Tania Miller – Artist Profile


The SSO is thrilled have Tania Miller return to our podium for this very special Homecoming concert.  She grew up in Foam Lake, did her undergrad at the University of Saskatchewan, and taught band in Outlook before going on to become one of Canada’s most respected musicians. 

She has distinguished herself as a dynamic interpreter, musician and innovator on the podium and off. Returning this season to the podium of the Chicago Symphony as well as the orchestras of the Toronto Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic and Orchestra Métropolitain de Montreal, Miller has appeared as a guest conductor in Canada, the United States and Europe with such orchestras as the Bern Symphony Orchestra, NFM Wrocław Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, Oregon Symphony, National Arts Centre Orchestra (Ottawa), Vancouver Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, Naples Philharmonic, and Hartford Symphony among others.

Over the past 14 years as Music Director of the Victoria Symphony in Canada, Tania Miller gained national acclaim for her passion and commitment to the orchestra and community. She was the driving force behind new growth, innovation and quality for the Victoria Symphony, and gained a national reputation as a highly effective advocate and communicator for the arts. As curator, she distinguished herself as a visionary leader and innovator.

Acknowledged for the impact and success of her tenure, she was recently bestowed with the title Music Director Emerita of the Victoria Symphony. Recipient of the 2017 Friends of Canadian Music award from the Canadian League of Composers and Canadian Music Centre for her acclaimed commitment to contemporary music in Canada, Tania Miller has been a story about the impact of commitment and dedication to an orchestra and to the future of orchestral music through creative innovation and vision.

On the podium, Maestra Miller projects authority, dynamism and sheer love of the experience of making music. As one critic put it, she delivers “a calm intensity . . . expressive, colourful and full of life . . . her experience and charisma are audible”. Others call her performances “technically immaculate, vivid and stirring”.

In 2015, Miller received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Royal Roads University in recognition of her exemplary work as a leader and for her extraordinary artistic achievements in the community. In addition she was a recipient of the 2016 Paul Harris Award from the Rotary Foundation for distinguished musical excellence and leadership. Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music bestowed her with an Honorary Diploma in 2015 for her impact on music in Canada.

Maestra Miller’s early passion was opera; she conducted numerous productions for Michigan Opera Works in Ann Arbor (where she served as Artistic Director) and Opera McGill in Montréal. She obtained her doctoral and master’s degrees in conducting from the University of Michigan.

Brahms’ sunny 3rd symphony


Hans Richter, who conducted the premiere of the symphony, proclaimed it to be Brahms’ Eroica. The symphony was well received, more so than his Second Symphony. Although Richard Wagner had died earlier that year, the public feud between Brahms and Wagner had not yet subsided. Wagner enthusiasts tried to interfere with the symphony’s premiere, and the conflict between the two factions nearly brought about a duel.

After each performance, Brahms polished his score further, until it was published in May 1884. His friend the influential music critic Eduard Hanslick said, “Many music lovers will prefer the titanic force of the First Symphony; others, the untroubled charm of the Second, but the Third strikes me as being artistically the most nearly perfect.”

A musical motto consisting of three notes, F–A–F, was significant to Brahms. In 1853 his friend Joseph Joachim had taken as his motto “Free, but lonely” (in German Frei aber einsam), and from the notes represented by the first letters of these words, F–A–E, Schumann, Brahms and Dietrich had jointly composed a violin sonata dedicated to Joachim. At the time of the Third Symphony, Brahms was a fifty-year-old bachelor who declared himself to be Frei aber froh, “Free but happy”. His F–A–F motto, and some altered variations of it, can be heard throughout the symphony.

At the beginning of the symphony the motto is the melody of the first three measures, and it is the bass line underlying the main theme in the next three. The motto persists, either boldly or disguised, as the melody or accompaniment throughout the movement. For the third movement – poco allegretto instead of the rapid scherzo standard in 19th-century symphony – Brahms created a unique kind of third movement that is moderate in tempo (poco allegretto) and intensely lyrical in character.[2] The finale is a lyrical, passionate movement, rich in melody that is intensely exploited, altered, and developed. The movement ends with reference to the motto heard in the first movement – one which quotes a motif heard in Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, “Rhenish” in the first movement just before the second theme enters in the recapitulation – then fades away to a quiet ending.

