Full disclosure: I’ve never been a big fan of Cirque de la Symphonie. I’ve sort of rolled my eyes in the past at the idea of pairing circus acrobatics with orchestral concerts. It seems overly gimmicky to me. And, frankly, my nervous-nellie stomach always flips around a little worrying about an aerial rope artist, say, plunging to a sickening splat onto the Saroyan Theatre stage in front of the first violins – and me having to call the metro desk with front-page news.
Did the troupe’s fourth time in Fresno on Sunday finally wear me down? Maybe. Or perhaps I got caught up in the emotional farewell to Maestro Theodore Kuchar, who conducted the Fresno Philharmonic in his last public concert as music director. Whatever the reason, I thought the concert was electric, and I thoroughly enjoyed the breezy pops feel. A few thoughts:
The music: It was brisk and high-caloric for the players, who were asked to whip through some of the classical repertoire’s best known and rhythmic hits. (How to keep in shape: play Bizet’s “Gypsy Song,” or pieces just like it, a bunch of times in a row.) I thought it all sounded smooth, sophisticated and just tart enough to keep the audience (or at least me) occasionally checking back in with the orchestra after gawking at the acrobatics. From John Williams’ rousing “Flight to Neverland” to Rimsky Korsakov’s lively “Danse des Buffons,” the musicians kept not only the tempo but their aplomb as impossibly jointed humans in front of them and overhead contorted into shapes that would put a French horn’s tubing to shame.
The Cirque performers: They were reliably limber and death-defying, but more than that, I was impressed this time with more of a sense of choreography to the proceedings, as if the music being played really made a difference. It felt less like a gimmick and more like dance. Random notes: Aloysia Gavre, one part of a tango duo, must have stomach muscles as hard as the bountiful concrete that inspired the Saroyan’s architects. And her partner, Sagiv Ben Binyamin, has perfected a cocky grin on the aerial rope even as he thankfully did not splat onto the stage.
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Kuchar at the podium: The departing conductor, who introduced Cirque de la Symphonie to Fresno and took it on tour with other orchestras to South Africa and Australia, played a good goofball, bantering at times with the designated clown (Vladimir Tsarkov) and even participating in an extended magic trick in which he got to tie a woman up (which under any other circumstances definitely would be against union rules) and lose his jacket. Good stuff.
Farewell: the ovation for both the acrobats and Kuchar was loud and prolonged. I left the concert feeling jaunty and musical – and happy to think of all the families in the audience that exposed their younger children to an afternoon at the Philharmonic. As I made my way to my car, I briefly considered doing a double back-flip off my car while humming the “1812 Overture” but thought better of it. I’ll leave that to the professionals.