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Orchestre symphonique de Montréal Brings in the Acrobats

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
05/28/2012 -  
Hector Berlioz: Le Corsaire, overture, op. 21
Dmitri Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, op. 77
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé, ballet

Andrew Wan (Violin)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Kent Nagano, (Conductor), OSM Chorus, Andrew Megill, (Choir Master)
Cirque Eloize

(© Olivier Pontbriand/La Presse)

Since Kent Nagano became music director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) in 2006, the orchestra has been reaching out to younger audiences through live video projections on the outdoor plaza, performances in hockey arenas and concerts with local pop stars. To close the 2011-12 season, the OSM invited a local circus, Cirque Eloize, who also performed at the inauguration of the OSM’s new home last September, to provide a “choreography” to Ravel’s complete ballet score, Daphnis et Chloé. (Montréal is also home to the renowned Cirque du Soleil, to which the smaller Cirque Eloize bears a resemblance.) But Montréal has a first-class classical ballet company, Les Grands ballets canadiens, and one has to wonder why they were not used to repeat the ballet originally written for this score by Michel Fokine exactly 100 years ago.

One has to give Cirque Eloize, however, their due. Using hoops, triangles and swings suspended from the ceiling and manipulated by stagehands with pulleys at each side of the stage, the nine acrobats, contortionists and dancers provided some jaw-dropping and stomach-churning feats downstage (with the orchestra cramped at the back of the stage not only for the Ravel but for the first half of the concert). The brightly colored costumes, the artificial fog (or resin for the acrobats?) in the air and the suggestive lighting (yes the hall was bathed in yellow for “Lever du jour”) recalled the set of a Baz Luhrmann film. I doubt, however, that Ravel would have approved. Many of the acts involved such extreme contortions and gymnastic feats that attention to the music and the storyline was often lost.

This was a pity, as this work is one of the glories of the OSM repertory (a recording from 1980 with former music director Charles Dutoit is a classic), and Tuesday night’s performance was ravishing—plenty of orchestral color, sweeping crescendos, impeccable balance, glistening glissandos, a sensational flute solo from Timothy Hutchins (who is also highlighted on the 1980 recording) and ethereal singing from the OSM Chorus.

During the first half of the concert, the young Andrew Wan (one of the two OSM concertmasters), gave an impressive performance of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1. He played the mournful “Nocturne” with a singing tone and loving sensitivity. His crystal-clear concluding high notes were spine-tingling. The “Scherzo” was a fine vehicle for his fresh, nimble technique. The dramatic “Passacaglia” had plenty of soul and body, especially with the supporting tuba and basses, and he tossed off the treacherous “Cadenza” with breathtaking precision. He was no less blistering in the “Burlesque” finale.

Although Nagano failed to bring out many of the other orchestral voices in the Shostakovich concerto, he did so in the overture to Le Corsaire, which featured silken strings, crisp and bright woodwinds and prominent brass. The overall sound reaching the back of the first tier balcony, however, was somewhat muted—nowhere near the clarity elicited from the orchestra by former OSM music director Rafael Frühbeck Burgos in last week’s performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. The opening of the concert was marred, as is increasingly the case, by eight minutes of house-keeping speeches.

Cirque Eloize

Earl Arthur Love



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