Q&A with Matthew Pauls

Matthew Pauls returns for a fourth year to the SSO’s Messiah performances – based now out of Winnipeg, Matt is returning home not only to sing but be part of our big musical family!

We took some time to ask him for a few of his thoughts on Handel’s Messiah.

How did you discover you wanted to be a singer?

I have always been surrounded by classical music and singing (my dad is a choral conductor), so it was a natural choice. If I had to choose a specific moment, it would probably be when a man from my church approached me in grade 12 and told me that he wanted to give me voice lessons and help me prepare to sing in the Festival. I sang Schubert’s Du bist die Ruh and after that I was hooked!

What’s your favourite part of Messiah?

My favourite part of Messiah that I don’t get to sing as a soloist is one of the choruses that often gets cut – “Let all the angels of God worship him.”

It’s hard to pick a favourite bass aria, but when the tempo is just right, it’s hard to beat “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?”

When was the first time you saw Messiah?

My first opportunity to be an audience member for a performance of Messiah was in 2003, while I was attending university in Winnipeg. By that time I was quite familiar with the work, as I had listened to a number of recordings and performed “Part One” and a few other selections from Messiah as a chorister.

What do you find challenging about singing Handel’s music?

The coloratura sections are quite challenging. But they are loads of fun once you’ve mastered them. It’s also challenging to make each performance fresh and interesting so that so the audience doesn’t tire of hearing the same piece every year.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

Work for perfection in practice sessions and rehearsals; strive to communicate in performance.

Do you get nervous before your performances? If so, how do you calm your nerves?

As long as I have put in enough practice time and prepared well, I don’t get all that nervous. Excited, yes, but not nervous.

How do you prepare for a performance with an orchestra?

Practice, practice, practice…

If you had to convince someone who’s never seen Handel’s Messiah before to come to your performance, what would you say to convince them?

The last chorus alone are worth the price of admission! “Worthy is the Lamb” (with the final “Amen” section) is absolutely glorious! You have to experience it at least once.

Is Joy to the World in Messiah?

Have you ever been listening to Handel’s Messiah and thought “wait, is that Joy to the World?”  

Well no, you’re not hearing Joy to the World, but you’re not completely wrong.

Joy to the World is considered to be the single most published Christmas song/hymn – its been recorded and performed by every choir, orchestra, soloists, jazz trio, pop artist, and even a rap group or two.  It’s one of those songs that everyone knows.  But who wrote it? 

English hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote the words to Joy to the World in 1719 – by that point he was already noted for his work as a hymnist.  Watts’ words for the Christmas anthem eventually became paired with a few musical settings, but one stuck.

The music’s origins are unclear. The name “Antioch” is generally used for the tune. It is often attributed to George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) on the grounds of a ‘chance resemblance’ to choruses in the oratorio Messiah (premiered 1742), not least because a theme of the refrain (And heaven and nature sing…) appears similar to the orchestral opening and accompaniment of the recitative Comfort ye. Likewise, the first four notes seem to match the beginning of the choruses Lift up your heads and Glory to God from the same oratorio. However, there is no autographed score by Handel and no currently known documentary evidence to suggest that Handel wrote it, so ‘Antioch’ remains, at best, a skillful collection of borrowings from Handel. 

Other hymnals credit the tune to Lowell Mason (1792–1872), who introduced it to America (US) in 1836 as ‘arranged from Handel’. But, in 1986, John Wilson showed that ‘Joy to the World’ was first published in two English collections, one firmly dated 1833. Being three years earlier, this is thought to exclude Lowell Mason from being the composer, but his original attribution remains a likely cause of the often-stated link to Handel.

 

Q&A with tenor Spencer McKnight

Tenor Spencer McKnight has quickly become an SSO audience favourite having made his debut with us in our 2014 Messiah performances.  His effortless coloratura and exceptional diction make him the perfect Messiah tenor.

Fresh off performances of his recital program “Songs of the Great War”, a program outlining the music of the composer soldiers of World War One, Spencer returns to the SSO this season for our Messiah performances and our Bach Magnificat in May.

