by Michael Caruso

The Pennsylvania Ballet opened its production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” last weekend in the Academy of Music, and Chestnut Hill resident Juan Rafael Castellanos was at its very heart. The Chestnut Hill Academy student danced the role of Fritz, the little brother of Marie. It is Fritz’ breaking of her gift from Herr Drosselmeier of The Nutcracker that inspires Marie’s dreamy journey to the Land of the Sweets and all the magic of sight and sound that drew a packed-house audience to the Academy of Music Sunday afternoon.

Over the seasons that Castellanos has danced the role of Fritz, he has truly matured as both a dancer and an actor. This time around he embellished his characterization with a multitude of dramatically telling gestures and perfectly gauged inflections so that he really did seem the little demon-out-of-control, which the narrative requires. However, he never overacted to the point of appearing a caricature of a bad little boy or to the point of undermining his dancing. That aspect of his performance Sunday afternoon was expert and energetic, and it fit into the ensemble seamlessly.

The entire production and Sunday’s performance of it were exceptionally beautiful. The sets and costumes glistened and sparkled, and Balanchine’s choreography was danced with unforgettable beauty and touching sentiment. Amy Aldridge was a breathtaking Sugarplum Fairy. Her point work was immaculate, her gestures were exquisite, and every individual move was made right on the beat of Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous score. Zachary Hench was her equal as Her Cavalier. His leaps were astonishing for both their height and soundless landings, and his support of Aldridge at those most critical moments was solid as Gibraltar.

“The Nutcracker” continues in the Academy of Music through Dec. 31. For specific dates and times, call 215-893-1999 or visit


Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, presented an entertaining and informative concert Sunday, Dec. 4, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The program was entitled “Leipzig Shortlist: Telemann, Fasch, Graupner or Bach?” and it recalled the truly amazing 1722 competition for the post of kappelmeister in the prosperous northern German city of Leipzig that pitted those four baroque composers against one another.

History causes us to smile because Johann Sebastian Bach was the fourth choice out of the four. The other three declined invitations to take up the post, either because superior money was offered elsewhere or because they refused to teach Latin, which the town fathers insisted upon. Bach knew the language well, as his spectacular “Mass in B minor” proves beyond any doubt.

The smile on our collective contemporary faces comes from the universal opinion held by musicians and music-lovers the world over that J.S. Bach was the greatest of all classical composers. The notion that composers such as Telemann (the first choice), Fasch and Graupner were ever considered to exist in the same musical league as Bach is mildly comic on first hearing and then absurd upon reflection. And yet, these were among the most highly regarded composers in baroque Germany, and they all had stellar reputations to substantiate that opinion.

As it has done over the decade of its life, Tempesta di Mare performed a program that not only proved a historical point but that also offered a series of musical delights. Fasch’s “Concerto for Lute in D minor,” Telemann’s “Quatour VI in E minor,” Graupner’s “Entrata per musica di tavola” and Fasch’s “Concerto for Recorder in F major” may not have proved themselves the equals of Bach’s “Concerto for Harpsichord in F minor” throughout the passage of the centuries, but all four are scores worthy of far more frequent hearing than they’re given nowadays. Fasch’s two concerti, in particular, offer lively rhythms, captivating melodies, elegant scorings and inventive harmonies. The Telemann is a fascinating display of a German composer taking on French styles. Only the Graupner failed to hold my attention.

The Bach Harpsichord Concerto, of course, stole the show. It did so because it’s a concise masterpiece of structure and color and because Tempesta’s resident harpsichordist, Adam Pearl, gave it a superb rendition. Gwyn Roberts was particularly noteworthy as the recorder soloist in the Fasch, as was lutenist Richard Stone in the other Fasch. And the strings played beautifully in the Telemann.