This week the KSO starts rehearsals for our performances of the Nutcracker with the Appalachian Ballet Company. I really like the Nutcracker. We play it every year and I never get tired of it. The music is challenging but familiar. It doesn't take much rehearsal or practice to get it back in shape. I think this is what makes it so much fun for me. Usually when we play difficult music I haven't had the luxury of performing it many many times. The Nutcracker is comfortable. I no longer need to count rests because I just know when to play. The music is familiar enough that I can sit back and play but the part is meaty enough that it's not mind-numbingly boring.
Another thing I like about playing the Nutcracker is that we are in the pit. I expect I'm in the minority amongst my colleagues in feeling this way. We are pretty cramped for space. I shudder to think about having to evacuate in the case of an emergency because it's difficult to move around down there. Still, I like playing in the pit once in awhile not because of the pit itself, but because it signifies a different kind of playing. When we are in the pit, the orchestra takes on the role of supporting what is happening on stage. Musical decisions are based on how long it takes a dancer to land a jump or how many steps they need to fit in a certain amount of music. For Masterworks concerts it is rare that we make cuts or add repeats. We generally play the music as it is on the page. Sometimes we don't play every repeat but that is about as far away from the printed music as we get. For opera and ballet performances the music is more of a suggestion. We make big cuts, we swap pieces around, we add repeats, and we even extend or contract note values based on what is happening on stage. I find the process interesting.
It is very rare these days for smaller ballet companies to perform with live music. Knoxville is lucky to have the Appalachian Ballet. I am very much looking forward to our collaboration with them.