How did you discover you wanted to be a singer?

I was originally planning on finishing a political science degree and working in the world of politics – however I found that I was increasingly spending more time concentrating on music. I realized that it was my true passion. I haven’t regretted the decision to fully commit myself to music since then!

What’s your favourite part of Messiah?

My favourite aria is But Who May Abide…For He is Like a Refiner’s Fire… and I wish I could sing it! I think the presto section of Refiner’s Fire is one of the most exciting moments in the whole work. Inside I am just a tenor who wants to sing mezzo and alto rep!

Do you remember the first time you saw Messiah?

This may sound awful… but I haven’t seen a full performance of Messiah. When I was young I saw some excerpts of it done by St. Peter’s Chorus. I have only been involved in performances of it in the last few years, however I tend to listen to Messiah all year long. I just never get sick of the music.

What makes Handel’s music attractive for you? 

Some of the things that make Handel’s music so much fun can also be what makes it hard. Some of the very exposed moments are both difficult and enjoyable. I think that’s why it’s easy to love singing Handel – you always have to be on your “A” game to sing it well. The long coloratura moments in Messiah can be extremely difficult for the singers as well. That is what makes it so exciting to listen to!

What oratorio have you always wanted to sing?

Growing up listening to a lot of Verdi… I have to say I want to one day sing Verdi’s Requiem. The tenor gets one of the most beautiful arias in it with the Ingemisco.

Is there a tenor who has had a lasting impact on you? 

I spent most of my teenage life listening to Jose Carreras recordings. I would come home from school and start up YouTube – and search up anything and everything that Jose Carreras ever sang. I would credit him with teaching me how to sing pianissimo.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

“If you can think of doing absolutely anything else…do that”. And I can honestly say I can’t imagine doing anything else in the world.

Do you get nervous before taking the stage? 

I only get nervous if I don’t feel prepared, otherwise I don’t get that nervous. Being nervous is usually just adrenaline that you can focus on using on your performance

What prep goes in to an oratorio performance?

Preparing for a performance with an orchestra is very different that with just a pianist. You need to know what every instrument is doing underneath you – which will help you feel far more comfortable. If you are prepared you can almost feel as though you are just floating on top of what the orchestra does below you.

Do you have any special warm-ups before a performance? 

I have a whole process of warm-ups that I do every day that my voice teacher uses in his teaching. I just do those the day of a performance and a few of them before the performance. The whole group of warm ups takes about 20-30 minutes to do, but once I’ve done them I feel like I can sing almost anything.

What do you tell people who’ve never been to Messiah about experiencing it live? 

I would say that 276 years can’t be wrong, things don’t stay this popular for that long if people don’t love them! Come out and see it – I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. If you are nervous – I would suggest coming to the Sing-Along version. There isn’t a more enjoyable performance for audience and singers in the city!

You can hear Spencer as our tenor soloist for the upcoming Messiah performances on December 15th and 16th.

Visit www.spencermcknighttenor.ca for more information!

 

 

Q&A with alto Lisa Hornung

Mezzo soprano Lisa Hornung is likely the SSO’s most featured artist – a regular on our stage for 30 seasons!  

Aside from her wonderful text-driven oratorio performances, Lisa is a renowned teacher and hosts a vocal school each summer in her hometown, North Battleford.  Summer School for the Solo Voice recently celebrated its 20th season.

She returns for our performance of Handel’s Messiah – so we grabbed some of her time to ask her a few questions!

 

How did you discover you wanted to be a singer?

I always sang. Sing songs in my family were a regular occurrence.  Both sides of my family, grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, were always singing, humming, playing music.  It wasn’t until I was 12 and my aunt told me to take lessons (which I was initially devastated by thinking she meant I was horrid) that I even realized singing lessons was ‘a thing’

What draws you to Handel’s Messiah?

It is my favorite work.  I love the text, the incredible variety in style, tempi, texture and mood.  It isn’t a work you have to ‘come to appreciate or acquire a taste for’. It is immediately accessible and thrilling to the ear, mind and soul.

What’s your favourite part of Messiah? (your own part, and a part you don’t get to sing!)

