Baltimore Symphony goes to the circus
Admit it. The first time you heard about the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s “Under the Big Top” series of circus-theme concerts, your cynical muscles started clenching.
And when you spotted publicity photos of music director Marin Alsop in a ringmaster’s get-up (what were they thinking over there?), you just knew the whole thing had to be too darn silly.
Well, relax and get over it. This project could turn out to be the sleeper hit — and hoot — of the season.
Thursday’s concert, featuring the brilliant flying, juggling, contorting troupe called Cirque de la Symphonie, might have settled for mere gimmickry, from the smell of popcorn and sight of cotton candy in the lobby to the stage decked out with streaming fabrics behind the orchestra and bathed in show-biz lighting. But Alsop constructed too substantive of a program to be mistaken for a pops night out, and she made sure that the music registered with terrific impact, even when the cirque folk had the limelight.
It was cool to
The conductor led impressive accounts of three other vivid ballet scores — Copland’s “Billy the Kid,” Poulenc’s “Les Biches” and Satie’s “Parade” — that were expertly, inventively choreographed by Cirque de la Symphony. Aerialists took complex and elegant flights into the rafters, occasionally out over the audience. During the Satie work, there was a startling demonstration of slow-motion, seemingly impossible hand- (and foot-) balancing by the duo of Jarek and Darek. Vladimir Tsarkov’s colorful juggling was remarkably well-timed to the music.
All of these scores could have stood solidly on their own, of course. Poulenc's distinctive voice is delectably urbane and witty in "Les Biches," and Satie indulges in wonderfully audacious touches, including wacky additions to the percussion section. Copland's ballet seems as fresh as ever. Alsop was attentive to details large and small in each of the works, and the BSO's responded with vigor and clarity.
There’s always a lot of talk about the need to break down barriers in classical music, to rethink concert the format and put a fresh spin on the experience. This imaginative concert actually did that, and with a panache that whets the appetite for what’s next under the BSO’s inviting tent.
The Cirque program repeats Friday and Sunday at Meyerhoff, Saturday at Strathmore.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CIRQUE DE LA SYMPHONIE/BSO