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Magical Musical Moments

Selected from The Nutcracker by the Artists of NYCB and the NYCB Orchestra


Among the many elements that make George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® such a powerful evocation of the holiday season is its strikingly pervasive score, movements of which can be heard on film soundtracks, in bustling shopping malls, and over the radio throughout the wintry weeks. Commissioned by Marius Petipa to create a new work based on Alexander Dumas père's child-friendly version of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s rather grim The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky composed the score for a production by the Russian Imperial Ballet. Though this initial run was not a success, the ballet has, since Balanchine’s and other choreographers’ restagings, become an essential annual tradition for balletomanes worldwide.

Each year, the dancers of the New York City Ballet and the musicians of the NYCB Orchestra perform The Nutcracker for adoring audiences young and old—an experience, as we’ve learned, as magical for the artists as for those watching and listening. Here are a few of their favorite moments, from the pit and onstage.

“My personal favorite is the start of the entire Nutcracker. When the strings start the overture, you suddenly feel the spirit of the holidays. The lightness of the string articulation to the flourish of color from the woodwinds depicts joy, excitement, and love. The opening invites the audience to listen intently and to enter a realm of musical storytelling. I hope everyone enjoys the show!”

Danny Mui, Clarinet

“The first notes of the Act I Overture are the moment of no return for Team Stage Management! Once the curtain goes up with that first note we are on our way. We do get to pause for a breath while looking at the beautiful Act I Prologue Drop. I always like to take a brief moment here to appreciate what we are about to do before that drop flies out and the magical chaos begins!”

Jacqueline Reid, Stage Manager

“I'm sure I'm not alone, but for me, the best moment of The Nutcracker is the appearance of the giant Christmas tree in Act I. Someday, I want to time how long it takes for the tree to extend from 12 feet all the way to 41 feet tall, because even though we are playing, it seems like a very long time. I think it must be very impressive from the audience to see this tree that just keeps growing and growing out of the stage. Also, the music during that moment is fantastic, one of the most satisfying arrival points of the score. I always listen for and enjoy hearing the audience’s applause once the tree is all the way up.”

Conway Kuo, Violin

“​​One of my favorite musical moments in The Nutcracker is the scene in which the Christmas tree grows. Tschaikovsky wrote this beautifully simple melody that he develops as the tree grows until it gets to a huge A Major chord right when the lights turn on!”

Ian Sullivan, Timpani

"The iconic tree scene still gives me chills after more than 650 performances of The Nutcracker."

Grey Fulmer, Bass

“One of my favorite musical sections in the ballet is the fight scene between the army of mice and toy soldiers, vividly evoked through Tschaikovsky’s militaristic score. I especially look forward to the moment when Marie rescues the Nutcracker by throwing a shoe and distracting the Mouse King. A few years back, Marie put some real power into that throw and the shoe landed right next to me in the pit. It took a great deal of restraint not to toss it back onstage!”

Cyrus Beroukhim, Viola

“I joined the NYCB Orchestra this fall and I am super excited for my very first Nutcracker season ever. As a kid, I loved watching The Nutcracker every Christmas season, and my all-time favorite movement was the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy. It feels unreal that I’m now playing the celesta solo in that very selection with my dear colleagues!”

Hanna Hyunjung Kim, Piano

“A meaningful musical moment to me is when the celesta comes in with the melody of the Sugarplum Fairy. I’m instantly transported to the winter holiday seasons of my childhood. I’m listening to this timeless theme on the radio, or on the compact disc set I asked for as a Christmas gift from the local Tower Records classical music section. I’m hearing it at the mall, in grocery stores, and on TV commercials. I’m even reminded of my dad trying to get the high score in Tetris as the fairy theme plays in the background…. If I had a soundtrack of my childhood, the music from the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy would definitely be there, along with many other wonderful selections from the score.”

Joseph Lee, Cello

“I love that the Sugarplum Fairy is a part that connects generations of dancers. When I was a kid and my family would take me to The Nutcracker, I thought the Sugarplum Fairy was the most beautiful and magical part I’d ever seen. Later, when I was cast for the part and saw myself in the mirror in costume for the first time, I started to cry. I was really overcome that this incredible part, that had inspired me and so many other young dancers, was now in my hands, full circle. And every time I hear the iconic music and go out on stage in that costume, I want to show just how beautiful and powerful it can be to another generation of young dancers in the audience.”