When the choir is hot and spot on- makes me smile, and sometimes giggle, whether I want to or not.  The choral arts, the collaboration, is magnificent. My own part- the return to the A section in He was despised.  I love how settled and warm the orchestra always is and the pathos of ornamentation the second time ‘round.

When was the first time you saw Messiah?

Hmmm, as I think about it, I have not seen a Messiah I was not singing in.  The first time I heard and learned the music was in university in Greystone Singers….as a soprano!  :). Since them I have sung in a Messiah as alto soloist somewhere every season that I was not sick or singing something else.

What do you find most challenging about singing Handel’s music? 

Keeping my nerves, worry and ego at bay to let the full intent and expression of the text shine.  The music is  difficult and technically very demanding so it is easy to get caught up worrying about what people will think about me instead of how Handel will make them think. 

 

Who were your biggest musical influences?

Bernadette Fanner,  Christa Ludwig, Richard Best.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

Don’t go out there to see if you can sing, go out there because you can sing, then,  sing to express, not to impress – Richard Best

Do you get nervous before your performances?

Oh Lord, yes :). I remind myself this is not about me but about honoring the composer and serving the audience. Then putting on make-up, a gown and baubles is a big help as I am almost always in jeans, plaid and a ponytail. It’s like stepping into a braver person’s skin for awhile.

How do you prepare for a performance with an orchestra?

Learning and being at home with the orchestral part is important for me.  Trying to understand how the composer used the instrumentation, tempi, and orchestration to uplift the text.  I spend a great deal of time securing rhythm and tempo so flexibility is an easy option depending the conductor’s ideas.  Once I have learned a work I listen to several different recordings of it to hear others’ ideas and interpretations. 

Do you have special warm ups that you always use before performing?

No.  Kind of depends on the day, how I am feeling and what I feel like singing.  Often I make stuff up and mess around with new warm up ideas on performance days. 

How would you convince someone to come to Messiah for the first time?

If you hate it I will give you the price of your ticket :). I am that confident in this incredible work.  There is such an astonishing variety of mood, voicing, style, story, text- truly something for everyone.  And honestly, it’s Handel, what’s not to love?

 See and hear SSO favorite Lisa Hornung in our upcoming performances of Handel’s Messiah, December 15th and 16th.

The 5 Top SSO Stocking Stuffers

Tickets to the SSO make a perfect stocking stuffer, so we made it simple to know what the perfect gift for your loved ones.

The remainder of our season is jam-packed with incredible concerts, so this list was hard to widdle down!

#5 – A Musical Homecoming

Saskatchewan has produced some of the finest musicians Canada has to offer….so we thought it was high time to bring two of the brightest stars home!

Tania Miller grew up in Foam Lake, and did her first music degree at the University of Saskatchewan…she went on to become the first Maestra of a Canadian orchestra.  She’s garnered herself a reputation for her bold artistic passion which has made her a favourite on the podium of orchestras like the Chicago Symphony and Toronto Symphony.

Trumpeter Guy Few has long been an audience favourite at the SSO – he’s been both trumpeter and pianist with the SSO.  His fearless virtuosity never fails to blow the audience away!

With two hometown musical superstars, this concert is going to be one of the biggest nights of the year!
Great gift for music lovers, people who love a great night out.

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#4 – The Armed Man – a moving masterpiece


Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’ knows how to strike a chord.  When his work The Armed Man premiered in 2000 the audience knew it was witnessing something very special.  It is triumphant, heart breaking, emotional, and a universe call for peace….and the Benedictus has become one of the most popular pieces of music of the 21st century.  The SSO is joined by the Canadian Chamber Choir and Greystone Singers for this Saskatchewan orchestral first.

With this gift, you’ll get a call the morning after our concert saying they couldn’t possibly thank you enough!
Great gift for grand parents, people who love choral music, and first-time symphony goers.

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#3 – Silence is Golden – Charlie Chaplin edition

We’re getting back to the silver screen, and this time we’re featuring the tramp.  Charlie Chaplin’s films are iconic – his was a remarkable sensitivity for comedy and sincerity.  This gift comers as a two-fer – we’ve got a double header featuring two Chaplin films for the price of one…”The Immigrant” followed by “The Adventurer”.

