This Saturday afternoon in Woolsey Hall, two Yale Bands will perform a festive concert titled “Side by Side: The Nutcracker Swings,” which will combine traditional and jazz arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite.”

Two years ago, the Yale Concert Band performed a holiday benefit concert for the Yale and New Haven communities that featured celebratory music from various cultures and collected donations to New Haven’s Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, known by its acronym IRIS. And last December, the Yale Bands hosted a joint concert with two of their constituent groups — the Yale Concert Band and the Yale Jazz Ensemble. Like this weekend’s concert, which will involve the same two groups, this performance paired a wind ensemble arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s score — originally written for full orchestra — with a popular jazz arrangement by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. This year’s concert is open to the general public and will again collect donations to benefit IRIS.

“We wanted to find a way to support improvements to our local community,” said Thomas Duffy, Yale Bands’ musical director.

In the Yale Bands’ centennial year, the Yale Concert Band has continued a tradition of “addressing music as a social force,” Duffy added, noting that IRIS seemed like “the perfect beneficiary for our ‘holiday’ concert attentions.”

Duffy also acknowledged the challenges of programming concerts whose repertoire reflects diverse cultures.

“Short of commissioning new music to represent inclusivity, it is hard to be equitable in programming,” he said.

One approach, Duffy maintains, is “to embrace a secular program that belongs to ‘everyone’” — such as a program that includes both traditional orchestra and jazz arrangements performed together to move and captivate an audience.

Pianist Julia Weiner ’19 joins the Bands’ annual concert for the first time. Last year, Weiner attended the concert as an audience member and expressed her excitement to perform in the concert this year.

“I think this was a really clever idea on Mr. Duffy’s part, to do this side-by-side,” Weiner remarked.

Hersh Gupta ’20, an alto saxophonist in the Jazz Ensemble, echoed Weiner’s statement, noting the magic of hearing the two arrangements alternating in a single concert.

Gupta, who also performed in last year’s concert, said that he looks forward to revisiting the jazz arrangement, which was originally debuted by the iconic Duke Ellington Big Band. Gupta said that Ellington’s take on “The Nutcracker” incorporates “a fundamentally deeper vision … brought to life with upbeat tempos, swing fields and solo sections.”

He noted that he looks forward to presenting “a reflection of a more diverse America” through the program’s inclusion of Ellington’s jazz interpretation — a genre with roots in African-American culture.

“The cultural aspect of what this music and arrangement represents is very powerful to me,” Gupta said.

According to Wiener, Duffy is committed to programming a wide variety of repertoire and “ensuring that boundaries are continuing to be questioned and pushed further.”

The Yale Concert Band boasts an roster of about 50 wind, brass and percussion players while the Jazz Ensemble features seventeen members.

Alexus Coney |