Dec. 31, 2013
Bramwell Tovey, conductor
Tracy Dahl, soprano
Travis and Jaimee Tuft, Joanna Meller, Slawek Roszak, MalachI Osai and Waszkiewicz, dancers
Conductor-composer Bramwell Tovey was such a huge hit conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Christmas concert last year and he was back for this year’s New Year’s Eve concert with his quick quips in full party mode — teasing the musicians or joking about Toronto’s boozy, crack- smoking mayor. Tovey even poked fun at late-arriving audience members: “I saw them drinking champagne earlier in their limo, surprised they got here.” Sharing a story about marriage he intimated, “I don‘t know why I am telling you this except to say that it‘s cheaper than therapy.” His shtick doesn’t cheat an otherwise great evening of music. What he conjures in the Strauss clan waltzes makes you forget every care and hear them anew. Tovey, originally from Britain, is musical director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
This guest maestro also becomes very dancey on the podium. During J. Strauss Jr.s’ “perpetuo mobile” he conducts on one foot, throwing in over expressive arm movements and capping it off with a scrambling pirouette. Later, he popped a bottle of champagne almost on cue to “The Champagne Polka” slugging back two flutes and handing glasses to some of the string players. “It’s better than what they gave me at the New York Phil.”
Speaking of polkas, top international ballroom dance teams were arranged through Dance Affiliates — Travis and Jaimee Tuft; Joanna Meller and Slawek Roszak; and the new-gen dance duo Malachi Osai, 20, and Annabella Waszkiewicz, 16. The couples danced in front of the orchestra on various numbers with precision, although there wasn’t much swirl room to work, dancing on the skirt of the stage, and some of the lift patterns looked labored. Mostly though, the three couples danced impeccably clean quicksteps and classic waltz patterns. The dance highlight is Strauss Jr.‘s “Thunder and Lightening Polka,” a showcase for more folkloric patterning and czardas stepping, danced with earthy esprit by Meller and Roszak.
The vocal guest was Soprano Tracy Dahl, at first a bit underpowered for Strauss, Jr.’s “Mein Herr Marquis” from “Die Fledermaus,” but more than made up for it in “Voices of Spring Waltz.” and Franz Lehar’s “Silver and Gold Waltz” and especially “Mein Lippen, sie kussen so heiss” from Lehar’s “Giuditta.” At Tovey’s request, Dahl added a bittersweet aria from “The Merry Widow,” and it was the vocal highlight. The finale was “The Blue Danube Waltz,” danced by all three couples. Tovey set the scene: “You can see the chandeliers of the great ballroom and ladies in long evening gloves covering their tattoos…” He just can’t stop himself.
Cirque de la Symphonie
Jan 3, 2014
A few nights later, a mini-blizzard and freezing temps didn’t stop scads of children ushering their parents in to catch the acrobats from Cirque de la Symphonie. This troupe has been adding more and more orchestras for broad crossover appeal and though it may sound gimmicky, it proves to satisfy both fans of orchestra and circus magic. Philadelphia Orchestra Associate Conductor Cristian Măcelaru is very engaged with performers in front and at times over the orchestra (and audience). He packed the program with more obscure but otherwise glittering showpieces that called everyone to attention, starting with the rousing “Colas Breugnon” overture by Dimitri Kabalevsky.
Among the many visual and music highlights: Sagiv Ben Binyamin and Aloysia Gavre performed a very gymnastic tango to Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon,” setting the bar immediately for degree of difficulty with lift patterns and dual body sculptures that keep evolving to perilous positions.
Later Binyamin dangled on a chord 40 feet up and is underscored, deftly by Wagner‘s “Ride of the Valkyries.” The moves fit the epic music as he spins, wraps and twirls himself into slipknots that release to various mind-boggling feats. The strength moves and agility is off the charts, and this aerial gymnast is always smiling.
The dervish clamor of Cindy McTee’s “Circuits” had a score with clamoring bells, blocs and woodwinds along with Vladimir Tsarkov, a comic- juggler-mime in a glittery red and black sequin romper , whose choreography was funny and completely hypnotic. Elena Tsarkova was a sculptural-gymnast whose contortions on two rotating metal stools did not make you cringe. Later, Tsarkov turned magician as Tsarkova changed elaborate costumes — from tsarina garb to 1920s flapper to a ballroom dance gown — in the blink of a bedazzled eye.
Măcelaru turned up the lush salon atmospherics of Camille Saint-Saens’ “Bacchanale” from “Samson and Delilah.” Vitalli Buza is the man in the steel hoop that spins like a top around the stage. The finale featured the gold-painted, Grecian-briefed Jarek and Darek, aka Polish national hand-balancing champions Jaroslaw Marciniak and Dariusz Wronski, posing like statues on a pedestal scored to the menacing “Finlandia” by Jan Sibelius. The duo then executed a slow-motion balancing act, with Jarek in a single arm handstand on Darek’s head. The men displayed not only superhuman strength, but hair-raising balancing positions that kept evolving.