It’s the ultimate movie night – pair it with a gift certificate to one of Riversdale’s amazing restaurants and yours will be the best gift!
Great gift for the film buff in your world, people who like a concert experience off the beaten path.

Tickets on sale December 8th.

#2 – You’re a wizard Harry!

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter novel, the SSO is bringing the music of Harry Potter to life on stage with full symphony orchestra.  Hedwig’s Theme, Harry’s Wonderous World, Hogwarts Forever, and many many more!  Dress up, because lets face it…everyone else will be too!

Plus getting the tickets now avoids being disappointed when it sells out!
Great gift for the wizards in your world…no matter the age.

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#1 – Don’t Give Yourself Away – the Music of Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell’s music is hard to quantify.  It has influenced every musical generation after it; it has given inspiration to women singer-songwriters who call her role model; it was the voice of an era and a place in time, yet timeless.  We’re featuring songs from Joni Mitchell’s orchestral albums Both Sides Now and Travelogue – her musical collaborator on the albums, Grammy winner Vince Mendoza, is coming to lead the SSO in the first concert performance ever of this music.  We welcome back chanteuse Sarah Slean for this once-in-a-lifetime concert.

Both Sides Now, A Case of You, and many many more!
Perfect gift for mom and dad, aunt and uncle, the amazing women in your life, and of course Joni fans!

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This holiday season we think the gift of live music is the absolute best way to tell your loved one you think they rock!

 

FAQs of Sing-Along Messiah

Messiah time is almost here! We love putting together and performing Handel’s Messiah each year. If it were possible we would fit every one from Saskatoon’s large choral community on stage with us for one amazing choir. Since there isn’t nearly enough room up front (and scheduling rehearsals would be a nightmare) we have the Sing-Along Messiah the afternoon after the Messiah performance. Choral professionals and enthusiasts alike join in singing beloved Messiah choruses as one huge choir.

Always wondered about the Sing-Along but you’ve never taken the leap? Have no fear! Here are some answers to the frequently asked Messiah Sing-Along questions.

Where and when is the Sing-Along?

The Sing-Along is Saturday December 10th at 2pm in Knox United Church. This is the same location for the Friday night performance. Doors open at 1 pm so come early to get your seat (and perhaps do a warmup or two)!

How do I get tickets?

Tickets are available online and at the door. Tickets are $44 ($37 for seniors) and our #TD25Below is in effect at the door! ($15 for anyone 25 and under with id at the ticket table).  As well you can contact the SSO office to find out more about a discounted group ticket price for choirs (groups of 4 or more) – email office@saskatoonsymphony.org for more info.

Do I have to sing?

No! We do not force everyone to sing. If you want to come enjoy our soloists, and an incredibly large choir, come watch and listen. We recommend you sit in one of the balconies at Knox to have the full experience.

Where do the singers sit?

We divide the main floor in to sections (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) so you can sit with your voice type (your people!). This way it is easier for those sight reading or experiencing their first Sing-Along. Confidence in numbers!

How do I know when to sing?

Our Saskatoon Symphony Chorus Conductor Duff Warkentin and Music Director Eric Paetkau will be there to lead the charge! Keep you eyes on the baton as there are changes in tempi. All sing along portions are bolded in the program with page numbers.

Can I sing the soloists part?

We invite you to sing along with our Saskatoon Symphony Chorus. Our soloists will be there for the recits and arias. In this relaxed setting they might try out a  few new ornaments! So sit back, relax, and enjoy their exceptional voices.

What if I don’t have a Messiah score?

Not to worry. We will have several copies (at least 50) that we lend out for the performance. Please make sure to return them after as they belong to the University of Saskatchewan Music Department!

See you Saturday December 16th at 2pm!

Q&A with soprano Chelsea Mahan

Soprano Chelsea Mahan has been a staple of the SSO’s programming of the last few seasons – she’s regularly featured in oratorio works with the orchestra and has become an audience favorite!

She is a home-grown talent, and we’re thrilled to have her back with the SSO again this season!

We took some time with each of our Messiah soloists for a quick Q&A.

