Terence Kern, new this year as music director of Ballet West, has had an international career in Great Britain, South Africa, and around the United States, earning a solid reputation as a conductor of ballet. He's been music director of the London Festival Ballet, Scottish Ballet, and for a short time of the Joffrey Ballet. So why has he settled in Salt Lake City?
"I like Utah," said the slight, affable Welshman. "I've knocked about the world for the last eight or nine years freelancing. After guest conducting Ballet West a few times (including "Anna Karenina" and "Carmina Burana") I had a reasonable offer from artistic director John Hart, and I thought, why not come? The job is stimulating, the company is getting better and better, and I enjoy working with Utah Symphony."If you think being a ballet music director is just beating time at rehearsals and performances, you are over-simplifying. "Any job is what you make it, and anything to do with the company's music is my job," he said. "I believe in good music for ballet. I am tough for that reason, I won't compromise my standards."
He sees himself as a guide for young choreographers seeking suitable music. "There is a lot of listenable stuff around that can be danced to, but it must be larger than life, with a theatrical orientation," he said.
"This is a very musical company, and we expect to improve upon our classic repertory. We will do a new `Swan Lake' soon, all the classics have to be done continually. I think it's desirable to promote ballet from a musical angle, perhaps selling tapes or records of the featured music in the lobby at concerts."
He enjoys working with dancers. "I never lose my temper, I try to be forceful but patient," he said. "I listen to the dancers about tempos and other preferences, and they listen to me, and we work to get the best, most musical result together. I know how much I can push, and like to move the music along so that it keeps the dancers pushing just a little."
Kern still gets very nervous before a performance, but thinks that keeps him on his toes, also.
For this year's "Nutcracker" he's looking forward to introducing a new orchestration by Salzedo, which uses some 30 players for a richer, more complete sound, with more strings than are usual in an abbreviated orchestra.
Kern's background includes conducting major symphony, ballet and opera performances. He first earned a degree at the University of Wales in Cardiff, specializing in music and French. After army duty, he was awarded a grant for study at London's Guildhall School of Music.
"I continued piano, but you had to have two majors subjects. I was too poor to buy an instrument, so the director said, why don't you take up conducting? I won a competition at the end of my first year, and stayed on to study with Nadia Boulanger, who was guest teaching there."
Kern studied the art of coaching, teaching and conducting opera at the London Opera Center, then took a job with the Sadler's Wells Opera (now the English National Opera) as a repetiteur. He also conducted an opera group in an adult evening educational institute. (His sister is operatic soprano Patricia Kern.) His first professional conducting job was as a staff conductor at Sadler's Wells Opera.
Ballet came into his life when he was asked to conduct a few "Nutcrackers" for the London Festival Ballet. He enjoyed it, and left the opera to become music director, working with artistic director Beryl Grey.
Having done much guest conducting, Kern is ready to settle down. Not that he won't be available for guesting, but he needs a solid base of operations. "I found the pace at Joffrey exhausting," he said. "We took 27 ballets on tour; we would get on the plane, get off the plane, go to the concert hall, rehearse with a different orchestra every time, perform, then start all over again."
Kern married late, in 1984. He met his wife Katinka, a ballerina at CAPAB in Capetown, South Africa when he went to conduct. Their two-year-old son Gavin and two small gregarious dogs that love to walk complete the household, and the Kerns are thinking of buying a home here.