Review: A quick change to a quick-change artist for the WV Symphony

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An illness of the conductor of Bugs Bunny at the Symphony forced the West Virginia Symphony to change its pops concerts Saturday at the Clay Center to Cirque de la Symphonie. The substituted program paired concert music with the artistry of circus performers.

The quick switch required a complete change of music. Besides the music the Cirque artists needed, the orchestra repeated a movement from Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony, which it programmed two months ago, played Glinka’s Overture to “Ruslan and Ludmilla,” which it has done frequently, and added the Shostakovich “Festive” Overture that it will play next month to fill out the performance.

The Shostakovich showed that the orchestra was going to be on the mark for the evening. The performance offered thrilling brassy passages but just as many moments of delicate textures that were lucid and invigorating. The hushed phrases for pizzicato strings and winds in the central section was fabulous.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Dance of the Bouffons” displayed the skills of Alina Sergeeva, who kept disappearing inside fabric screens held aloft by jester Vladimir Tsarkov Jr.. Each time, after a few seconds, she emerged wearing a different dress. Tsarkov added levity with bits of physical comedy.

John Williams’ “Harry’s Wondrous World” featured Angela Kim. The aerialist twirled, spun and climbed along parallel strands of fabric dangled from the ceiling of the Maier Performance Hall’s stage. Her flexibility and daring were astounding, and the spins and splits terrifying when she was over six meters off the floor. Williams’ composition is one of his best and the middle section with its shimmer of harp and metal percussion instruments gleamed.

Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide” had Tsarkov juggling by bouncing three, then four, then six balls to the shifting beats of the music. This surprising skill included a neat choreography of the music’s form and textural changes. Conductor Lawrence Loh drew a dandy performance from the orchestra with detailed textures and vibrant sororities.

Williams’ “Flight to Neverland” from “Hook” featured aerialist Stuart McKenzie flying and twirling impossibly on a wire dangled from the ceiling. His ability to hold the wire with one arm behind his back and then do gymnast-like maneuvers was jaw-dropping.

Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Swans” brought the quick-change artist Sergeeva and the jester Tsarkov back and drew conductor Loh into a trick. She was tied with her hands behind her back by two ropes. Loh joined her inside her screen. When the screen dropped, she was wearing Loh’s coat and was still tied in the ropes.

In Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” Tsarkov twirled a lighted coil on a rope. The darkness of the hall let the red light of the coil stand out, giving its darting movements a blurry wonder. The orchestra’s rhythmic coordination was not quite tight at times.

Kabalevsky’s Overture to “Colas Breugnon” was a playful display of hula hoops by Sergeeva. I didn’t know you could start twirling a hula hoop from it lying on the floor just by using your feet. But she did this while twirling two others with her hands. Eventually she was twirling a dozen hula hoops in cascades of shimmering colors making it appear she was inside a multi-hued Slinky.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espangnol had Kim and McKenzie doing amazing aerial feats. Kim was skating on roller blades, adding more difficulty and wonder to the act. The orchestra sounded polished on this chestnut of the repertoire.

Sibelius’ “Finlandia” was the finale with strong men Gabor Czivisz and Iouri Safronov. Standing up from a squat with the other man balanced on his back, balancing upside down shoulder-to-shoulder and balancing on hands while hold the body parallel to the floor while the other man was lying on the back were just a few of the tricks. The orchestra sounded rich and dark. The rapid fluttering in the double basses that underlays the chorale sounded pristine.

The orchestra had two performances, drawing 300 in the afternoon and over 1,000 in the evening.

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