such envy. Why can't I do that?

Past installments of 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS:

Soprano Diana Damrau

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein

Pianist David Fray

Violinist Sarah Chang

Pianist Ingrid Fliter

Mezzo-Soprano Joyce DiDonato

Pianist Yefim "Fima" Bronfman

Soprano Sandrine Piau

Soprano Natalie Dessay

Harpsichordist and Conductor Christophe Rousset

Guitarist Xuefei Yang

Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti

Soprano Nicole Cabell

Pianist Jonathan Biss

Tenor Ian Bostridge

Soprano Danielle de Niese

New-Music Sextet eighth blackbird 

Composer and Violinist Mark O'Connor 

Composer Jake Heggie

Composer Ricky Ian Gordon

Pianist David Greilsammer


Albert Imperato, a music promoter who co-founded 21C Media Group in January 2000, writes frequently about the arts for various publications and blogs. 

His new series, 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS, is his take on (and nod to) Vanity Fair's "Proust Questionnaire."

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