After more than fifteen years of arranging the uniquely Kansas music of the Arts Center’s take on The Nutcracker, conductor Jeff Dearinger has decided hang up his baton after this year’s run. His indelible contributions to this holiday favorite have been greatly admired and appreciated by creative collaborators and audience members alike. We took some time to hear from those who have worked alongside him, as well as the man himself, for this latest blog!
“Jeff Dearinger started the Lawrence Mandolin & Guitar Ensemble in 1973, arranging classical music for up to 20 mandolins, guitars & string basses. The group performed for 20+ years and then morphed into the Uptown Mandolin Quartet. Jeff is part of the original team who followed choreographer Deb Bettinger’s vision of a Nutcracker set in Kansas. His arrangement cleverly replaces the brass with two mandolins and a mandola. The result reflects the folk nature of Tchaikovsky’s original score. His impeccable timing and sense of humor are reflected in his arrangements and conducting.”
– Ric Averill, Performing Arts Artistic Director Emeritus
“Jeff’s arrangement of Tchaikovsy’s The Nutcracker beautifully blends a more traditional arrangement with Kansan flare. His work is unique and lays the foundation for our production.”
– Hanan Misko, School of Dance Director
Q&A with Jeff Dearinger
Q: How has conducting and arranging music for The Nutcracker evolved throughout your time here?
The first performances of The Kansas Nutcracker were in 2002. Early in the year, Deb Bettinger and Ric Averill approached me about arranging and conducting. It took a bit to get me to commit to the project. The Nutcracker is not easy music! We did not do all the movements at first – we picked ones that worked for the instrumentation we selected.
I remember the first rehearsal with the entire orchestra. I was not certain if the musicians could play what I had written. It went better than expected, except for the celeste part for the percussionist. I ended up rewriting part of it for the mandolins. The first version was complete.
A few years later Deb wanted to add some of the “tree growing music” to Scene 6, so that was added. When Hanan Misko took over, he asked for more parts added. We added a bit of Scene 4 and later more. Pas De Deux was added also, and Grandfather’s Dance was lengthened. These had some cuts to the original due to large brass sections that did not work well for our instrumentation. This led to our current version.
2) Do you have a favorite part in the music?
Perhaps my favorite is in Scene 6 after the clock strikes midnight. The scene builds and modulates and builds more. At one point, the orchestra is hitting on all 12 cylinders, with big runs in the strings and winds and mandolins giving all they have playing brass parts with a big ending. This immediately evolves into the battle scene.
3) Can you share a memory or surprising moment that has happened during a live performance?
Many years ago, Drosselmeyer played an entire scene with his fly open, and the tail of his white shirt sticking out. Many members of the orchestra were stifling giggles, and also a large portion of the audience. The actor had no idea what had happened until someone told him later. It was definitely an accident!
4) Any parting thoughts you’d like to share about your experience leading the music for this community production?
I am very grateful to all the musicians who have played for us over the years. Many times, we have had more than 75% of them return the next year to play. The music is challenging in the original orchestration, but with only 12 to play the whole thing, it requires a lot of stamina. All go home tired after this gig. Without excellent players, this would not happen.
5) Finally, Nutcracker Prince or Mouse King… Whose side are you on?
Interestingly, during the battle between the Prince and King, I have some of the most difficult music and spend all my attention on the orchestra. So, I am rooting for the orchestra!