Nashville Ballet Artistic Director Paul Vasterling says that Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker is all about magic.
The piece, which has become an annual favorite for ballet companies all over the world, includes an instrument that Tchaikovsky imported to Moscow: the celesta.
The instrument combines the metal bars of a glockenspiel with the keys and hammers of a piano. Tchaikovsky was so excited to find such a thing that when he asked his publisher to order it, he made sure to tell him, "Don't show the celesta to anyone — especially not Rimsky-Korsakov or Glazunov. I am to be the first to use this instrument!"
The instrument has been used many times in the orchestra — notably in Holst's Neptune, from The Planets, Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, Puccini's Tosca, and Orff's Carmina Burana. It is also part of John Williams's score to the Harry Potter films, the song Every Day by Buddy Holly, and the opening sounds of every episode of Mr. Rogers's Neighborhood.
Despite being in common use, the instrument is synonymous with one particular character: the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Land of the Sweets in The Nutcracker. The Sugar Plum Fairy glitters in her entrance, as she bourees across the stage. And the celeste highlights her sparkle.
In this video, Colorado Springs Philharmonic celeste player Kelly Zuercher demonstrates the part from The Nutcracker.
And here, in all her twinkling glory, is the Sugar Plum Fairy.
In the full interview Paul Vasterling talks about being innovative while retaining tradition, as well as how music took him from the bayou to the ballet. Be sure to download Keeping Score, listen to other episodes and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.