Enter Maestro Carmon DeLeone, Cincinnati Ballet’s music director for 43 seasons running.
DeLeone could be deemed exceptional not only in his lengthy Ballet tenure, but in his music-filled life at large. While we conversed recently in his Cincinnati Ballet office, strains of piano accompaniment soared up through the walls from the studio downstairs. How fitting!
Warm, charming and quick to smile, DeLeone exudes an even-keeled energy. He might give an occasional mischievous wink.
Does it feel like he’s been working with the Ballet since 1969?
“No!” DeLeone says, “We’re just getting going.” Time flies, and clearly DeLeone is having fun.
“We just do such a variety of things and I stay busy with all kinds of activities in addition to the Ballet,” he says.
He’s not kidding. DeLeone has just celebrated his 30th year conducting the Middletown Symphony Orchestra. Last year, he completed his 25-year tenure as music director of Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, where he’s now conductor laureate.
For all his conducting experience, DeLeone began with a different path in mind: playing French horn in an orchestra. He first came to town on scholarship to University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Former CCM and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Conductor Erich Kunzel later hired him as his first assistant conductor, in addition to DeLeone’s horn and percussion playing duties. DeLeone also plays drums with Jazz ensembles regularly.
“It’s been a busy time,” he says of his life in recent years.
“At some point I suppose I need to slow down a little bit, but until I’m in a sling, I’ll keep trying.”
“Hopefully Miss Muse floats down on my shoulder and says, ‘Carmon, here’s an idea for that blank piece of paper that’s in front of you,’ ” he says with a grin.
Sounds suitable for fairy tale fun — subject matter with which he’s familiar. DeLeone’s best-known ballet scores are the full-length Peter Pan and Princess and the Pea. Both were created for Cincinnati Ballet in collaboration with CEO/Artistic Director Victoria Morgan and have garnered widespread demand and success nationally and beyond.
This weekend Maestro DeLeone will conduct the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra as the Ballet performs Princess and the Pea alongside the Georges Bizet-scored The Steadfast Tin Soldier at the Aronoff Center.
DeLeone underscores the importance of live music and Cincinnati Ballet’s good fortune to have it. He credits the Ballet’s leadership, local citizens’ support and a much-lauded, generous grant from the Nippert Foundation.
“I think sometimes we take (the Ballet’s live music) for granted in Cincinnati … but many companies are forced to perform to recorded music because they don’t have that luxury,” he says.
Live music can also heighten performances in ways audiences might not expect.
“We have that give-and-take between the stage and the live music,” DeLeone says. “If you’re playing a recording, what happens onstage is very often mechanical, because nothing will ever be different. The dancers have to be on that mark at that particular time.”
It’s a subtle art, but by all accounts DeLeone is a natural. Principal dancer Cervilio Amador says having DeLeone in the pit gives him more confidence.
“As dancers, we need the tempos to fit the choreography. Some like it slower, some like it faster. He tries to work with the dancers,” Amador says. “And he also has such a cute face; he just lights up. I love watching him and seeing him in the pit.”
For his part, DeLeone enjoys watching the dancers, even pushing them at times.
“What I’m usually watching for is not necessarily always comfort of the dancers, but I want to make sure that it looks as though they’re not labored in their movement,” he says. “In some cases, it’s my job to sort of push the dancers to even maybe a better performance than they thought they could give — to force a little adrenaline to flow, and then maybe they can really do something extra special that particular night.
“I don’t always get it right, but after 43 years, I’m usually pretty close. But that’s the challenge of the job; that’s what I really like.”
Cincinnati Ballet presents Princess and the Pea and The Steadfast Tin Soldier at the Aronoff Center Friday-Sunday. Tickets: 513-621-5282 or cballet.org.