The circus comes to the Gardner

6 02 2009

Peter Bufano, far right, with members of Cirkestra

Peter Bufano, far right, with members of Cirkestra

Venice is our inspiration for Gardner After Hours this month and it’s time to celebrate Carnevale di Venezia! In that spirit, we’re bringing you a performance by CIRKESTRA, an ensemble made up of the best circus musicians in America that plays an eclectic mix of gypsy, jazz, tango, klezmer, and the ultimately creepy circus waltz.

The Gardner’s Brittany Duncan sat down with Peter Bufano, former circus clown/bandleader/accordionist, to talk about Cirkestra, circus music, and more!

Brittany Duncan: A lot of kids dream of running away to join the circus, but you actually did. How did you get started in the circus?

Peter Bufano: I was born in Bridgeport, CT, the home of P.T. Barnum and the Barnum Museum. My parents took me to the Ringling Brothers circus each year, but they were not circus people or performers of any sort.

My parents really just thought of me as another one of those kids who dreamed about running away with the circus. For my part, no one ever told me that I had to face reality at some point and find something “realistic” to do.

In 1986 I was accepted to Clown College. I was 17 years old.

BD: When and why did you decide to form Cirkestra?

PB: After a performance with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus in late 2004, Jeff Jenkins, a classmate from Clown College, asked me, “Do you want to do a score for a small European Style bigtop tour this summer?”

That’s when I formed Cirkestra. I told my girlfriend at the time that I wanted to name the band something that could convey a “Circus Orchestra.” She said: “Cirkestra.”

BD: What do you think it is about circus music that people respond to?

PB: In the circus the emotion comes from the music. It works on the audience subconsciously. A circus bandleader is like OZ: “Pay no mind to the man behind the screen.”

BD: How do you think audiences experience your music differently without the visual element of the circus performance?

PB: When started presenting our circus music without the circus, I thought, “This will be cool, because we’ll be able to showcase what we do without being upstaged by the giraffes and acrobats.” Ironically people always come up to me after the show and say, “I can see the giraffes and acrobats in my imagination.”

BD: How do you go about writing a piece of music for a particular circus act?

PB: I watch the act during rehearsal and try to imagine what my music can add to it that’s not already there. I try to get the character or the performer in there so that the music will sound like the person who is performing.

BD: Do you still perform with circuses?

PB: This spring we’re working with Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. Dobson, the drummer, is playing with The Big Apple Circus this. I don’t know when the next time I’ll go out on the road for a few years at a time, if ever, but I guess people will always call me a circus musician.

BD: Tell me a little more about the other four performers who will be joining you for the concert on the 19th.

PB: Käthe Hostetter is the violinist. I have a note I wrote to myself about 4 years ago of “5 year goals” and number one was “play as good as Käthe”. Two years ago, we were on tour with Circus Smirkus, and Käthe found a barber chair in the trash and dragged it from town to town for the rest of the tour. In each town, in the back lot, near the trailers, you could see this out-of-place barber chair out in the field, sometimes with her sitting in it reading a book.

Mike Dobson is the drummer. The thing that really sets him apart is how sensitive he is to melody and phrasing. He is the antithesis of a drum machine. He joined us on Circus Smirkus in 2005. He turned me on to Kanye West.

Sammy Lett (Saxophone, clarinet, flute) was introduced to me by his wife who used to play saxophone in the band. He’s very creative at improvising. Sammy never runs out of ideas, I’m trying to learn how he does it.

Mike Milnarik is a tuba player who just started with Cirkestra. We found him on the internet and he’s never played with a circus, but he’s going to this spring for the first time.

BD: What Cirkestra is up to next?

PB: Keep an eye out for the documentary “Circus Dreams.” We created the soundtrack and we’re releasing it on CD as soon as the movie is released on cable TV.

Cirkestra plays at 7PM on Thursday, February 19th in the Gardner’s Tapestry Room. Intrigued? Buy tickets here! <link to:;

A Solstice Soiree December 18th

17 12 2008


Ok, so paganism may not be at the forefront of your mind during this time of year, but fear not, this is not cloaked figures at Stonehenge paganism we’re talking about…we are talking winter solstice which, since ancient times has been a night for revelry: singing, dancing, feasting, and bonfires. Sadly we cannot indulge your desires for fire or dancing-it’s a museum people-but we can certainly satisfy your yen for a little pagan holiday inspired fun.

First up: Music.

There will be Renaissance party music in the courtyard starting at 5:30pm. Yes, you read that right: Renaissance party music. Who knew? If, however, renaissance party music is not your thing, check out the Nadia Washington Quartet as part of the Jazz at the Gardner series; the concert starts at 7pm and requires an After Hours PLUS ticket-check out our link below:

Next up: Feasting.

The Gardner Café will be open during After Hours, serving delicious sweet and savory small plates. Not to be missed is The Poinsettia, a seriously festive cocktail created specifically for this event.

Lastly: That pagan inspired fun I promised.

The Gardner Museum is chock full of Christian imagery, but Mrs. Gardner was never one to say no to a little mischief-so with some digging you’ll find plenty of intriguing pagan-inspired art too. Grab a copy of our self-guided pagan tour to discover images of Hebe, the dispenser of nectar and ambrosia, and the Maenads, followers of Dionysus who were known for their frenzied dancing. Wait – did I say there wouldn’t be dancing…..?

