“Like the rest of my generation, I grew up being a huge fan of the Beatles so I was thrilled to meet him. After I got to know him a bit, and knowing of his great love of composing classical music, I asked if he might be interested in doing something for New York City Ballet, and I am ecstatic that he has agreed to write a score for us.” – Peter Martins”I am always interested in new directions that I haven’t worked in before. So I became very excited about the idea… What was interesting was writing music that meant something expressively rather than just writing a song. Trying to write something that expressed an emotion – so you have fear, love, anger, sadness to play with and I found that exciting and challenging.” – Paul McCartney
The winter season in New York City Ballet began Sept. 13, 2011 at Lincoln Center. Among the traditional ballets such as Swan Lakeand the works of Balanchine, the great news of the moment is Ocean Kingdom, the new ballet choreographed by Peter Martins and with music composed by Paul McCartney, who invited his daughter Stella McCartney to create the costumes for the piece.<!–more
The ballet tells a love story that takes place under the sea where the characters feel threatened by human beings. With a duration of about 50 minutes, it consists of four movements “Ocean’s Kingdom,” “Hall of Dance,” “Imprisonment” and “Moonrise.”
Those who think that the former Beatle only composes only pop music, are mistaken. Paul has written and recorded other classic pieces at the legendary studio Abbey Road. However, this will be his first composition to be played by an orchestra.
Always led by his heart, Paul said he wanted to create a piece full of feelings that might surprise the public. Therefore, he was inspired by the purity of the ocean and in only two months the first draft had already been written. Before starting of his work with Peter Martins, he paid a visit to the Royal Ballet of London, to familiarise himself with classical dance.
Please see below the transcription of four videos with discussions on the ballet creation process with Will Gompertz (Art Editor for BBC London), Peter Martins (Ballet Master in Chief of the New York City Ballet), Paul McCartney and Stella McCartney.
Peter Martins – I know Sir Paul has been writing classical music for quite some time. And I knew I was interested in classical musical. So when we had chance of meeting, I suppose I should call it at the big gala Dave Cook Theatre. And Paul appeared with his wife to be, I got to chat. I think it was my suggestion, wasn’t it? That we do something that you might consider something?
Paul McCartney– Peter said to me, would you ever consider? I was the kind of start of it for me. Would you ever consider writing though ballet? And I basically said yes. I’ve started a piece of music for another project that didn’t work out, so I kind of had a little piece of music, so when Peter asked me would I consider, I immediately thought about this other piece of music and I thought, this is what I should do with this other piece of music now. So I went back after accepting peter’s offer, and tailored it to what I thought might make a good ballet. Well for me the thing was, when Peter and I started talking, he commissioned me to on behalf of the New York City Ballet to do the music for a new ballet. I had no idea what the rules were, or in fact if there were any. So I just went back and wrote music with dance in mind that excited me that I thought might excite Peter, and then I done it all. Pretty much done I then thought to myself, what I’m going to do, just going to hand this to peter? He said. Dance to it. Or am I going to try and think it through a bit more? So I can put my input in there. And take it to Peter and say, Look! I had a couple of ideas that you can reject if you want. If you reject them, tell me what’s yours; and peter liked the idea I came up with. So it was pretty definite our line of story, wasn’t it?
Peter Martins – Absolutely, yes.
Paul McCartney – And then we started the collaboration. We had good discussions along the way, as to what might be.
Peter Martins – We incorporated some of the moves that he suggested. He wrote the music, the costumes was very much part of the DNA.
Paul McCartney– My daughter, Stella…
Peter Martins – You’ve made some nice painting we suggested to put… So the only thing that was missing was the choreography. And even that was basically…
Paul McCartney– At the beginning of the third movement. OK she is in prison. I was imagining…
Peter Martins– I loved it.
Paul McCartney– That’s the kind of thing that excited me well with the collaboration.
Peter Martins – You wrote with the libretto. And you sorted of determined what the whole ballet should look like. I have run this theatre and I have been doing this for a long time. And I know that every single person in that theatre that is there for one reason. Not for the ballet, but because of Paul. And everybody anticipation would be, what does it sound like? What is this going sound like? Most people had no clue. And we all awaited this great anticipation.