When did you make your SSO debut?

In December of 2013 with Maestro Victor Sawa… singing  the Messiah, of course!

How did you discover you wanted to be a singer?

My family – growing up with 6 sisters we sang all the time. I wanted to be an actor first, but when I realized singing was acting, went that route!

 

What’s your favourite part of Messiah? (your own part, and a part you don’t get to sing!)

Ooo. That’s a toughy… Well, my favorite part in the soprano solo is in the recit, when you hear the angels descend in the orchestra and I come in with “and suddenly, there was with the angels a multitude of the Heavenly host…” You can hear everything in the orchestra – the angel wings flapping, the stars twinkling…followed by the chorus, who are the angels –  it always excites me!

I also love But who may abide… in the Refiner’s Fire, with the low voice, you really feel the fire burn in the coloratura and it gets pretty toasty.

When was the first time you saw Messiah?

I actually never saw the Messiah until after I performed it with the Greystone Singers a couple of times. (Once with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet!) I guess the first time I saw it was from within the choir.

What do you find challenging about singing Handel’s music?

I suppose the fact that it’s in (older) English. You take for granted that it’s your native language, thus less time goes into “text work.” And everything is easier to sing when you are super connected with the text, inside and out.

 

Who were your biggest musical influences?

As a kid, Rogers and Hammerstein and Abba…(seriously). They taught me how to tell a story with song.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

Be prepared. Be the colleague you would want to work with and for. Be genuine and kind to others and to yourself.

Do you get nervous before your performances? If so, how do you calm your nerves?

I usually get a healthy dose of nerves that I don’t really want to calm, cause I find them beneficial.
On the odd chance I get bad nerves, I say the first line of my text over and over and trust the rest is so ingrained it will follow.

How do you prepare for a performance with an orchestra?

I like a big early supper, doing my hair, warming up, looking over my score at the venue, followed by sips of water and lipstick!

Do you have special warm ups that you always use before performing?

Lip trills *surprise* …I also like to channel the effortlessness and simplicity of singers I have met in the past -that type of backstage rapport and warming up lets me relax into the confidence of my preparation.

If you had to convince someone who’s never seen Handel’s Messiah before to come to your performance, what would you say to convince them.

The music is so special (perhaps the reason this has been a tradition for hundreds of years…) It is full of light and life and story. If you let go of preconceived notions and let it transport you, I guarantee you will leave uplifted!

See Chelsea as the soprano soloist with the SSO on December 15th and 16th.
Visit www.chelseamahan.com for more information!

A One-of-a-Kind Nutcracker Night

The SSO is excited to team up with the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra to bring you not one, but two Nutcracker Suites!

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet has proven to be one of the most timeless holiday traditions.  The composer capitalized on his incredible ballet to create one of the most fun and festive pieces in the orchestral repertoire.  Alongside Handel’s Messiah, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is  the musical signaling of the holiday season.

The Suite features dances from the ballet’s second act, and the melodies have gone on to become some of the most loved ever written.

At Christmas 1960, the composing duo managed something truly extraordinary: a successful reimagining of The Nutcracker Suite. This suite was first composed as a ballet score by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1892. It wasn’t until 68 years later that Ellington and Strayhorn released their own version, refocused through the lens of big band jazz.

In his original liner notes for the Ellington-Strayhorn Nutcracker Suite, record producer Irving Townsend included the fantastic fiction that Ellington met Tchaikovsky while Ellington’s orchestra was performing at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. Knowing that the Russian died in 1893, a full six years before the American was born, this meeting never could have happened in the literal sense. However, listening to the jazzed-up Nutcracker, one could imagine the work as a meeting place for

Ellington and Strayhorn did not simply place jazz rhythms over Tchaikovsky’s music. Instead, they picked up the notes, recast the beats, communed with the themes, and recreated the work, turning it into something that was at once completely their own and completely Tchaikovsky’s. In doing so, they showed that while music may be the universal language, it is spoken with many accents (and therein lies the fun).

So what can you expect at our Nutcracker Meets Duke Ellington concert?  Here’s an example…

Tchaikovsky wrote this…

And Ellington and Strayhorn created this little ditty….