Review: Akron Symphony ‘Global Circus’

By Malcolm Bamba

‘One ticket for the Global Circus’ — a program which was brought to life by the Akron Symphony on Saturday, February 25th at E.J. Thomas Hall through the trapezing movements of a regional orchestra seeking to celebrate the musics of Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Brazil.

‘Come one, come all’ ASO music director Christopher Wilkins said at the start of the program. Through the charming Turkish March — a work by Mozart that takes inspiration from various folk traditions. While a smaller ensemble may have been expected when playing to the stylistic conventions of compositions within the classical period, here a reduced ensemble presented a clear pathway for expansion towards contemporary works showcased later in the program.

Kareem Roustom’s Dabke arouses the mainstream intrigue of Cirque Du Soleil in its ability to jump from cliff to cliff without assistance of a sonic throughline — harness nor tether. 

The piece, which originated as a series of Arab folk dances, evokes birds in flight; textures that ride the line between stoic and soaring. This harmonic melodrama builds into an narrative of ideas which takes center stage for a conflict among foreign lands. Languid cellos and seductive violins can be interpreted as a representation of a waltz between raging bull and red coat. The work is sweeping and dramatic — a theatrical start to the program. 

A great circus act should elicit mother nature’s band of misfits — bears with bow ties, cowardly lions, elephants with big ears, and with Bizet’s L’Arlesienne — a murder of flying insects. The piece conjures the sound of a hundred hornets — ones looking to punctuate their stingers into the percussive might of an ensemble likened here to a nest. Horns lead a death march away from springtime laughter and play, signaling an end to the fire breathing French hornist. Various excerpts from the original L’Arlesienne were programmed and met with fantastic success.

After intermission Afghan composer and conductor Milad Yousufi took charge as the ring-master of his composition Freedom. The work chronicles the arrival of an young Afghan boy to America and is accompanied by a carnival of colorful paintings that are projected on a screen overhead. These images highlight various cultural motifs and iconography reflective of Yousufi’s cultural background — one such example projects women in hijabs against the backdrop of Arabic lettering across a spiral of saffron reds and mustard yellows.

“We all belong to the same spirit”  Sahba Aminikias said, taking the stage to conduct his work House of the Circus. The work is accompanied by a short film showcasing Syrian refugees of the Sirkhane Social Circus School — highlighting talents such as juggling, aerial movements, stilt walking, and dance. 

House of The Circus is like a race horse at the casino derby, moving between the frantic, and comedic — all the while plotting something fabulously unnerving. Cymbals, like those of a wind-up monkey, lead a jazzy tune reflective of an Arabian sandstorm. At one point shakers are brought in, bringing a few head bobs in the audience like kernels popped under red-hot neon lights.

No circus show is complete without a show-stopping variety act, which the program offers through Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes. The work opens up with a stunning cello and harp duet that, among the blue lighting scattered across the stage, might’ve caught the attention of some mythological figures, enticed by the divine opulence of the duo’s sound.  The work also showcases the concert’s first viola solo, which acted to fill the night’s top billing. An elegant illustration of medieval tragedy for a hero whose tale had met its natural conclusion among a scurrying of mice-like pizzicatos.

The Ginastera was the perfect culmination for a night that sent its audience on a tour of the world in hopes of showing a diversity of historically underrepresented voices. And the best part about this Global Circus was its exclusion of anything akin to a clown-like catastrophe.

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