The Phoenix Symphony gives new meaning to the term “high art” as it hosts Cirque de la Symphonie, an Atlanta-based circus outfit whose world-class aerial dancers, strongmen, jugglers and contortionists help attract new audiences to orchestras across the country.
This month’s performances will be the company’s third visit to Symphony Hall.
“This is one show I like to bring new people to,” says violinist and assistant concertmaster Maggie Martinic.
“This group is really first class. In a way it’s kind of distracting, because you really want to watch it all. So you have to stay focused. We all thoroughly enjoy it.”
The combination is also a nice change of pace for the circus artists, says aerialist Shana Lord, whose resume includes Cirque du Soleil’s “Quidam” tour, the MTV Video Music Awards and Sea World’s “Cirque de la Mer.”
“A lot of the time we’re using music that we’ve heard a million times and it’s just the same tempo all the time,” she says. “Sometimes it’s challenging, but it’s a great way to get into our acts.”
The program serves an introduction to the variety of the classical repertoire. It features several pieces that seem tailor-made for circus — Hector Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival,” Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance” — as well as popular ballet and opera scores such as “Swan Lake” and “Carmen.” Most of it is standard to the musicians, but they will also be playing challenging fare such as Jean Sibelius’ stormy “Finlandia.”
Even though the circus is the main attraction, Martinic says she doesn’t feel at all like she’s playing second fiddle.
“They wouldn’t be anything without the music. We can stand alone, but they need the music. It creates the excitement.”
Cirque de la Symphonie: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 16-17; 4 p.m. Sunday, May 18. Family special (shortened program), 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Symphony Hall, 75 N. Second St., Phoenix. $18-$83; $11-$19 for family special. 602-495-1999, phoenixsymphony.org.
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