A PBT Nutcracker Playlist

The score for The Nutcracker is the backdrop of our days at PBT from September to December: its melodies meander out of the studios and into hallways and lobbies and offices. Rather than getting sick of it (people always ask!) many of us love it – finding new musical and emotional connections each year. We’ve gathered thoughts from a few staff and artists here at PBT about their favorite moments in the score – what parts are meaningful to them, what moments and melodies stick with them. Not surprisingly some had the same favorite piece! Read below for just a few of the reasons we agree with Sir Simon Rattle, music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, who calls The Nutcracker score “simply one of the great miracles” of music.*

A musical note! For the excerpts noted we’re linking to a recording by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

The Beginning of the Snow Scene: Listen starting at start at 35:01 

Yoland CollinYoland Collin, Principal Pianist and Music Administrator

My favorite moment in The Nutcracker is the beginning of the Snow Scene. After the tumultuous Battle Scene, I love that Tchaikovsky uses the simple C major tonality for his calm and comforting melody. On a piano, a C major scale is played using only the white keys. What a beautiful metaphor for snow!

(You can take a deep dive into the score with Yoland’s fantastic video exploring it’s context and history. Click here to watch The Music of the Season: Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.)



“The Waltz of the Snowflakes:” Listen starting at 39:08

Aviana Adams, School Marketing Manager (and former PBT Company apprentice and former PBT School pre-professional student)

My moment is Snow, which I love for many reasons. Dancing this section of The Nutcracker every run never got tiring (besides physically!) for me. You get to jump and travel across the Benedum stage the entire piece with the entire cast of snowflakes. I love the camaraderie that a work like Snow or Waltz of the Flowers takes and builds to perform on stage and I love how the music of this piece has so many different moments in one piece.

The Transformation Scene: Listen starting at 28:56

Jack Hawn, Company Artist

In the transition from the party scene to the battle scene there is a simple, yet wonderfully dramatic melody that climbs up the musical scale one step at a time, building that familiar, grand “Tchaikovskian” sense of tension and anticipation in the listener and performer alike. When portraying Drosselmeyer, during the first iteration of this motif, you are in the Stahlbaum’s house after midnight using magic to transform the Nutcracker from wooden toy to life-sized hero. Subtly and brilliantly, as the music grows and grows, so does the Nutcracker, and so does the belief that, as Drosselmeyer, you are doing something very important – for the audience and for the story. The melody returns shortly thereafter; Marie has awoken and found her home to be in metamorphosis. Drosselmeyer re-enters the scene and together they dance, swirling around the evolving room, culminating in a spinning overhead lift while the new larger-than-life scene settles in around them. The theme ends with a triumphant crash, ushering in a new magical world and setting the stage for the battle scene. The music is grandiose; it provides a worthy air of significance to the scene’s dancing and acting, and it is one of the moments in The Nutcracker that I look most forward to heading in to the Benedum this December.


David Hammond, Director of Development

Some of my favorite moments in the score are Tchaikovsky’s brilliant transitions. The one that always gives me chills is the dramatic music accompanying the spellbinding transformation of the Christmas tree. I love how the music begins as mysterious and even hair-raising but becomes majestic by the time the tree reaches its full height. The strings and brass play back and forth up and down the diatonic scale with the descending and contrasting chromaticism building tension to the grand resolution. A marriage of theatre and music that is simply magical!



The Overture: Listen starting at 0:00!

Kati Gigler, Acting Executive Director

My absolute favorite moment in Tchaikovsky’s score is the opening of the overture itself. The music is so playful and inviting that it draws you in immediately to the music and the story! In our production, I love the moment of silence that precedes the overture, when the lamplighter walks out onto the stage. That moment of anticipation when you hear only the click of his shoes is such a lovely one, because then the music begins, and brings with it a whirlwind of activity on the stage.

We celebrated Christmas in my home, and growing up, my grandparents held a party on Christmas Eve every year. Coming down the stairs to greet guests- and sometimes sneaking back downstairs after guests had gone!- I always experienced my own Christmas as just as magical as that of The Nutcracker. So I also love the overture because, every time I hear those opening notes, I am swept back into my own memories of celebration with my sisters, cousins and all the rest of my family here at Christmastime in Pittsburgh. (Luckily, I never once found myself face-to-face with the mouse problem that Marie does in the ballet!)

Kristin McLain, Costume Director

The opening section of music, even before the curtain goes up, always sets the tone for me. The brightness of the music creates a sense of expectation, not only for the characters in the ballet, but for the audience as well. We’re all preparing for something special–a festive gathering with family and friends on stage, and a traditional holiday outing for the audience.




Exuberance (the “Russian Dance”): Listen starting at 1:01:54

Tanaz Walendziewicz, Sr. Manager, Ticketing & Patron Services

The Nutcracker brings so many different emotions and memories to me. When I first started at the Ballet the familiar music and melodies like the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy or Waltz of the Flowers brought memories of Christmas traditions and a sense of belonging. As I grew my family during my Ballet life, my kids listening to “Exuberance” (or the “Russian Dance”) became a family favorite. So now this particular piece puts me in a state of overwhelming emotion, with cute images of my now older sons dancing in my living room with pretend maestro sticks (spatulas, wooden spoons, etc.). I cannot help but smile and feel that belonging again, with my family.



Dave O’Brien, Percussionist / Accompanist for the Education Department and PBT School

It’s hard for me to choose, because my favorite melody from The Nutcracker is by far the variation, “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” especially when the celesta comes in with the melody. But I’m going to have to choose “Exuberance” (or “Trepak, the Russian Dance.”)

I love how the music comes in upbeat and energetic from the beginning. I also love the choreography – all the high kicks and jumps that the dancers do during this piece. The melody from the this dance brings back all kinds of memories of childhood Christmases past. Not to mention, as a percussionist, it has a prominent tambourine part!

* “Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker record Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker;” YouTube