The Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s new Nutcracker album for Sony Classical, which the orchestra recorded completely from memory, will be released on 2 December. Kristjan Järvi conducts his own arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s final ballet as a Dramatic Symphony. This fresh and imaginative reworking revitalises Nutcracker’s most popular dances and lets the brilliance and inventiveness of the ballet’s less familiar numbers shine through. The musicians of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic recorded this new version of Nutcracker entirely by heart in Tallinn in September 2022, at the end of their ‘Meresillad’ tour of Germany and Estonia. As well as releasing the complete album on 2 December, Sony will release two singles and one focus track showcasing celebrated scenes from the ballet – ‘Coffee: Arabian Dance’ (4 November), ‘Evergreen Forest in Winter’ (18 November) and ‘Overture’ (2 December).
From ballet to Dramatic Symphony
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s new Nutcracker joins Järvi’s previous Tchaikovsky releases on Sony – The Snow Maiden, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty – in revitalising great theatrical pieces for contemporary audiences. Järvi says: ‘There is a tendency today to see classical music as some kind of precious relic that has to be treated with white gloves, almost with an archaeologist’s care, and the idea of even thinking about arranging a piece is somehow bad. But making arrangements, especially of theatre music, used to be much more prevalent, with composers playing around with new music and popularising it, as a way of making it part of mainstream culture.’ With his Nutcracker arrangement, Järvi wanted to give some of Tchaikovsky’s most well-known numbers a context that shows there is more great music in this celebrated ballet. ‘When creating this Dramatic Symphony version, I didn’t make musical choices according to the popularity of certain movements. Instead my choices were based on what material and movements I thought would be most interesting and riveting to listen to in sequence. I wanted music that would hold the listener’s attention throughout, so I reorchestrated and rewrote some elements, and created new transitions’, he continues.
Recording Nutcracker from memory
The Estonian Public Broadcasting Studio 1 in Tallinn where Nutcracker was recorded was set up to recreate the atmosphere of the orchestra’s celebrated live concerts, in which the musicians play the entire programme from memory and create a unique energy. Subtle stage lighting, a smoke machine, decorations and lounge furniture gave the studio a club concert vibe. With no music stands, the musicians were mostly standing up, spread out and not in their sections, free to move and even dance to the music. Gertrud Leopard, an Estonian percussionist in the orchestra who was familiar with the studio in Tallinn, having recorded there twice before, says: ‘Recording from memory is a unique experience for me. It means I can focus more on the music, without having to concentrate on the score. With the special atmosphere in the studio, it really feels like we are performing and we are building a unique connection within the orchestra.’
That connection extends to the creative exchange with conductor Kristjan Järvi. Blessed with the studio time to allow experiments with the smallest of details in his arrangement, Järvi frequently invited the musicians to join him in the sound engineer’s booth to listen back to takes and talk about adjustments in interpretation, tempo or dynamics. Järvi says: ‘The beauty of working with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic is that we have the time to experiment, to try out changes to what’s written and see if they improve the musical results. Normally with an orchestra this is simply not possible because everybody’s time is so precious. In this sense, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic is truly an ensemble of co-creators, as opposed to an ensemble of musical executioners.’
A growing Sony Classical discography
The Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s new Nutcracker album joins the orchestra’s burgeoning discography on Sony Classical. The orchestra and Kristjan Järvi’s first recording for the label was The Ring: An Orchestral Adventure, an arrangement for orchestra of Wagner’s Ring Cycle (2016). An album of Stravinsky and Glass violin concertos (2020) featured the young Swiss violinist David Nebel in his debut concerto recording, with Järvi conducting the Baltic Sea Philharmonic in Stravinsky’s neoclassical Violin Concerto in D major and the London Symphony Orchestra in Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Gramophone praised Nebel’s interpretation of the Stravinsky and the energetic playing of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, with the magazine’s reviewer concluding: ‘This is a tremendously impressive debut album, and the Stravinsky performance is among the very best.’ The Baltic Sea Philharmonic’s recording of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty arranged by Järvi as a Dramatic Symphony (2020) received rave reviews in Germany and Sweden and was nominated for an OPUS Klassik award in 2021.
Listen to the first single ‘Coffee: Arabian Dance’ here