Ballet (2013) · 20.5 min

for orchestra and two pianos

flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns, trumpet, trombone, 2 percussionists, 2 pianos, strings

Program Note

Ballet for orchestra and two pianos is a work that evolved over an 18-year period. Its first performance took place as a sextet (flute, violin, cello, piano, marimba, and vibraphone) on a graduate student composer’s concert at the University of California, Berkeley on January 27, 1996; a performance that included the following program note:


Ballet was composed during the Summer and Fall of 1995. It consists of a series of short dances performed continuously. This work represents a slightly new approach to composing for me. The material is made up of numerous tonal fragments; some are a few bars in length, some longer. Many have a character that can be associated with minimalism. These fragments are then freely layered on top of one another, shifted back and forth, phased in and phased out, made softer or made louder. I worked with a Macintosh using Mark of the Unicorn’s Performer software, where one can literally pick up a musical idea and place it anywhere in time, whether it be one on top of another, or one after another. Composing this piece was like playing with blocks – it was great fun. This piece was written for Dana Frangione, Kristin Dite, and the Bucknell University Dance Company.


The sextet version was performed by Michelle Ritchie, flute; Paul Barber, marimba; Alfred Tam, vibraphone; Greg Dubinsky, piano; Kevin Chen, violin; Judy Rummelsburg, cello; and Anthony De Ritis, the composer, as Music Director.


In May 1997, De Ritis submitted Ballet for large orchestra as his dissertation, composed in partial fulfillment for the University of California, Berkeley doctoral requirements, signed and approved by UC-Berkeley faculty composers, Jorge Liderman, Richard Felciano, and Olly Wilson.


In 1999, De Ritis arranged a chamber orchestra version of Ballet for a performance at the June in Buffalo conference under the baton of Magnus Mårtensson, Buffalo, NY (June 8, 1999). The instrumentation was as follows: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, 2 pianos, 3 percussionists, violin 1 and 2, viola, cello, bass. It was during this week long festival that De Ritis had a private session with composer Aaron Jay Kernis, who suggested to the composer (something along the lines of) if you want the composition to have a groove, don’t be ashamed to let it groove – words of wisdom that made an impact on the composer.


It was not until 2013 that De Ritis revisited Ballet with some minor revisions based on his experiences from June in Buffalo, and in preparation for a recording with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) under that baton of Gil Rose, featuring pianists Vicky Chow and Saskia Lankhoorn (also known as Duo X88). The following program note was written by Robert Kirzinger:


Ballet is the earliest piece on this disc, its original orchestral version having been De Ritis’s Ph.D. dissertation at Berkeley. He later made versions for sextet (first performed in 1996) and for chamber orchestra (premiered at the June in Buffalo festival in 1999). The somewhat expanded chamber orchestra version heard here has never been performed in concert. Ballet was conceived as a series of closely related dance episodes, not quite theme-and-variations, but sections of distinct character developing the same motivic material. De Ritis wrote it without any specific intention of having it choreographed (although he wouldn’t object to that). His important connection with dance dates to his undergraduate years as piano accompanist for Bucknell’s dance company, a position for which he was recommended by his teacher William Duckworth. Ballet was also influenced by the composer’s having performed Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks concerto and conducted Debussy’s Danses sacrée et profane; their rhythmic vitality and timbral pungency are its clear ancestors.


Ballet’s contrasting sections each center insistently on a particular tonality, e.g. the E Dorian of the opening. The broken arpeggios in the piano at the beginning are the motivic key to the whole, and the two pianos are the backbone of an ever-present but variable “groove.” In addition to changing tempo and tonality, De Ritis varies the texture between full-ensemble passages and episodes featuring only a few instruments. Near the end, the arpeggio idea is presented in fenestrated alternation with rests and short woodwind phrases, haltingly; the ensuing slow contrapuntal section gradually rebuilds energy for the powerful close.


“Anthony De Ritis’ Ballet was a delicate beast, hovering around neo-Romanticism, veering at times on a new sage soundtrack before recovering its purpose. Sprawling is not the right word but expansive and spacious are only slightly better descriptives for a well constructed work that nicely balanced strings, winds, and brass.”

– Garaud MacTaggart, The Buffalo News (June 9, 1999)



– Guy Rickards, Gramophone (July 2017)


“infectious underscores his enduring devotion to the rhythms of dance”

– April Thibeault, AMT Public Relations for Musical America Worldwide (February 28, 2017)


Ballet is a post-minimalist work, very attractive”

– Kenneth Keaton, American Record Guide (November/December 2017)

View Score

Ballet was recorded on May 31, 2013 at Distler Performance Hall (Medford, MA) by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Gil Rose, featuring Vicky Chow and Saskia Lankhoorn (Duo X88); and released on BMOP/sound 1051, on January 24, 2017.

Concert Programs