When Emil de Cou realized that the 30th anniversary of the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker coincided with the 25th anniversary of the company's in-house orchestra, he decided to mark the occasion with Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra’s first CD.
Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is “the most iconic piece that we do here,” said de Cou, PNB’s Music Director and Principal Conductor. “And more than half of the orchestra played in the premiere thirty years ago.”
Since then, PNBO’s players have played the Waltz of the Roses, the Snowflake music, and all the other lush symphonic music in Nutcracker more than 800 times.
“Playing the Nutcracker twice a day for the entire month of December is hard work,” de Cou said. The gorgeous, complex score “is as emotionally taxing as it is physically taxing. All of our players are really invested in it for every performance.”
Now, for the first time, audiences can take home the music of PNB’s Nutcracker, which is not the same as other recordings available of the popular ballet. “Kent (Stowell) and (Maurice) Sendak made certain cuts and changes to suit their vision of the ballet,” de Cou said.
Just as the creators reworked and relabeled traditional bits of the Nutcracker, the CD tracks use the same names as the dances done on the PNB stage and so beloved by Seattle audiences: Moors, Peacock, Chinese Tiger, Dervishes, Commedia, and so on.
The PNB recording also includes the Daphnis and Chloe duet from Tchaikovsky’s opera Queen of Spades. These haunting vocals are used for the “Masque” in Act I.
PNBO’s recording sessions took place in November at the Bastyr University Chapel. David Sabee, a local producer who specializes in soundtrack and other classical recordings made with Northwest musicians there, oversaw the sessions and helped create the CD in less than a month.
“You have to trust your producer to make it sound right,” said de Cou, “and we’re lucky to have Sabee here in Seattle.”
Recording at McCaw Hall, where the company performs Nutcracker, was not possible due to the hall’s busy schedule throughout the fall. However, the Bastyr chapel, a favorite of many organizations for recordings, served as a great substitute and one that de Cou would be interested in using again. “It’s set in the woods, so it’s quiet and you don’t have to worry as much about outside noises,” he said. “The acoustics are amazing, although we were used a little drier sound at McCaw Hall and had to adjust for that.”
In the first week of the CD being available at the Amusements, the gift store at McCaw Hall, more than 200 copies were sold. The CD also is available online for purchase through the PNB website.
For de Cou, the company’s commitment to having a live orchestra “is very unusual in this economy. It is very, very expensive. But [artistic director] Peter Boal and [executive director] David Brown are so dedicated to the orchestra and were supportive of this project. Live music is part of what makes attending a ballet a multi-dimensional experience.”
PNB’s Nutcracker continues today through Dec. 29. For more information on performances and the CD, see the company’s website.