Nutcracker Nouveau

NutNouv Cover small

Catalogue no. PIP1013

A festive season CD with a few twists!

Premiered at St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre in December 1892, Tchaikovsky’s music for The Nutcracker received warm praise, but the ballet production itself was not a roaring success. No one could have predicted that almost seventy-five years later The Nutcracker would become a festive season favorite, a ‘Christmas bonus’ for ballet companies around the world. Ensemble Polaris celebrates Tchaikovsky’s popular music in whimsical arrangements by the band, juxtaposed with instrumentals and songs from Russian folk tradition. Polaris gives an unparalleled touch to their ‘Russian expedition’ with influences ranging from bluegrass, Roma, traditional Scandinavian and klezmer to Chinese classical music and The Nightmare Before Christmas, all with an eclectic array of instrumental colours. Music to bring you good cheer, at any time of year!

Nutcracker Nouveau was made possible with the assistance of FACTOR and through support from a group of generous private donors. It was recorded at Canterbury Music Co., Toronto in May 2013.

This is Ensemble Polaris’s fifth CD and follows upon the success of Uncharted Waters, which earned international rave reviews and the selection as Best of 2012 from KMUW-FM’s award-winning show Global Village.

  • Marco Cera, guitar, mandolin, banjo;
  • Kirk Elliott, violin, accordion, small pipes, balalaika, mandolin, banjo, jaw harp, chimes, guzheng;
  • Margaret Gay, cello;
  • Katherine Hill, nyckelharpa, voice;
  • Alison Melville, traverso, recorders, seljefløyte, keyboard;
  • Colin Savage, clarinet, bass clarinet, recorders;
  • Debashis Sinha, conga, riqq, doumbek, zarb, berimbau, miscellaneous percussion;
  • Jeffrey Wilson, drum set, concert bass drum, musical saw, marimba, shakers, frame drum, miscellaneous percussion.

Released October 2013

Trepak (P. I. Tchaikovsky, arr. Kirk Elliott)

Price: $14 plus shipping and handling = within Canada: $17.80; to USA: $18.75; everywhere else: $21.00. HST added at checkout. Discounts available if you want more than one!

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‘The next disc made me laugh out loud on first hearing. I really didn’t know what to expect from Nutcracker Nouveau – The Russian Expedition from the wacky eclectic local Ensemble Polaris (…The opening track, Kirk Elliott’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Trepak” from The Nutcracker, begins with what sounds like Duelling Banjos followed by the theme from The Beverly Hillbillies before settling into the familiar melody from Tchaikovsky’s ballet. This sets the stage for a hilarious homage to the Russian master. The instrumentation ranges from guitars, mandolins and banjos through violin, accordion, bagpipes, bazouki, flutes, recorders and clarinets to a host of multi-cultural percussion instruments. Particularly effective is the guzheng and the violin convincingly impersonating an erhu in Melville and Elliott’s arrangement/medley of the traditional Chinese melody Picking Tea and Tchaikovsky’s “Danse Chinoise” which also features descant recorder and musical saw among other oddities. The suite is a clever and entertaining blend of new takes on the familiar ballet themes intertwined with other Slavic favourites. Perhaps due to my personal preference for the instrument I must mention the gorgeous sound of Margaret Gay’s cello which was captured in all its glory by Jeremy Darby at Canterbury Sound.’ The Wholenote, November 2013

‘The banjo licks that kickstart the new Nutcracker Nouveau album by Toronto’s Ensemble Polaris tell us loud and clear – and with the broadest possible wink – that this is not grandma’s Peter Ilytch Tchaikovsky. That bluegrassy opening Trepak, arranged by Polaris multi-instrumentalist Kirk Elliott, is stuffed full of the unexpected, including a bit of vocalise and even a boisterously shouted-Russian toast to Tchaikovsky. This musical party is a survey of the Nutckacker ballet suite, reimagined by the members of Ensemble Polaris as a let’s-sit-around-the-fireplace-and-have-a-good-time jam. Tchaikovsky’s original ideas are there, repainted in different musical colours. In honour of the Russian Expedition subtitle, the suite is peppered with culturally-resonant extras, such as Marco Cera’s band-encompassing arrangement of Two Guitars. The waltzing flowers are, I would argue, even more engaging as light-footed lasses accompanied by accordion, flute, clarinet and (I think) mandolin. And why not add a bagpipe to play both the sinewy opening to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as well as the Overture to the Nutcracker at the end instead of the beginning? It’s all silly, cheeky musical mirth that miraculously never tips over the precipice into the ridiculous. It pokes fun at tradition while also respecting and honouring it. Nutcracker Nouveau is entertainment as well as a showcase of what imaginative musicians can do with even the most hallowed of traditions. I also love the fact that no one in this happy band really cares which genre line they happen to cross at any given moment. So here’s to Na Zdorovie shots of vodka not just for Tchaikovsky but also for Torontonians Marco Cera, Kirk Elliott, Margaret Gay, Katherine Hill, Alison Melville, Colin Savage, Debashis Sinha and Jeffrey Wilson.’ Musical Toronto, December 2013

‘Nicolas Martin est musicothéquaire à Radio-Canada Montréal. Il est aussi mon complice à distance dans mes découvertes musicales. Je lui ai demandé de nous offrir deux coups de coeur inspirés de l’hiver et des Fêtes. Sa réponse: Keith Kouna pour son Voyage d’hiver et l’Ensemble Polaris de Toronto pour son Nutcracker nouveau.’ Diane Martin, Radio-Canada, December 2013

‘Whimsy runs rampant through every note — and liner note — of Nutcracker Nouveau, a riff on Piotr Tchaikovsky’s 1892 The Nutcracker from Toronto’s Ensemble Polaris. There’s the traditional “Overture” for starters. Except here it doesn’t start but rather comes near the end of the album. And it begins with bagpipes squalling through the intro of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring not Tchaikovsky. Eventually the perky family Nutcracker introductory melody appears, only to quickly morph into a frantic Québecois fiddle tune with just an added “hint of Rocky & Bullwinkle,” according to violinist Kirk Elliott’s explanation. Need I mention the sounds of baffled sheep popping on “Karovushka,” an old Russian tune dedicated to a beloved brown-eyed cow, one of several non-Nutcracker bits here? Or Polaris’s very own Tim Burton moment noted by the bandleader, guitarist Marco Cera, where the Sugar Plum Fairy is “dancing her way through The Nightmare Before Christmas?” Yet whatever nonsensical heights are reached by such brainy musical mischief are surpassed by the playing itself, from Margaret Gay’s soulful cello in “O’er The Snowy Steppes” to the accordion-led “Waltz of the Flowers,” which revives all the great memories one has of Don Messer’s Christmas Special Jubilee.’ Toronto Star. December 2013

‘A peculiar group of mainly classical musicians, who also use banjos and hurdy gurdies and the like, performing an alternate version of the Christmas dance classic. Compulsively listenable.’ Forum, Slimdevices, December 2013

‘Delightful and endearing.’ Fanfare, 2014


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