Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nutcracker 2011

Ever since the mid 1900s The Nutcracker ballet has been a beloved holiday tradition in many U.S. cities.  Here in Columbus we are fortunate that BalletMet uses the Columbus Symphony to provide live music for its Nutcrackers. 

The Nutcracker score features some of Tchaikovsky's best known melodies.  Perhaps because the music is so recognizable, once in a while someone asks how we manage to play the same music over and over.  Isn't boredom a problem?

Well, from a bassoonist's perspective, The Nutcracker is anything but boring.  There is a challenge at every turn, it seems.  The most difficult passage in the 1st bassoon part is this one (the tempo is around 120 per dotted quarter):

 The second most difficult passage, in my opinion, is this perennial nail-biter:
I'm not sure how many times I've played The Nutcracker (check out Columbus Symphony horn player Julia Rose's blog post in which she writes about playing her 200th Nutcracker!) but no matter how many times I play it, these passages will require extra attention.

To improve the accuracy of the first passage above, all we can do is apply the usual set of practice techniques.  Slow it down and take out the articulation (play it all slurred, which is really awkward).  Then apply different rhythms (also very awkward).  I also like to practice the triplets in a duple rhythm.  By the time you have perfected all of that, the original passage seems easy!  But don't be lured into complacency.  It has to be practiced constantly.

The second passage features the high A to B trill.  The bassoonist's first job is to figure out which trill fingering brings the best results.  For me, it's this fingering, with the low E flat key depressed:

I have tried various fingerings for this A to B trill, and this one has brought the best results by far.  For The Nutcracker I use a reed which favors the high register because of this solo.  (Obviously the reed still has to have a halfway decent low range also, due to numerous exposed low passages.)

Getting back to the question of boredom, there is another answer to that question which has nothing to do with the bassoon part, and everything to do with the mission of the musician.  It is our responsibility to serve the composer, the music, the dancers or soloists as applicable, and the audience to the best of our abilities in each and every performance.  That's very daunting, and not at all boring!

The musicians of the Columbus Symphony are grateful to be performing with BalletMet, especially now, considering that arts organizations across the country are struggling to make ends meet.  One of the BalletMet dancers told one of the musicians that the dancers are thrilled to perform with the Columbus Symphony.   She explained how the energy from the live music inspires the dancers.  I know how that works, because every once in a while we have dancers performing at the front of the stage where we can see them, such as during our Holiday Pops concerts, and we derive inspiration from the dancers.  The beauty of each of the two art forms is enhanced by the collaboration. 

If you live in Columbus and haven't yet attended this year's Nutcracker, there are several performances taking place this week:

Tues, 12/20, 7:30pm
Weds, 12/21, 7:30pm
Thurs, 12/22, 7:30pm
Fri, 12/23, 2pm
Fri. 12/23, 7:30pm
Sat, 12/24, 1pm

You can buy tickets here.  Hope to see you there!


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