What really grabbed me was the program's inclusion of a Stravinsky opusculum, the Circus Polka, and a genuine Great American Piece by a Great American Composer, Aaron Copland's Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo (both composed in 1942). Commissioned by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for its elephant troupe, the rambunctious Circus Polka premiered just as Stravinsky's career seemed in decline. With a flotilla of relatives to support, Stravinsky rode from pillar to post in the early 1940s, accepting a strange array of commissions (including one from jazz clarinetist Woody Herman), conducting his greatest hit (The Firebird), and perpetually hunting for a lucrative movie-scoring gig that never materialized. Gloomy circumstances aside, Circus Polka's sprightly, off-kilter rhythms still conjure a smile. The ballet Rodeo proved to be Copland's zenith; the four dance episodes he extracted rank among his greatest works and embody the best of classical music: a swaggering sonic behemoth whose epic sweep gives goose bumps every time. CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI
The SYSO performs Sun May 4 (Benaroya Hall, Third Ave and Union St, 362-2300), 3 pm, $7-$35.