Maggie Moran is the Communications Intern at the Gardner Museum and a big fan of After Hours. She agrees with Mrs. Gardner’s assessment that one should not “spoil a good story by telling the truth,” but would like to assure you that the information contained in this blog post is all completely true.

Groove out to your own Wanderlust on September 18!

10 09 2008

Sigh, wanderlust, it’s the best word isn’t it? It conjures up a longing for travel a la On the Road or The Sun Also Rises (hmm…I think my own summer reading is influencing this post!). But seriously, what better way to kick off a new year of After Hours than exploring the idea of travel as a means for soul searching exploration? Of course you can always just come, grab a drink with a friend, check out the galleries and skip the soul searching bit!

Gardner herself was inveterate traveler, heading to Asia for several months during the late 1880s. Who knew that over 130 years later those incredible travels would inspire another person? For those of you haven’t seen artist Luisa Rabbia’s video project Travels with Isabella, the September 18 After Hours is your chance!

Here, Rabbia has created a moving video of images from Gardner’s own travel scrapbooks from her Asia voyage, fused with drawings by Rabbia. Both old and new, this piece is such a great example of the residency program at the museum and how bringing living artists to the museum infuses the Gardner with new ideas and ways of looking.

Dr. Magpie

Also not to miss is our first After Hours PLUS concert by Dr. Magpie, a fantastic string jazz group fresh out of Berklee College of Music.

Named for a bird that chatters and improvises, Dr. Magpie is composed of six of Berklee’s finest string instrument players, who’ve come together to create a sound that draws equally from Appalachia, New York (both uptown AND downtown), and the freewheeling Left Bank of prewar Paris. It includes two fiddles, two guitars, mandolin, and bass!
Julie Crites is Director of Program Planning for the Gardner Museum and the grand pooh-bah of After Hours. An avid food-lover, gallery-goer and jewelry-maker, Julie is the brains behind at least a couple of the sake-tinis you’ll enjoy over the months at After Hours, so raise a glass to her the next time you’re in the courtyard. You can reach her at jcrites at isgm dot org

Mrs. Gardner Abroad

13 02 2008

Isabella’s India Travel ScrapbookMrs. Gardner compiled 27 scrapbooks during her extensive world travels which included, in part, journeys to Europe, Turkey, Japan and Cuba and each experience was carefully recorded. In some scrapbooks, her observations are made in the style of an anthropologist taking field notes, as she sketched and defined hieroglyphics and illustrated monuments or jotted down excerpts from local myths. In others she included photographs purchased at local photographer’s shops, which catered to the tourist industry. Mrs. Gardner dedicated Sundays to her scrap booking, pasting photographs, pressed flowers and other ephemera into her books. The scrapbooks illustrate the link between her early travels and the later construction of her museum.

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We’ve got rhythm

17 10 2007

Take a sneak peak at this month’s gallery tour:

Sure, we have concerts every Sunday in season, performances throughout the year, and other hip events, but what is the rhythm of the Gardner? Seems obvious that old Isabella Gardner had style, but did she have rhythm? Could she boogie in those heavy, silk and satin, Victorian duds she wore? Let’s look to the design of her museum for answers. This is a short lesson in close looking and spatial awareness.

Think back about how you entered the museum. The entrance hall is low-ceilinged and cramped. Walking into the Spanish Cloister area gives you a bit more breathing room, and you see some art, and a little more interesting scenery. Once in the cloisters, windows allow views outside, and you get obstructed views of the courtyard. Most people naturally move toward the court to get the full view. When finally standing at the edge of the court, space, light, and color explode before you.

The short journey takes you from small, constricted, dark spaces to wide open wonder!

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Preview of coming attractions

20 09 2007

A taste of tonight’s tour of the galleries, in search of Asian objects:

Asian objects make up the third largest category of artworks at the Gardner Museum, after Italian and American art. Isabella Gardner’s interest in Asia began in 1883–84, when she and her husband Jack visited Japan, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, and India. She bought only a few things on this trip, but filled scrapbooks with photographs, notes, flowers, and assorted souvenirs.

Then, around 1901–3, Isabella bought Japanese screens and Chinese scrolls, along with carved and painted wooden panels. Most of these came from dealers’ shops here in Boston. A decade later, she sought a few select masterpieces of Asian art.

Isabella left nothing about why she collected what she did, but you can see from this chronology that an interest in Asia and Asian art ran throughout her life… Read the rest of this entry »

Sonic calligraphy

19 09 2007

Phil James playing shakuhachiI often think of shakuhachi music as sonic calligraphy. Starting from a particular form, the piece of music, you create audible “brush strokes.” As in Japanese calligraphy, the artifacts are part of the art: the roughness of the breath, the unpolished sonorities of the bamboo, the rhythms that flow from the individual performer’s ever-changing physical and emotional state. In calligraphy, the final visual product may be almost unreadable as kanji, even as it expresses the deepest meaning of the characters. It is the same in shakuhachi music: no two performances are the same, and the expression is completely of the moment.

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