Cirque de la Symphonie Surfs Back to QCSO’s Holiday Pops

November 13, 2015 8:00 pm  •  David Burke dburke@qctimes.com

Benjamin Klemme's fondest memory of last year's Quad-City Symphony Orchestra Holiday Pops is what he didn't see.

The 33-year-old Davenport native was conducting the orchestra in his first season as its associate conductor. Holiday Pops, long performed at the iWireless Center in Moline, had moved back to the Adler Theatre in Davenport.

The guest performers were members of Cirque de la Symphonie, which created holiday-themed routines to the music the orchestra was performing.

"The audience is very, very close to the action — and so is the orchestra, to be honest with you," Klemme recalled. "My back was to the audience throughout much of what happened on stage, but there were several times when I was conducting when I felt breeze from flying people on the back of my head."

In the year since, Klemme has become the artistic director of Holiday Pops — replacing Steve Jobman, who left the Quad-Cities for a church music position at a Presbyterian church in Dallas — as well as again conducting the orchestra.

And he's watching his back this year, as Cirque de la Symphonie returns.

"The audience response to last year's concert was so overwhelmingly positive that we chose to invite them again," Klemme said of the decision, made by the whole of the orchestra. "The musicians said this would be a good collaboration to extend into its third visit (including a non-Holiday Pops event)."

Klemme said the Cirque performers are a perfect fit with the musicians.

"The orchestra really gets a chance to shine musically in collaboration with them," he said. "It's really a great partnership."

The program will be all new, Klemme said.

"They and I worked very closely together to arrange a completely new set of repertoire and a new set of acts that they'll be presenting," he said. "It'll be an exciting extension for those who came last year."

Jobman's former choir at First Presbyterian Church in Davenport remains a part of the program, as well as the Quad-City Symphony Youth Chorus.

With the orchestra and leaving room for the Cirque performers is close quarters but still workable, Klemme said.

"We do make some accommodations on stage with the technical setup of Cirque de la Symphonie. It all fits and everybody's comfortable," he said. "It's nice performing in the Adler because we in the orchestra really get outstanding feedback acoustically. We're able to present ourselves at our very best in the Adler."

Klemme said he refrained from putting his own mark on the concert because of the memory-making elements that are part of its structure.

"I want to continue this tradition of signaling in the new season. And giving space for a bit of nostalgia too, so some of the music gets the audience into the holiday spirit and gives them memories of their favorite Christmases," he said. "It brings the community together at a busy and important time of year."

Klemme recalls seeing the Holiday Pops concert as a youth, which was part of what spurred his career in music.

"The Quad-City Symphony Orchestra is the first orchestra I ever heard," he said. "This orchestra is really responsible for giving me an unquenchable passion for orchestral music."

Klemme, a trombone player in concert and jazz bands at Pleasant Valley High School, also played with the Q-C Symphony's youth ensembles.

"It fueled a fire that was burning pretty hot already," he said.

Klemme received his bachelor of arts degree in music from the University of Northern Iowa and his master's from the Cleveland Institute of Music.

It was while returning to the Quad-Cities a few years ago, on a break from work at the Santa Fe (N.M.) Youth Symphony that he dropped in on an orchestra rehearsal to see his old band director.

What he got instead was instant admiration for the conductor and musical director who would become his musical mentor.

"I observed Mark Russell Smith's rehearsal and I said, 'This leadership is unparalleled and this artistry is unparallelled.' I then pursued the opportunity to study conducting with him at the University of Minnesota," Klemme said.

"My life as an artist has been changed to know him, first to study under him and then be a colleague of his," he added.

Being a conductor of the youth symphony where he was once a member, he said, is "really gratifying and an honor that I can't describe sufficiently."

The highlight of his week, he said, are the youth rehearsals on Sunday nights.

"It's something that's very rewarding," he said. "Those young musicians are amazing and inspiring human beings."