Making Music: Interview with Philadelphia Ballet Orchestra’s Beatrice Jona Affron

Beatrice Jona Affron is celebrating her 30th year with the Philadelphia Ballet (formerly Pennsylvania Ballet.) The music director and conductor joined the company in 1993 as the assistant conductor. She earned international accolades while rising in rank with Philadelphia Ballet Orchestra. Beatrice spoke with Phindie about her career and collaboration on the upcoming production of Carmen.

[Philadelphia Ballet at the Academy of Music. 240 S. Broad St] October 5-15,

Beatrice Affron. Photo by Arian Molina Soca.

Debra Danese: Congratulations on your 30th year with Philadelphia Ballet. What has been a career highlight during this time?

Beatrice Jona Affron: Thank you! Several highlights stand out. My very first Nutcracker (in 1993) was a big deal. Little did I know it would be the first of many hundreds. The world premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake in 2002 was momentous for all of us in the company. And working on Angel’s original Carmen is proving to be a new highlight.

DD: What path landed you with the company?

BJA: My path to the company is strewn with happenstance and good luck. I had just received my Master’s in orchestral conducting from New England Conservatory of Music with just a couple of professional prospects on the horizon. An advertisement for the assistant conductor position at Pennsylvania Ballet came along, and although I was a finalist, the job was rightly given to a conductor with much more experience. When that turned out to be a mismatch, the company asked if I would still be interested, and the rest is history. I should add that when I first arrived in February of 1993, I had attended only one live ballet performance. I’ve made up for it since then. 

DD: What skills are required to conduct for ballet as opposed to conducting just an orchestra?

BJA: We aim to give a concert-quality orchestral performance that serves the requirements of the choreography and the dancers. In the course of any given evening, an enormous amount of visual and musical information is exchanged between the stage and the pit. The goal is to produce an organic and musical result.

DD: What was the process for creating the score for Carmen?

BJA: The process for creating the score for Carmen is not entirely over! However, Angel, Martha Koeneman (our wonderful principal pianist) and I met for two three-hour sessions last May. I brought along the piano reduction of the complete opera, as well as scores for Bizet’s two Carmen Suites. Thinking that those might not provide quite enough music for a full evening’s work (other Carmen ballets tend to run at only about 50 minutes,) I brought Bizet’s l’Arlesienne Suites as well. Angel has an uncanny ability to remember and sing music, and together we stitched together our first draft, using those sources. I spent much of the summer editing the parts and score and arranging a few bits of music from the opera to replace the vocal lines, with the help of my composer daughter, Miranda Scripp. When the season began at the end of August, Angel got to work on the choreography. As is typical of this process, he discovered that some significant changes were needed, including the insertion of a few more numbers and scene change music. Adding material to printed orchestral parts is always tricky, but that process seems to be done! Now, as we’re starting to run through larger chunks of the ballet, we continue to polish the stone. We’re aiming for a Carmen that sounds seamless, despite having been stitched together from various materials.

DD: Which ballet are you most excited about working on this season?

BJA: I’m looking forward to working on Ashton’s The Dream, which is a company premiere. The Dream shares a program with one of my all-time favorite ballets, Balanchine/Prokofiev’s Prodigal Son. I think it’s one of the very greatest works in the repertoire.

Carmen will run from October 5 to 15, 2023, at the Academy of Music. [240 S. Broad St, Philadelphia]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.