NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – It’s unmistakable – the Sugarplum Fairy’s solo in Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet “The Nutcracker.”


WCBS 880’s Jane Tillman Irving reports

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But what instrument is producing that ethereal, otherworldly sound?

It’s the celeste, also known as the celesta or the chellesta.

“I say celeste, because that’s how my boss used to say it,” says Cameron Grant, solo pianist for New York City Ballet.

However you pronounce it, it’s a keyboard, a relative of the piano, not the glockenspiel.

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Grant plays it every night during “Nutcracker” season.

A Frenchman named Auguste Mustel invented the celeste in 1886.

When Tchaikovsky heard it soon thereafter, “He said, ‘Get me one of those. But don’t tell anybody.’ because he didn’t want everybody to be using that sound and he used it in 1891 and then in “The Nutcracker” a couple of years later,” says Grant.

And the celeste and the Sugarplum Fairy have been enchanting audiences ever since.

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“The Nutcracker” is being performed by the New York City Ballet at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center through January 2.