Magazine article Gramophone

Edward Watson: The Royal Ballet Principal on Working with Singers, Learning to Appreciate Schoenberg, and the Thrill of Getting 'Inside' the Music

Magazine article Gramophone

Edward Watson: The Royal Ballet Principal on Working with Singers, Learning to Appreciate Schoenberg, and the Thrill of Getting 'Inside' the Music

Article excerpt

My first encounter with classical music was in ballet class--I still remember those lessons in Longfield, Kent, with Mrs Richards at the piano. At home, though, it was all about pop music. We had a record player, and my dad would play Buddy Holly--he was a big fan. My sister loved Wham! and my brother was into the Beastie Boys. As for me, the first single I bought was the Band Aid one--I remember going into Woolworths to get it. Growing up, the only classical music we heard was on a couple of cassettes my mum would play in the car.

When I joined the Royal Ballet School, everything changed. I learned to read music, and we were taken to a lot of concerts. Different people came in on Sundays to give recitals I remember seeing the jazz singer Marion Montgomery and the percussionist Evelyn Glennie. We went to plays and ballets--the option was always there for us to learn and be inspired. Nowadays, of course, being based at the Royal Opera House, I get to see a lot of things--Salome, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District ... dark stuff!

On a typical day, I'm surrounded by music. When I get up, I put on the radio; on the bus on my way into work, I listen to my iPod; for rehearsals, we have piano accompaniment; for the show there's a live orchestra; and then, on my way home, I'll listen to my iPod again. Occasionally I might want silence, but music is great--it can change your mood, bring you up or down and prepare you for a performance.

At the moment, I'm listening to Martha Wainwright and also Song of the Earth--we're rehearsing Kenneth MacMillan's ballet, set to Mahler's score, so I'm definitely having a Mahler moment right now. In Song of the Earth, having the singers on stage with the dancers gives the ballet an extra dimension. It's the same with Gloria, another MacMillan ballet, set to Poulenc's choral work. For me, this is one of the most moving examples of how choreography can enhance the score. The music is about praising God, yet you're seeing these images of the horrors of the First World War. That juxtaposition is what makes it so heartbreaking, and I find that, being surrounded by voices on stage, I breathe with them.

Without a doubt, my dance repertoire has influenced what I listen to. …

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