The threat to live music on Broadway, which goes back decades but is now rapidly escalating, is part of an unfortunate trend around the world. A few months back we reported on the replacement of live music in several shows in London, including Les Miserables and The Wizard of Oz. Scrapping the rich experience of live music for canned recordings is a trend that also affects other forms of live music, such as the ballet.
In 2009, the Washington Ballet decided to stage a production of Tchaikovsky’s classic The Nutcracker without an orchestra, the first time this has happened since 1974. For both the 2009 and the 2010 seasons, those who attended the ballet were subjected to a recording of the Russian composer’s most enduring work. It is truly tragic that this Christmas classic, which pre-dates the invention of recorded music, would be performed in such a manner in our nation’s capital. Sadly, it looks like this year will feature another season of recorded Tchaikovsky for the people of Washington.
Because The Nutcracker is so intimately linked to the holiday season, and because of its family friendly nature, it is often the first time that children experience the magic of a live orchestra. How saddening it is that countless children will grow up having only seen this masterpiece in such a diluted form – never hearing the otherworldly notes of the celesta echo through the theater during Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, but instead only a canned, homogenized version. Audiences showed up expecting a world-class ballet accompanied by world-class live music, and instead they got the aural equivalent of a stocking full of coal!
So much of our musical heritage is threatened by producers looking to cut corners with recordings and synthesizers. We have to make sure that what happened to Tchaikovsky in Washington doesn’t happen to one of the great American contributions to global culture: the Broadway musical. That’s why we need everyone who loves live music to sign and share the petition to keep Broadway live, so that producers and theater owners know we won’t let this happen here.
For more on the struggle to keep the Washington Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker live, watch this news clip from last year.