Paul McCartney – The great thing is I don’t know much about ballet. I have come to this with an open mind, unlike some with knowledge of the ballets. I kind of know Swan Lake, and Nutcracker. Like I lot of people. I just do my best and I know it is good enough. I was just interested in doing something that I had never done before. And then I started to look at ballet and what it meant, and learn a bit more about it. And just put together some music that I thought it would be good to dance to. I have learnt there is more to ballet than an average person like me thinks. They are athletes. They are great athletes. I have a friend who is on the Olympic Rowing Team for Canada. And he said the way they were training, they studied ballet training. I’ve brought my ideas, of what a good evening out at the ballet could be. That is how I always do it. I sit myself in my seat on the opening night, the curtains go up and I ask myself, what do I see? So I wanted it to be a story, I wanted some sort of variety, so I wanted it to have emotional moments, exciting moments, spectacular moments, so I tried to put together a programme that includes all of that.
Will Gompertz – Peter Martins, the artistic director here told me you have not being shrinking violet in getting involved in this production.
Paul McCartney – Well the thing is that Peter said to me, would you write the music for this? I said yeah. Went away, wrote some ideas, played them to him; and he liked what was going on so I’ve finished it off. And before bringing it back to him, I thought I wonder what he is going to do with it. Well if he has not got any particular ideas, let me have some ideas as well and see what might happen. I listened to it through worked it out. And I think this is something dramatic happened.
Will Gompertz – You wrote the story as well.
Paul McCartney – So I ended up writing the story. When I came to New York and played them the music, and said this is the idea of the story. Paul you haven’t only written the music, you’ve written the libretto. So it went from there. You know, and he is very generous, a good collaborator. He is not the kind of person who says, look, just leave this to me. So he would say to me, what do you think of this idea? He set some great ideas. I said great! What do you think of this idea? And most of them he was interested in. There was one, he said no.
Will Gompertz – What was that?
Paul McCartney – I thought. It would be great the dancers did the slowmo. It’s so dull. And I OK.
Will Gompertz – Did he throw the ideas of the clothes designer? The costume designer?
Paul McCartney – No came to me, he said you know Paul, I don’t know if I should ask this, but do you think your daughter Stella would be interested in costumes?
Will Gompertz – What was your reaction to that suggestion?
Paul McCartney – Well I knew she would. She is like me unfortunately. So I said Stella, would you be interested? She said yes.
Will Gompertz – And what has it been like working together?
Paul McCartney – It has been great. It has been really good. She is great. She is a real hard worker. I love what she does in fashion anyway. So it is really great, especially, I haven’t worked with any of my kids like that before, on a specific project like this. It has been really good we have had a lot of fun.
Will Gompertz – Is it true that you don’t read or write music?
Paul McCartney – Unfortunately, it is yeah.
Will Gompertz – Why? You have been active a long time. Half an hour with a decent teacher you would be there.
Paul McCartney – It is a weird thing really, but the way I do things, the way I write music, very instinctive. A lot of people in my generation, the people out in the groups. We just kind of make it up and talk to each other. It goes down down tan tan tan. And the other person goes yes pan pan bah. And you know and you just talk to each other and you do it like that. Like it writing down to to to it’s not the same as going tan ran ran.
Will Gompertz – Peter said that Brian Epstein thinks you were the most inquisitive of them all. You would have thought you would have got into the technique the technical…
Paul McCartney – OK, so I tried when I was I kid with the old lady down the road. Didn’t work, like homework. Didn’t like it. Couldn’t relate, but I love music. Then I tried when I was 16 with a guy across the road. Didn’t work tararirirururu … No! Then I tried when I was 21 with a guy from the Guildhall of Music but then I had written Eleanor Rigby and kind of, you know.
Will Gompertz – Were you confident?
Paul McCartney – I was finding a way of own to do it. So the idea of writing it down never came into it.
Will Gompertz – When you come to a new piece of work like this, is there a bit of you which thinks maybe this will be as good as or maybe or even top… everything I have done before?
Paul McCartney – I don’t think so. No, I think you hope that anything you do, the next thing you do, you hope it will be your best thing ever. But if I am being realistic, having me on the Beatles, being there. There was pretty hard. You know and so you know I am not really trying to be better than the Beatles. Now I am very and happy privileged to have been there. So it is not really a question of trying to be better better and better. It`s a question of trying to be as good maybe in a different way.
Will Gompertz – Paul McCartney, thank you very much.
Paul McCartney – Thank you.
Stella McCartney – There is a sort of two sides really I guess so. One side is working with my dad for the first time on a really important kind and amazing project. So you have that emotion, feeling very proud, very excited about having that opportunity. And then there is that other side, where I guess you think to yourself I`m working with Paul McCartney as well. It`s a kind of you know. It’s a funny thing. You look at it from two different angles.
Will Gompertz – And what has it been like?
