The orchestra that accompanies Pacific Northwest Ballet became its own entity in 1989 (built by Stewart Kershaw from the seed that was the Northwest Chamber Orchestra), and when this year’s run of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® opens Friday, some of those musicians in the pit will have been there since way back then and earlier. Violist Betty Agent has been sugarplum-fairying since 1983; flutist Karla Flygare also has played it since the ’80s; and cellist Page Smith lost count but estimates, given 30 to 40 performances a year, that she’s played about a thousand. Concertmaster Michael Jinsoo Lim is a relative greenhorn—this will be merely his ninth season of Nutcrackers—but he’s under the spotlight each night with a seven-minute violin solo and has already developed strategies for coping, which we were curious about.
Does the orchestra rehearse prior to the performances, or can you all play it in your sleep by now? We have a dress rehearsal every year at the start of the run. Since it’s a piece we know so well, we don’t rehearse as a group as much as we would for other ballets. But we all come in with our parts practiced and ready to go, and the dress rehearsal serves to get us all back on the same page and ready for the 40 or so performances we give each season.
Are there physical risks from playing this music practically daily for a month? During the Nutcracker run, I do a lot of stretching and Pilates. I probably stretch more during that month than the other 11 months of the year combined. I belong to a gym near McCaw Hall, and when we have double show days, I’ll often go to the gym between shows to make sure my body is moving. Otherwise, back and neck problems can find their way into my playing.
Mentally, I stay fresh and sharp by really focusing on the music. The Nutcracker is a wonderful work by Tchaikovsky. It’s music that is engaging and beautiful. I get the opportunity to do what I love, with a great orchestra filled with people I enjoy being around. It’s a gift to be able to share all of this with thousands of audience members every show. PNB’s Nutcracker is such a part of Seattle. McCaw Hall, Seattle Center. $29–$190. Opens Nov. 24. 35 performances, mostly weekends, until Dec. 28; see pnb.org for exact schedule.