Sara Adams, Soloist

“Dancing the Sugarplum Fairy feels like home to me. From the solo to the pas de deux, the role encompasses it all: regal, commanding glam, and nurturing motherly sparkle. Meeting the Angels onstage and seeing the twinkle in their eyes is one of the most magical moments. I cherish each smile, wink, and glow, making sure to share in a special moment with each of the beautiful Angels onstage and use that to carry me through the solo.”

Ashley Laracey, Soloist

“Coffee was always one of my favorite dances in The Nutcracker. To me it really stands out from the other dances because of how immersive it is. The lights turn down and the movements are slow and the cymbals create a sort of trance for the audience. Dancing Coffee is unique to every dancer that does it; I always like to imagine myself as the steam rising from a hot cup of coffee. The way the steam slowly swirls, floats, and is somewhat tangible but elusive. I like to think of myself as aromatic and capture the audience’s attention just as the coffee often captures our noses. It is very fun to try and attempt that each time I dance it!”

Olivia Boisson, Corps de Ballet

“I love Coffee for its long lines and sultry gestures. In that magical moment when bassoons and English Horn join the strings, we try to evoke an atmosphere of intimacy and vulnerability, fitting to the choreography. The delicate fadeout that segues directly into the boisterous Tea divertissement is particularly difficult and thrilling to execute.”

Harrison Hollingsworth, Bassoon

“One of my favorite musical moments in The Nutcracker is the oboe solo in Coffee. Coffee is definitely my preferred food group, and I’ve always felt like I know exactly what to do to embody the delicious wafting of espresso through the theater! The Nutcracker has so many moments that relate sound with taste, and this one is a joy for me.”

Julia DeRosa, Oboe

“I was reminded of some of my favorite musical moments at this week’s student matinee performances. At intermission, I asked some students for their favorite parts of Act I. They responded quickly and with no hesitation—each with their own opinion: 'The fight with the rat!' and 'When the tree grows!' and 'The snowflakes!' These young audience members had chosen some of my very favorite moments in the score. During Act II, the house lights are slightly raised at some moments (always a favorite part of the show for me) and the looks I saw on their mesmerized faces showed me that they loved watching numbers like Tea and Mother Ginger just as much as I enjoy playing them.”

Tanya Witek, Flute

“Every year I look forward to playing The Nutcracker. It is one of Tschaikovsky's absolutely iconic masterpieces, so it's very difficult to narrow down a single favorite passage or moment. I love watching the smiling and radiant faces of the audience in the front row at the opening of the Second Act as the adorable little angels glide around onstage to the music. One of my favorites to play is the Waltz of the Flowers. In this movement, Tschaikovsky gives you a little bit of everything: beauty, whimsy, drama, majesty, pure love, and joy. Coupled with Balanchine's incomparable choreography, it's pure magic.”

Nelly Kim, Violin 

“​​Dewdrop in the Waltz of the Flowers is my favorite music to dance to in the show. The choreography is made so perfectly to the music that dancing it feels so correct. As the dancing gets more complex and expansive, the music builds too, and it makes for a thrilling experience as the performer.”

Emily Kikta, Soloist

“Dancing the grand pas de deux is like riding a giant wave. It starts with a subtle scale and intimate partnering and steadily builds drama out of pure classical form. You get swept up in the swell of the Orchestra and the thrill of the dance. It's one of the most exhilarating roles in our repertory."

Adrian Danchig-Waring, Principal Dancer

“I absolutely adore every single moment of The Nutcracker. Tschaikovsky is a master, this isn't news! Every night I learn something new in his orchestration. But, being the cello geek that I am, hands down, I have to say the moment I look forward to most in every performance is the pas de deux. Playing the gorgeous melody, essentially an embellished scale, with my dear five fellow cellists in the section is pure joy. The tune is in a wonderful singing register on the cello, and allows us to really play our hearts out and show off the gorgeous tone of the cello. Wishing everyone the happiest of holidays!”

Hannah Holman, Cello

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