Tchaikovsky was not enthusiastic about his commission to write music for Nutcracker, which Pacific Northwest Ballet is staging for the 28th holiday season in a row. In 1891, ballet composers were expected to turn out disposable oom-pah fluff, and Tchaikovsky's 1877 Swan Lake music had been criticized, essentially, for being too interesting. It didn't help that choreographer Marius Petipa gave him a pages-long, rigidly specific scenario: 16 bars of this, please, now 64 of that. But Tchaikovsky did relish the chance to scoop rival composers by using a beguiling instrument that had just been invented in Paris: the celesta, basically a glockenspiel played by a piano keyboard, which created a sensation in the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." The ballet's fairy-tale setting let him put his skill at orchestral color to magical use. And when he conducted eight of his dances, the "Nutcracker Suite," at a symphony concert months before the ballet's premiere, they proved hugely popular (as they did a half-century later in Fantasia). But my favorite Nutcracker number is the pas de deux, in which Tchaikovsky was able to work up a simple descending scale into a full-on orchestral orgasm. And my favorite Tchaikovsky spoof: Beatles producer George Martin, realizing that the opening strain of "All My Loving" is Tchaikovsky's pas de deux melody upside-down (more or less), arranged the song, hilariously, in Nutcracker style for Magical Mystery Tour. (See PNB website for complicated holiday schedule of 36 performances.) GAVIN BORCHERT

Fri., Nov. 26, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 27-Dec. 27, 2010

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow