Christmas beneath the pines: Interlochen Arts Academy students celebrate the season with three festive performances

Experience spectacular, family friendly performances of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker,’ Sounds of the Season, and Duke Ellington’s ‘Nutcracker Suite’ at Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Matthew Schlomer conducts the IAA Wind Symphony during Sounds of the Season

Dr. Matthew Schlomer (left) conducts the Interlochen Arts Academy Wind Symphony during the 2021 production of Sounds of the Season.

This December, Interlochen Arts Academy students will celebrate the season by staging three festive, family friendly performances.

The holiday programming kicks off on Sunday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Dendrinos Chapel and Recital Hall as the Arts Academy Jazz Orchestra performs Duke Ellington’s The Nutcracker Suite. Guest conductor/performer Stafford Hunter—a Grammy Award-nominated trombonist and 21-year veteran of the Duke Ellington Orchestra—will join the ensemble for playful jazz arrangements of numbers from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s timeless ballet such as “Toot Toot Tootie Toot” (Dance of the Reed Pipes), “Danse of the Floreadores” (Waltz of the Flowers), and “Peanut Brittle Brigade” (March).

The traditional ballet version of The Nutcracker will return to Corson Auditorium on Dec. 8-11. The performance will feature dazzling scenic design, breathtaking costumes, and original choreography by Director of Dance Joseph Morrissey.

Updates for the 2022 production include refreshed backdrops and several new costumes that were hand-crafted by a professional ballet costume designer based in Ukraine. Morrissey is particularly excited to unveil an illuminated Christmas tree that will grow seamlessly to a height of 20 feet before the audiences’ eyes. The tree, which was created by a production company in New Jersey that specializes in building scenic elements for no-fly theatres, was recently delivered on what Morrissey described as “the biggest semi truck I’ve ever seen on campus.”

“The tree is something I’ve always wanted,” Morrissey said. “The Nutcracker’s growing tree is akin to the chandelier in Phantom of the Opera—it’s a major component of the story.”

The Nutcracker’s cast will feature 32 Interlochen Arts Academy dance students, as well as several student performers from the Arts Academy Theatre Division.

“We have an incredibly strong batch of dancers this year,” Morrissey said. “They’re all excited: about the tree, about the conductor, and about the new sets. We’re thrilled to have several theatre students participating as well—they bring a really nice energy to the production.”

The Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra will provide live accompaniment for the performance under the baton of guest conductor Gavriel Heine. The former resident conductor of The Mariinsky Theatre, Heine has conducted a wide range of symphonic, ballet, and operatic repertoire at some of the world’s most prestigious venues, including London’s Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

“I felt it was crucial to bring in a conductor who was in demand with top ballet companies around the world,” Morrissey said. “It's not only not good for the dancers; it’s also a wonderful opportunity for the musicians to work with a guest conductor of that caliber.”

The Academy’s beloved holiday showcase, Sounds of the Season, also returns, and has been expanded to a two-show run in response to the show’s enduring popularity. Performances will take place in Corson Auditorium on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m.

As in years past, the 2022 production of Sounds of the Season will be led by the Arts Academy Wind Symphony and Choir. This year (after three years of scaled-down performances), Sounds of the Season will return to full strength as a joyful multidisciplinary production.

“Every year, we carefully redesign the show from scratch,” said Interlochen Arts Academy Wind Symphony Conductor Dr. Matthew Schlomer. “While there are a few traditions that have endured, we are always looking for new ways to bring us all together. We are absolutely thrilled to pull out all the stops again with some really special guest artists and wonderful moments for the audience.”

In addition to arrangements of classic carols and contemporary holiday favorites by the Wind Symphony and Choir, the 2022 production of Sounds of the Season will also feature performances by students from the Academy’s Contemporary Music, Dance, Theatre, and Interdisciplinary Arts divisions and Arts Academy faculty members Bill Church, Joshua Davis, Joshua Lawrence, and Andy McGinn.

Other highlights of the performance include pre-concert caroling in the lobby of Corson Auditorium and a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” during which young audience members will be invited to sit on stage. Beloved holiday characters including Santa, Frosty the Snowman, the Grinch, and Alvin and the Chipmunks will also make appearances. Will the Grinch steal the show? Or will the spirit of the season transform his heart?

"The heart of Sounds of the Season has always been multifaceted revelry, a chance to bring people together around music, good will, and hope,” Schlomer said. “We’re excited that even more people will be able to experience this year's surprises.”

To order tickets for these performances, call the Interlochen Box Office at 800.681.5920 or visit