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Marin Alsop's High-Wire Concert

Marin Alsop is a conductor who likes to take risks. The Dresser wants to know how many conductors would allow the possibility that contortionists, strongmen, acrobats, juggler, and aerialists would upstage her orchestra?

Alexander Streltsov & Christine Van Loo (Aerial Duo) 1SM.jpgBefore a sold out audience March 13, 2010, in a program entitled "Cirque de la Symphonie," Alsop led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Bethesda, Maryland's Music Center at Strathmore Hall in program of 20th century music that included (in the order of performance) Francis Poulenc's "The Does," Bela Bartok's "Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin," Erik Satie's "Parade," and Aaron Copland's "Suite from Billy the Kid." Except for the flamboyant Bartok composition, the front of the stage and its airspace had remarkably skilled circus performers moving with the music.

Without the performers, the Dresser was immediately drawn to Alsop's concert program and in fact (should she dare say this) had to pass up a concert by the 21st Century Consort that included a composition by Scott Wheeler, composer the Dresser knows is getting all sorts of recognition. During Poulenc's "The Does," which is a suite drawn from his larger work Les Biches, the Dresser, while mesmerized by a pair of aerialists who at points flew over the orchestra and the first several rows of audience, kept thinking but the performers are stealing the attention from the music, the musicians, and the conductor. However, the Dresser has seen the best in circus performances such as "O" by Cirque du Soleil and she had to admit that the combination of BSO and circus performers was tastefully executed.

Marin Alsop seemed to be having a lot of fun and at points turned to the performers to ensure they were where she expected them to be in the journey through the various compositions. Her introduction to the whacky "Parade," which includes sound effects from shooting guns, the striking keys of an old typewriter, and chains, was much in the tradition of Leonard Bernstein teaching his audience how to really hear the music and, in the case of Alsop's rendering of "Parade," the competition was fierce as two strongmen contortionists moved through a strange set of balancing maneuvers that looked like they were birthing each other. Jarek & Derek Promo 1SM.jpgThe end of the show had Copland's Billy the Kid entangled with a trapeze artist who could also tango and perform swing dance moves called air steps or aerials. There was nothing amateur about any of the circus performers in Alsop's concert.

Thanks to a gracious gift from a set of friends who hold BSO season tickets, the dresser had the best seats in the house and that being the first chairs in an upper level box positioned just a bit in front of the stage. From that height, every movement of the musicians, conductors and performers was in perfect view. What an unusual concert evening.

Here's a poem excerpt from Kristi Maxwell who celebrates parts versus the whole in a poem that begins with flying but is very much a philosophic meditation on logic and love and much in the spirit of Marin Alsop's circus concert.


A wing as a bird.

A wing that catches the wind like the end of a conversation

and responds this way.

When I say bring your arm to bed

the invitation's extended to the not-arm of you.

My body is less polite.

A wing as a mouth you con me with.

I enact a minnow-shaped cabin you press into.

We plane.

Whose resistance feigns air flight demands?

Kristi Maxwell
from "log of dead birds" in Hush Sessions

Copyright © 2009 Kristi Maxwell

Photo #1: aerial artists Alexander Streltsov and Christine Van Loo
Photo #2: hand-balancing artists Jarek and Darek of "Duo Design"


Comments (1)

maxine Kern:

Dear Dresser
Thanks for the poetry, the photos and for reminding me of a performance of Cirque De Symphonie that I saw and loved several years ago.
With Shared appreciation,

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