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Brooklyn performances update the classics with new settings and sounds

for The Brooklyn Paper

From the Brooklyn Music School’s joyously fun update on "The Nutcracker," to seasonal harmonizing by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, to a timeless treasure at the scenic Bargemusic venue, to an exotic Tan Dun Passion at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn will be awash in great performances this holiday season.

Here are the highlights.

’Nutcracker’ in da ’hood

Billing it as "Tchaikovsky in the ’hood" may be too much, but otherwise, "A Brooklyn Nutcracker" - which transplants the beloved 19th-century ballet perennial to our backyard in the 21st century - is too delectable to miss.

This year, the Brooklyn Music School broadens its horizons with two consecutive weekends of performances of the Tchaikovsky classic [Dec. 7-8 and Dec. 14-15, Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3pm, at the Brooklyn Music School, 126 St. Felix St. at Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 638-5660] and a special guest performer, none other than Borough President Marty Markowitz, for the opening night gala on Dec. 6 at 7:30 pm.

Brooklyn Music School Dance Director Robin Osborne first reconfigured "The Nutcracker" to fit Brooklyn in 1999, and her witty re-imagining of Tchaikovsky’s soldiers, dolls and sugarplum fairies into familiar settings like Coney Island, the subway system (where the young heroine enlists the aid of a pack of rats to help her overcome the Rat Queen), Junior’s Restaurant and a heartwarming finale in Prospect Park will delight parents and children alike.

Performed by the school’s Journey Dancers Ensemble, as well as current students and faculty, "A Brooklyn Nutcracker" is a singular take on a seasonal favorite fast developing into a notable - and very welcome - Brooklyn tradition. Tickets are $15, $10 children and $50 opening night.

Sing, sing a song

For its annual holiday performances, the "Holiday Harmonies" concerts, the 200-member strong Brooklyn Youth Chorus - currently celebrating its 10th anniversary - is featured in two separate programs on Saturday, Dec. 7 at St. Augustine Church, 116 Sixth Ave. in Park Slope. (Tickets are $25, $15 and $8 children 10 and younger. For more information, go to the Web site at

In the main program, "My Heart Rejoices" (7:30 pm), the Brooklyn Youth Chorus is joined by the Intermediate Division ensemble for an evening’s worth of excerpts from the choral repertoire, including works by Robert Schumann and Leonard Bernstein’s "Mass," which the Youth Chorus recently performed at Carnegie Hall with the Collegiate Chorale.

Earlier in the day, at a 2:30 pm family matinee, "A Children’s Celebration" features the Brooklyn Youth Chorus’ Training Choruses in an assortment of familiar seasonal music and carols, featuring J.S. Bach and John Rutter.

These sing-along concerts are not the Brooklyn Youth Chorus’ only holiday appearances: later this month, it joins the Brooklyn Philharmonic for the Mark Morris Dance Group’s version of Tchaikovsky’s "The Nutcracker," called "The Hard Nut," at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene, Dec. 17-22. (For more information, see "Return of the ’Nut’.")

Always in season

Since Antonio Vivaldi’s "Four Seasons" is - thanks to its title - current no matter what time of year, Bargemusic is to be commended for its thematic programming that places the baroque warhorse in its holiday schedule.

For two weekend programs, the string ensemble I Virtuosi Italiani appears on the Bargemusic stage (on the East River at Fulton Ferry Landing), leaning heavily on - who else? - Italian composers. For the Thursday and Friday (Dec. 5 and Dec. 6 at 7:30 pm) evening programs, "Four Seasons" is the featured work, followed by an orchestral arrangement of the only string quartet composed by Giuseppe Verdi.

Although Vivaldi’s masterpiece is an endlessly inventive series of memorable melodies - especially the sections that aren’t as over-heard as the ubiquitous "Spring" section - the Verdi quartet is equally filled with the kinds of delectable chamber music sounds that one might think would have eluded Verdi, the master of Italian grand opera.

Accompanying the ensemble are harpsichordist Eva Young (in the Vivaldi work) and violionist Mark Peskanov, who returns for the second I Virtuosi Italiani programs Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 7 at 7:30 pm and Dec. 8 at 4 pm), which begin with more - and more obscure - Italian music.

Two infrequently performed Italianate works for string orchestra - "Serenade for Strings" by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari and "Concerto for Strings" by Nino Rota, better known for his Fellini film scores but also a masterly composer of orchestral music - open the bill, followed by readings of familiar works by two youthful prodigies who became something rather more by adulthood, Mendelssohn and Mozart.

Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia for Strings, No. 10 in B Minor gives way to Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra. Violinist Peskanov and violist Toby Hoffman are soloists in the Mozart work, and oboists Ariana Gez and Nicholas Swan and French horn players Angela Cordel and Christina Guarinoi fill out the orchestra parts alongside I Virtuosi Italiani. Tickets are $35 and $20 students. For more information, visit the Web site at

’Tiger’ composer

BAM’s Next Wave festival continues Dec. 11, Dec. 13 and Dec. 14 at 7:30 pm at the BAM Harvey Theatre with another work composed for the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bach’s death, "Water Passion after St. Matthew." (Osvaldo Golijov’s "La Passion de San Marcos" was unveiled last month.)

Tan Dun, best known for his Oscar-winning musical score for the hit martial-arts actioner, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," composed "Water Passion after St. Matthew" employing his usual amalgam of Western and Eastern sounds, mixed in with theatrical and visual touches that place his "Water Passion" squarely in the performance-art tradition.

No one familiar with Dun’s stage work - including his eclectic opera "Marco Polo" - will be surprised by the visual originality of "Water Passion." Along with musicians arrayed around the stage, several of whom play exotic-looking, and sounding, ancient instruments (electronically processed), other performers play 17 illuminated bowls filled with water - which gives the piece its title - or use stones to create a gently soothing percussive sound.

In Dun’s hands, the continuously swirled water becomes a metaphor for life, death and transcendence: the message of Bach’s original chorales.

In addition, a BAMdialogue with Tan Dun will be offered on Dec. 11 at 6 pm at the BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene. Tickets are $20, $35 and $50 to the performance. BAMdialogue tickets are $8. For more information, visit the Web site at

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