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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Pennsylvania Ballet kicks off its new season this week with fan favorite “Romeo and Juliet,” and leading the way is a long-time member of the company who is celebrating a big milestone this year.
When you think about the ballet, she is probably not what comes to mind. She’s not a dancer, but she is the driving force behind everything that happens on the stage.
Beatrice Jona Affron is the conductor of the Orchestra of the Pennsylvania Ballet, and this is her 25th season with the company.
“It’s gone by like this,” Affron says as she snaps her fingers. “Everything I’ve learned about what I do, I’ve learned here.”
And what she has learned is typically heard not seen at the Academy of Music. Her home is usually the pit. Leading dozens of musicians from below the stage, Beatrice is the backbone and heartbeat of the ballet.
“Daunting sometimes,” she admits. “It’s a big responsibility to be setting the pace for the evening. But it’s also what makes my job a joy.”
Yet, conducting wasn’t a career she envisioned early in life. Studying music in college, it was around the time of grad school when the conducting bug bit.
Over the decades at PA Ballet, Beatrice has risen through the ranks from assistant to resident conductor to music director — succeeding in a male-dominated world.
“When I was studying conducting, there were as many women as men in the class, and yet there are very few women people can name as conductors,” Affron admits.
She says change is happening at a glacial pace.
For now, the focus is the season opener for the ballet, and “Romeo and Juliet” is possibly her favorite.
“There is something rich and wonderful going on at every single moment in the score,” she says. “For us, it’s the Mount Olympus.”
Beatrice doesn’t like the spotlight. She says she never aspires to be a conductor on stage without a theatrical performance happening. In fact, she typically only makes one appearance on stage, and that is at the end of the show for a bow.
“Not glamorous, but incredibly satisfying,” she says.
“Romeo and Juliet” is on stage now and runs through Oct. 21.