Stella McCartney – It has been amazing, actually. Really interesting. Incredible collaboration, I think. The whole thing of working on the ballet, in this kind of way. Working in a true collaborative manner. So it is with both dad and Peter Martins, and then the dancers, I am providing a sort of technical need within the whole structure.
Will Gompertz – As I understand your dad has been very hands on. Does this apply to the designs as well?
Stella McCartney – He has been involved. He clearly wants to know what is going on. It is very his vision, his ballet. And I think, I guess the most involvement he has had from my side is quite clear was not very traditional ballet. For me at the beginning. How do you see this? Do you want tutus, do want… What is it that you are imagining when you are writing the music? I think it is quite important to try and make the marriage between all three. The choreography the music and the visual, all… the costumes worked well together, complementing each other.
Will Gompertz – Because of the actual story and he music is traditional … John Cage, John Adams. So how do you respond to that? I mean… Were you surprised by?
Stella McCartney – No, I mean, I am pretty up to date on dad’s music. I kind of know, I have seen it all my life and how he works and he makes music. So that part was no brainer for me. I guess really my role is to design the costumes and to tell the storyline and because there is a clear storyline, and so for me I had to try and do that then fit that within the needs of sort of athletes essentially. And the timelines of costume changes, when somebody says we need her to go from a prison scene to a hall of dance. Then I said well OK. Would it be same costume? Oh no, you have got one second to change, a skirt. You have to sort of fit within the constraints of that.
Will Gompertz – You are working on a ballet for the first time. Is it giving your ideas as a designer about how to do things differently?
Stella McCartney – I don´t think really it’s kind of crept into my day job that much. But it is great to always vary the way you do work. I love doing different things all the time. And I am not afraid to do that. I find it kind of it keeps me on my toes. So it´s something that I really enjoyed it, something I would definitely do again.
Will Gompertz – I am at the Lincoln Centre in New York, home of the New York City Ballet. I am joined by Peter Martins, who is the ballet master in chief of the New York City Ballet. That basically means that´s the artistic director, the head of honcho. The man responsible for commissioning Paul McCartney to write his first ever ballet. Peter! Why?
Peter Martins – The other answers would be why not? If you can get Paul McCartney to write a piece of music for you. Who would you want it?
Will Gompertz – And what did you brief him to do? What did you ask to create for you?
Peter Martins – We met about a year and a half ago in this very space we are walking, by chance. And of course I was a very big Beatles fan. So I knew him for into classical musical. And I asked him, I said. Would it be possible for you and consider making something for us. Wouldn’t that be nice? He said, well I’d love it. More or less that’s what`s happened. And then the rest is history. Premier tomorrow night.
Will Gompertz – And how has it gone? Is he any good in composing for a ballet?
Peter Martins – He is very good. He taught me. We met many many times and he asked me what I liked. I said to him. You are the king of melody, like Tchaikovsky. I love great melodies and I love rhythm, like you do too. Those are the two elements I would love in a ballet. And he delivered it.
Will Gompertz – OK Peter, so that’s all been great. What has been the hardest part?
Peter Martins– Nothing has been hard about it. I am telling you the truth. He has been one of the greatest collaborators that I have ever had with anybody. Because he is so engaged in every aspect of it. The music, the libretto, the costumes, the seaming elements even the choreography. I mean, he is fully engaged.
Will Gompertz – We`ve had that feel and there you are. This giant of the choreography, well you have Paul McCartney. How does that feel?
Peter Martins – That’s a good question. If his ideas were not good I would not have liked it. But he has not only got good ears, he`s got great eyes, great sensibility. He is a very very impressive man.
Will Gompertz – What sort, what did he bring new to ballet? If he has all these ideas, what was fresh about his ideas?
Peter Martins – In a funny way, the fact that he was not familiar with the ballet world? So he was not burdened with history? He would have wild ideas that … we haven’t done that before. That’s great.
Will Gompertz – How did the dancers respond to him? Because if he was involved and giving them suggestions. Were they receptive?
Peter Martins – They were going crazy. They all loved it. It`s been a real, it’s been a feast. I have to tell you. It has been.
Will Gompertz – Peter, thank you very much. Paul McCartney Ocean’s Kingdom is here at the Lincoln Centre for the next four nights and one day, hopefully, maybe it might come to the UK.
Ocean’s Kingdom premiere, was held on September 22, 2011 at the Lincoln Center. The ballet was considered by critics as being expressive and rich. Paul admits that this was a stimulating experience and the cooperation with the New York City Ballet will bring a lot of happiness. I am sure that Ocean’s Kingdom will be the sensation of this season and I hope that the ballet will soon be available to the public outside the United States.