Chicago Philharmonic-Cirque de la Symphonie Review- A Night of Soaring Music and Performance

On Saturday night, May 28, 2016, the Chicago Philharmonic under the baton of conductor Scott Speck, put on a remarkable concert in conjunction with Cirque de la Symphonie, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, Chicago, where it is a new resident company. The Harris, with its superb acoustics, sightlines and proscenium with its soaring high ceiling was a perfect venue for the joint orchestra/circus. It was a night of spectacular performance to be remembered forever.


Chicago Philharmonic with Christine Van Loo; photo courtesy of Elliot Mandel

The Chicago Philharmonic is an American orchestra based in Chicago, founded in 1988 by principals of the Lyric Opera Orchestra of Chicago, consisting of over 200 local classic music performers.  Since 2012, the Chicago Philharmonic has been the official orchestra for the Joffrey Ballet, and since 2013, the artistic director and principal conductor has been Scott Speck. The multi-talented Speck, also an author and speaker, has inspired worldwide winning accolades such as “Scott Speck is a great communicator of classical music. He exudes his passion for music in every gesture and every word”. Speck is also quite the circus-act facilitator- he gamely took part in a magic act with the Cirque actors.


Cirque de la Symphonie is a production that was formed to bring the magic of the circus to the music hall. Its artists are chosen veterans of famed circuses around the world, and include strongmen, jugglers, acrobats, contortionists, aerial performers and balancers. Each of these artists perform to either popular contemporary music or in collaboration, as here, with the maestro to classical masterpieces.


Poster outside the Harris Theater; photo courtesy of Debra Davy

On May 28th, 5 wonderful circus artists stunned and thrilled the audience to a dozen conducted works; the orchestra members also performed three splendid pieces sans Cirque. Several of the pieces were immediately recognizable and perfectly suited-as one would expect-to circus work, such as the hilarious audience-engaging electric juggling of Vladimir Tsarkov, mime/clown/impresario, to “Sabre Dance” from “Gayaneh”, by Aram Khatchaturian, and the breathtaking Elena Tsarkova’s ribbon dance in air to the “CanCan “ from “Orpheus in the Underworld” by Jaques Offenbach. Similarly, Alexander Streltsov’s spinning shapes and Vladimir Tsarkov’s extraordinary ring juggling- (he did it with his feet and head!)-were both impeccably set to excerpts from George Bizet’s “Carmen”.  It should be mentioned that the physically astonishing contortion work and dance performed by Elena Tsarkova  to another piece of Khatchaturian, the “Valse” from “Masquerade”, was a visual spectacle second to none.


The evening opened with the thrilling main title from “Superman” by John Williams and then the beauteous Christine Van Loo climbed gracefully on fabric nearly into the sky, displaying balletic aerialist skills to the strains of “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint Saens, and exquisitely accompanied by Robert Hanford on violin. Later in the program, Hanford played  a virtuoso solo, the "Meditation" from “Thais” by Jules Massenet, which provided a lustrous auditory interlude between the circus acts. Fittingly, the evening ended with Van Loo and Alexander Streltsov performing an aerial pas de deux of utter elegance and  sheer strength to the luscious music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the “Valse” from “Swan Lake”. Speck introduced this last and, in closing the program, noted that the Philharmonic often performed the Russian composer’s music; indeed, the first act after the intermission, the Tsarkov couple’s magic act including Speck, had also been set to a piece from that famous ballet- the “Danse de Cygnes”. Whether or not Speck was in front of the orchestra at the baton, or having his coat magically appear on Madame Tsarkova, the music was bewitchingly wafted into the theater!


Poster for the concert; photo courtesy of Debra Davy

Earlier in the program, this duo had performed a contagiously hilarious “Quick Change” magic act to “Tico Tico No Fuba”, arranged by Dragon and composed by Zequinha de Abreu. He draped her in voluminous satin again and again-and she emerged newly clad again and again in splendid and conspicuously complex raiment!


Of course, the aerial work was impressive and lovely, including Vitali Buza’s performance on aerial straps to the second selection of the evening by John Williams, the charming and exciting “Flight to Neverland” from “Hook”- the third being the literally stellar “Across the Stars” from “Star Wars Episode 11”, in the second half of the show. However, it was Buza’s mesmerizing work on the Cyr wheel, to the absolutely gorgeous strains of Rimsky-Korsakov’sDanse des Bouffons” from “The Snow Maiden” that made this reviewer’s jaw drop.


A Cyr wheel is an acrobatic apparatus that consists of a single ring made of aluminum or steel with a diameter about 4 to 6 inches taller than the performer. Buza stood inside the Cyr wheel and grasped it’s rim, causing it to roll and spin like a gyroscope while he performed acrobatic moves in and around the rotating wheel!


Whether quick-changing, juggling, or climbing and contorting above the audience, the principals of Cirque de Symphonie combined with the great Chicago Philharmonic to produce a surround -sound extravaganza of wonder.


Alexander Streltsov and Christine Van Loo; photo courtesy of Cirque de la Symphonie


For information and tickets to other great musical events, check the Chicago Philarmonic website




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