The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston)

February 19, 2009

The breadth and diversity of cultural experiences available here in Boston is amazing. So perhaps it should not surprise me that I could walk four minutes beyond my front door to find myself transported to another world in the sumptuously-appointed Tapestry Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, listening to a hauntingly anachronistic yet infectiously lively performance of… circus music. (But surprise me it does!)

One must clarify what we mean by circus music. “What makes it circus music,” writes bandleader, accordionist, and former clown Peter Bufano in the concert program, “is that I wrote it for the circus.” What he means is that their music has nothing in common with Thunder and Blazes or Wurlitzer band organs. It is a study of circus music from multifarious regions and traditions. Middle eastern grooves give way to strains of jazz. Klezmer becomes Turkish. The waltzes are dark and creepy but swinging—minor-key reminders of the festive and more intimate circuses of the past.

Bufano’s expressive accordion pairs nicely with the complementary timbre of Käthe Louise Hostetter’s five-string fiddle. Michael Dobson’s drumming is subtle but complex and peppered with occasional novelty sounds. Michael Milnarik holds things together on the tuba while Sammy Lett lets loose with sweet staccato sax solos. Sublime.

Cirkestra, like the circus, is meant to be enjoyed live, but their records are pretty impressive too. Check them out.