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December 17, 2009

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Children from Hill area sparkle at Academy of Music

The Pennsylvania Ballet is celebrating the Christmas season with that most perfect combination of dance, theater and music — George Balanchine’s choreography to Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” The production is playing at the gorgeously appropriate Academy of Music through Dec. 31 and two local youngsters are dancing at its very heart.

West Mt. Airy’s Stephanie Bandura, a student at the Springside School, is performing the role of Marie, the little girl whose gift of a nutcracker sparks her dream of a battle with the Mouse King and a journey to the Land of Sweets. Chestnut Hill Academy student Juan Rafael Castellanos is dancing the part of her little brother, Fritz. It’s his high-spirited antics that enliven the family Christmas party. I caught Stephanie’s performance Sunday afternoon, where she was paired with Lucas Tischler as Fritz. Juan Rafael danced earlier at noon with Maria Santangelo as Marie.

There are so many exemplary ingredients to the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” that it’s difficult to know where to start — other than at the very beginning with the score. “The Nutcracker” joins “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty” as the most successful trio of ballet scores ever composed because they’re stunningly successful both in the theater while they’re being danced and in the concert hall when they’re merely played. Igor Stravinsky’s threesome of “The Firebird,” “Petrushka” and “The Rite of Spring” are equally great pieces of music, but none has ever held the ballet stage effectively. Tchaikovsky’s three great ballets continue to be performed regularly and frequently, usually functioning as the “cash cow” of every company’s season. When you pair them with Tchaikovsky’s three great final symphonies — the ever-popular Fourth, Fifth and Sixth — no wonder, then, that Tchaikovsky remains the most popular classical composer of them all.

Next comes Balanchine’s choreography. The late master of the New York City Ballet flawlessly combined in this work the essence of the Russian romanticism in which he grew up at St. Petersburg’s Maryinsky Theatre with the sharp-edged neo-classicism he created for his own American ballet company. The result is a first act that clearly delineates the homespun narrative of a family Christmas party and a second act of pure dance that projects a child’s dream of a candy-filled paradise.

Finally, there’s the dancing. Stephanie Bandura was a lovely, charming and spunky Marie. Lucas Tischler was a demonic Fritz. Francis Veyette and Gabriella Yudenich were manly and gracious, respectively, as their parents. The great William DeGregory was the mysterious Herr Drosselmeier, and Peter Weil as his dashing nephew.

For ticket information, visit www.paballet.org.

BACH CANTATAS

Matthew Glandorf will lead the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia and the Bach Festival Collegium in a historic reconstruction of a German Advent Vespers on Friday, Dec. 18, 8 p.m., in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill. The program will feature two cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, composed while he was the cantor at St. Thomas’ Lutheran Church in the German city of Leipzig. Additional music will round out the concert.

The performing ensemble for the Dec. 18 concert will boast a choir of 50 singers and a baroque period instruments orchestra of strings, oboes and trumpet. Joshua Stafford, a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, will accompany the ensemble at the organ. Stafford is also the assistant organist at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in center city, where Glandorf is director of music. Glandorf also teaches at Curtis.

Glandorf explained that the two Bach cantatas are BWV No. 147: “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” and BWV No. 10: “Meine Seel erhebt den Herren.”

Glandorf expressed his belief that both cantatas were composed when Bach was at the height of his powers. The concert will also feature Psalm settings and motets by Michael Praetorius and Heinrich Schutz, both of whom were predecessors of Bach in the German baroque tradition.

For ticket information, call 215-240-6417 or visit www.choralarts.com or www.bach-fest.org.

HILL CONCERTS

Several of the region’s most prominent performing ensembles will be presenting Christmas concerts in Chestnut Hill. Piffaro/the Renaissance Band, Tempesta di Mare/Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, and Vox Ama Deus will all be performing on the Hill this holiday season.

First on the roster will be Piffaro, which will present “Christmas in Renaissance Spain” Friday, Dec. 18, 8 p.m., in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave. The period instruments band will be joined by soprano Laura Heimes. Call 215-235-8469 or visit www.piffaro.org. Tempesta di Mare will continue its survey of Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concerti by playing the Fifth Concerto for harpsichord, flute, violin, viola and continuo Saturday, Dec. 19, 8 p.m., in the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martin’s Lane. The program also includes music by Pachelbel, Telemann, Fasch and Graupner. Call 215-755-8776 or visit www.tempestadimare.org. Finally, Valentin Radu will lead the Camerata Ama Deus in a “Baroque Christmas” of music by Pachelbel, Corelli, Manfredini, Clarke, Purcell, Torelli and Scarlatti on Saturday, Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m., in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 East Chestnut Hill Ave. Call 610-688-2800 or visit www.voxamadeus.org.



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