While you may disagree with the idea of using a circus to get people to listen to classical music, I found nothing wrong with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s decision to do so this weekend.
The musical and acrobatic act of Saturday and Sunday’s “Cirque de la Symphonie” was a stellar success with the audience, so much so that the orchestra at times played better than they have in their most serious Masterworks programs. And that kind of success is memorable for everyone, and will surely bring an audience back for more (it is worth mentioning that the balcony, where I was sitting, was completely sold-out). As a father asked a young boy in front of me leaving the concert, “What did you think about the circus?” The answer was predictably, “Great!” But when he asked, “What did you think about the music?” I smiled to hear, “It was awesome!”
And at least on Saturday night, when I was there, everyone in the audience felt like children. We gasped at the rope-specialist spinning at literally breakneck speed parallel to the stage thirty feet above, swooned at the grace and true beauty of a contortionist playing a swan in ways not generally thought possible, and laughed probably too-loudly at the harlequin juggler.
But none of it would have been possible without the superb accompaniment of the orchestra. Highlights included co-concertmaster Drew Irvin’s numerous solos, which were just as dazzling as the physical acrobatics (specifically in Saint-Saens’ Dance Macabre, a suitable companion-piece for the death-defying first rope-act of the evening); Debussy’s Claire de Lune with the Swan-woman; Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol; and the ‘Valse’ from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ‘Waltz,’ where the orchestra was joined by the rope-specialist’s male partner flying through the audience with gigantic red ‘butterfly’ wings. What’s more, conductor Geoffrey Robson not only contributed with the electricity of his baton, but also with an impromptu magic trick that ended up with the theft of his tuxedo jacket!
Perhaps the orchestra sounded so great at times because they knew the attention would be split throughout the concert. Or perhaps because everyone enjoyed coming out to listen to great music and see real talent play out on the stage. While the night wasn’t perfect (the opening ‘Overture’ to Die Fledermaus was a little underwhelming), it was certainly fun, and gradually became precisely the opposite of ‘under’-whelming. When at one point near the beginning Robson mentioned to the audience, “I hope everyone is having a good time,” I shouted loudly “Oh Yeah!” with the rest of the children.