Oct. 18: Rattle and the Magic of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker

By Cathy Fuller

Sir Simon Rattle says that he wasn’t always a huge Tchaikovsky fan.  “As a young man, as a timpanist, I played and listened to too many bad performances of Tchaikovsky.”  He liked the ballets, but didn’t listen to the entire Nutcracker till relatively late on.  His friends said, “Have you any idea where Petrushka came from?  If you don’t know where Stravinsky stole it all from, you’d better listen to the first act of The Nutcracker.”

Sir Simon has just recorded the entire ballet with the Berlin Philharmonic, and he’s had a pretty wonderful time of it.  “We fell in love with this music, rehearsing and performing it, and we think it’s magic.”

It’s astonishing, Rattle says, “that you could write such original music when the choreographer not only told you what the plot was, but how long every section of music was.  That now there will be 64 bars where you’ll do this, there’ll be an eight-bar transition, there will be this type of music.  The detail that Petipa instructed Tchaikovsky to write in is unprecedented.  And yet he could still produce music like this.  He was probably, at this stage of his life, the most deeply depressive composer there’s ever been. He left someone like Mahler standing.  But he could write music of such joy and generosity, and that’s hard for me to put together.”

I believe in the magic of the Nutcracker, too.  My daughter Alexandra danced it every year at the Walnut Hill School, and she thrilled at becoming Clara one year.  Night after night after night I was immersed in this score.  It carries its dancers into an extravagant universe of color and atmosphere, in a beautiful and revolutionary way.  

This morning at 10:00, please listen in for extracts from Sir Simon Rattle’s newest EMI release:  The Nutcracker.  Take a few minutes if you can for the reminder of the spellbinding beauty in the dancing of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland below.

And in case you didn’t know, Simon Rattle is conducting an orchestra of Boston Symphony musicians on December 5th at Jordan Hall to aid in the fight against breast cancer. The Concert for the Cure program features Mahler’s Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5, the Brahms Symphony No. 2, and pianist Marc-André Hamelin plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17, K.453. The evening happens thanks to flutist and cancer-survivor Julie Scolnik, with the help of The Susan G. Komen Foundation.
(photo:  Peter Adamik for EMI)


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