Nashville Symphony, performing without a net with ‘Cirque Musica’

circus3For its final pops concert of the 2012-13 season, the Nashville Symphony has transformed the Schermerhorn Symphony Center into a circus big tent. At least, that’s how things felt on Thursday night, as conductor Albert George Schram led the NSO and a host of daredevil acrobats and gymnasts in a program titled “Cirque Musica.”

The performance is similar to what’s usually presented at your typical Cirque du Soleil show, but with one important exception: The music played this weekend is substantially better. Instead of the synth-heavy aerobic dance music that defines so many Cirque du Soleil performances, the NSO is playing light classics.

Throughout the performance, we heard music from Dukas’ “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (excellently played by violinist Kathleen Sloan), among others. It was perhaps not surprising that the acrobatic performances seemed all the more dramatic when accompanied by music that was equally compelling. (It’s worth noting that Nashville electric violinist Tracy Silverman worked out the arrangements for this weekend’s performances.)

Aside from the music, which the NSO played splendidly from beginning to end, the performance had two main features. The first was comedic, which came in the form of the show’s host, Matt Roben, a physical comedian who played a sort Borat-inspired character. He arrived in the concert hall riding a bicycle, struck up an immediate friendship with Albert George Schram (whom he affectionately called “Ags” throughout the show), and engaged in silly banter with the audience and other performers.

circus1The second and more impressive feature was the jaw-dropping acrobatics. Among the most amazing of these artists was Simon Arestov, who climbed to the top of a ladder to do handstands on unstable cylinders while the symphony played “Flight of the Bumblebee” and the “Theme from Star Wars.” During the second half, he sent large geometrically shaped props spinning vertiginously to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

The gymnast Ekaterina Sknarina provided some of the evening’s most uncomfortable looking performances. An amazing contortionist, Sknarina seemed to have the flexibility of a snake, twisting herself into a variety of pretzel-like shapes as the NSO played Marcelo Zarvos’ appropriately named “Love Bended.”

Ashley Winn proved to be a veritable sorceress of the hula hoop, sending multiple hoops into swirling, whirling action to (what else?) the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Evgeny Vasilenko, meanwhile, was a magician of the high wire, executing eye-popping flips and handstands to “Mars” from Holst’s The Planets.

Judging from the rousing ovation, Angelo “AJ Silver” Iodice was likely the evening’s most popular act. He cracked whips and spun lassos to Copland’s ”Hoe Down” from Rodeo and Rossini’s Overture from William Tell.  My favorite act was the violinist Kathleen Sloan, who played music from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with melting lyricism despite the distractions of a performing acrobat onstage and a patron shattering a wine glass in the hall.

In all, it was a thoroughly entertaining evening of music and family entertainment. “Cirque Musica” may not be the greatest show on earth, but it surely offers the most down-to-earth fun you’re likely to find in a concert hall.


Nashville Symphony presents “Cirque Musica.” Performances are 8 p.m. Friday, May 24 and Saturday, May 25 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Tickets are $44 to $129 and are selling out fast. Call 687-6400 or go to

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.