It’s a rare classical music concert that causes shudders and gasps among the audience, but two guest performers made that happen Saturday night at the Alberta Bair Theater.
The Billings Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Anne Harrigan, provided the music. Aerialist Tatyana Petruk and contortionist Olga Pikhienko brought the chills.
The program was stellar enough — Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 8,” which combines the familiar “New World Symphony” with sounds from Dvorak’s Czech countryside, and the lush “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky.
But what made the concert so over-the-top were Petruk and Pikhienko’s stunning gymnastics. Petruk did her work 15 feet over the heads of the orchestra members, spinning herself into white and red silk fabric and then whipping herself upside down and sideways. Her 10-foot drop to within inches of the ABT stage during the thundering finale of “Swan Lake” will be talked about for weeks.
Pikhienko’s work was just as impressive even though it was completed just two feet off the ground on three balance posts. Using only the strength of her arms and core, she was able to balance on two arms, then one, while her legs splayed out every which way.
It was the opening of the BSO’s 62nd season and Harrigan worked for a year to make it special, watching over 200 videos of aerialists to find the right one.
The two-hour concert opened with the national anthem and Harrigan encouraged the audience to sing along with the orchestra.
“Where else do you go and hear 1,400 people singing the national anthem?" Harrigan asked the audience. “I know I heard Anita Rawlinson hit that high note.”
Harrigan acknowledged retiring principal trombonist JR Robertson, who performed with the BSO for 30 years. His son Jemmie Robertson, of Chicago, will take his place in several concerts this season. He accepted Harrigan’s framed and signed photograph of the orchestra on behalf of his dad.
“Thank you so much for the musical memories for JR,” Jemmie told the orchestra.
Then Jemmie and his cousin Aaron Schendel on bass trombone showed the value of JR’s influence on them as they helped usher in the new season ala Dvorak. The work showcases the woodwinds and horns and the orchestra’s precise timing and energy made it dynamic. When the orchestra hit the finale, the violinists’ bows were a blur and the temperature inside the ABT felt like it rose several degrees. The orchestra received a much-deserved standing ovation for the performance.
The next BSO concert is Oct. 13 and it features guest conductor Alastair Willis along with guest violinist Stefan Jackiw.