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December 11, 2011

Send in the Cirque: The Baltimore Symphony tries out new holiday show

Having watched box office numbers decline after several years of its Holiday Spectacular (a product that originated at the Indianapolis Symphony), the BSO tried out Cirque de la Symphony this season. I caught up with it over the weekend.

There's obviously great box office appeal to the cirque idiom; turnout was strong, crowd reaction vociferously enthusiastic.

The folks of Cirque de la Symphonie clearly know how to make it all work in a concert hall setting. It's a smooth operation all around.

The ensemble has some to-notch talent, especially the hand-balancing masters Jarek and Darek. They stole the show with some amazing, strikingly choreographed feats during one of the coolest musical items on the program -- a fusion of "Little Drummer Boy" on top of Ravel's "Bolero," reconfigured into 4/4 time (this was the only time I didn't gag instantly at the sound of "Little Drummer Boy").

Alexander Streltsov and Christine Van Loo did some terrific aerial work to the familiar "Waltz of the Flowers" from "Nutcracker." Acts with hoola hoops, cubes and other props held rewards.

And juggler/mime Vladimir Tsarkov succeeded in providing some charming comic relief, as well as neat tricks.

That said, this holiday version could have used a few tweaks. Several times, I found myself thinking: If that's the kind of show they wanted, they sure got a good one.

First off, it was terrible idea to pair ...


"O Holy Night" with an aerial act while Davis Stack, an admirably focused and musically secure boy soprano, sang.

For that matter, it would be a terrible idea to do anything to upstage this classic aria. There are a zillion carols or secular songs that would make a better fit for cirque-ization.

Speaking of terrible, what on earth was with all those cheesy video projections on a huge screen behind the orchestra? I wouldn't think cirque folks would welcome so much visual distraction going on during their acts.

A few scenes of snowy mountains would have been OK, but there were way too many of them, and they were indiscriminately applied; even non-holiday music on the program got the same treatment. Worse were the greeting-card-like shots of sweetly decorated homes. Surely audiences don't need seasonal and sensory overload.

One more complaint: Most of the clips were too short for the musical selections, so they just went into continuous loop mode, making them all the more annoying. The BSO can do better that that.

As for the musical end of things, the orchestra, led by the amiable Bob Bernhardt, sounded crisp and colorful throughout. It was especially nice to hear the ensemble on its own in such well-crafted chestnuts as Leroy Anderson's "Christmas Festival" and Carmen Dragon's Straussian arrangement of "Deck the Halls."


Posted by Tim Smith at 7:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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