1 Allegro con Brio from Beethoven’s Symphony No 7
Conducting always demands for you to give yourself entirely, but whenever I conduct – or even just listen to – Beethoven 7 I am always overcome by the inexorable energy and incredible vibrant freshness in this music. It makes every fibre in my body want to dance, and I challenge anyone not to feel the same way when they hear it! No wonder Wagner called this symphony ‘the apotheosis of dance.’
2 The ending of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet
2022 was my year of Romeo: MacMillan’s at the Royal Ballet, Cranko’s in Australia, and a stunning production by Veronica Paeper in South Africa. I managed to persuade Laura to marry me in Cape Town, and the Australian Ballet to employ me during the Cranko, so Romeo will always have a special place in my heart. I must have done the piece nearly 40 times in that year, and every time we got to the ending it would turn me into an emotional wreck. Isn’t it just the saddest C major in the history of music? Listen in particular to the last few bars, and to how the harmony resolves. Now listen to Bernstein’s West Side Story: there wouldn’t be one without the other!
3 Erbarme dich from JS Bach’s Matthäus-Passion
It seems a cliché to say that music and dance have always gone together, but for Bach I think music is always danced, often to surprisingly emotive effect. This is why his music, together with so many of the Baroque masters, holds such appeal for choreographers. The St Matthew Passion is one of my desert island pieces. It is a masterpiece of drama and I wish somebody would make a full length ballet of it. I love how melody and the harmony of this aria grabs at your heart, but the dance within it means that there is something visceral about one’s response.
4 The Ice Hotel by Stacey Kent
As a conductor, an amateur pilot, and also growing up with families scattered all around the world, I have been very fortunate to have travelled a lot. Honestly, it never gets any less exciting. I love all of Stacey Kent’s songs, and especially her collaboration with Kazuo Ishiguro. Ice Hotel is one of the songs they penned together, and it will always ignite my wanderlust, taking me at the drop of the first piano notes to far-flung places around the globe.
5 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, arr Callum Au and sung by Michael Bublé
I love jazz standards, and I love Bublé (though I think he should be banned at Christmas). Growing up in the UK as an immigrant from Hong Kong, London has always held this sense of romance for me and this song preserves and enhances it for my hopelessly romantic self. This particular version was arranged and orchestrated by my dear friend Callum Au, who is one of the most talented people I know. As a composer and arranger he works with some of the best in the world, but I keep thinking how he would write a really fine ballet one day…
Jonathan Lo discusses the music of Swan Lake with Australian Ballet artistic director David Hallberg