The Bach Aria Soloists usually perform music from the baroque era. The NewEar Contemporary Ensemble is known for ear-bending, 21st-century music.
By PATRICK NEAS
Special to The Star
Put both groups together and you have what promises to be the best combination since H.B. Reese introduced peanut butter to chocolate.
The two ensembles will join forces for music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Igor Stravinsky on Feb. 22 at Community Christian Church.
The concert will begin with Bachs Sonata for Violin and Continuo in E minor. It will be performed by violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane, artistic director of the Bach Aria Soloists, harpsichordist Elisa Bickers and double bassist Jeff Harshbarger.
Its a really great piece that I just love, Lane said. Its very progressive in its harmonic usage, with little fantasia-like first and second movements, and the last movement based on baroque dances, the allemande and gigue. Its concise but really brilliant.
The main work on the program is Stravinskys Soldiers Tale, a work for three actors and seven musicians. Local actor Mark Robbins will get a workout performing all three roles.
The work is based on an old Russian folk tale, The Runaway Soldier and the Devil, the story of a violin-playing soldiers encounter with the devil. Although it was written in 1918, it still sounds fresh and modern, with its spiky rhythms and pungent harmonies.
The music depicts the story, so some of the music may not be the most beautiful, Lane said. Theres a lot of humor, a lot of sardonic wit, and the violin represents so much of the action, that its writing is also raw.
Sometimes the harmonies are not pleasant. Theyre meant not to be. In the dances you hear jazz and tango and Viennese-style waltzes. One of the movements is even called Ragtime. All of that was really exciting for the time that he wrote it.
Soldiers Tale features especially virtuosic writing for percussion, which will showcase NewEar percussionist Mark Lowry. William Schrickel, a bass player with the Minnesota Orchestra, is being brought in to conduct the proceedings, and Andrew Granade, head of the musicology department at the University of Missouri-Kansas Citys Conservatory of Music and Dance, will give a pre-concert lecture about the connection between Bach and Stravinsky.
Were really excited, Lane said. To tell you the truth, in brainstorming with Mark Lowry about what we could do together, the first thing that came to my mind was Stravinsky because NewEar focuses on 20th- and 21st-century music.
This is kind of an older work for them and a newer work for us, but I think it should be very new for the audience.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart might be one of the most popular composers who ever lived, but much of his music is hardly ever performed live, especially his voluminous sacred music.
Luckily for us, Musica Sacra Chorus and Orchestra is devoted to performing lesser-known masterpieces of the classical era with a special emphasis on Mozart. Feb. 22, it will perform a Mass by Mozart in St. Francis Xavier Church that has probably never been performed in Kansas City.
Timothy McDonald, artistic director of Musica Sacra, has unearthed a real gem, the Waisenhaus Messe, or Orphanage Mass, written by Mozart in 1768.
Its an extraordinary piece, McDonald said. Its unbelievable that Mozart was 12 years old when he wrote it. It doesnt necessarily have the maturity of his later works, but its a fine piece. It has an extraordinary energy. It is lyrical, it is lovely.
Its written for full strings, oboes, trumpet and timpani and has these beautiful classical era harmonies. But I think the thing thats most remarkable about it is the energy level.
Theres another rarity on the program, too, the motet Beatus Vir by Johann Adolph Hasse.
Hasse was a very well-known composer in his time, McDonald said. He wrote a lot of operas, a lot of sacred music. He was often compared to Handel. This is one of his psalm settings, which he wrote in what was known as the stile antico, the ancient style.
He used different techniques to give the impression of the motet being older, being ancient. For example, theres no differentiated dynamics or tempo. Thats all part of the stile antico.
The concert will open with a short work in honor of an English composer who died last November, John Tavener. Musica Sacra will perform one of Taveners most popular works, The Lamb, based on the poem by William Blake.
His death was such a loss for the music world and the world in general, McDonald said. Tavener was a gentle, spiritual soul. Theres such a spirituality about his music. He had a vast knowledge of music history.
He knew (Ludwig van) Beethoven and Mozart intimately, and yet he strove to find his own voice. His music was unique in its mixture of consonance and dissonance, the texts he used, his fascination with orthodoxy. The symbolic world, the liturgical world really touched him. The man was profound in so many ways.
David Finckel and Wu Han
The Wall Street Journal calls them the power couple of chamber music.
Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han are indeed incredibly accomplished musicians. Finckel studied with Mstislav Rostropovich and played cello in the Emerson String Quartet from 1979 to 2013.
Han has won a boatload of first prizes in music competitions and studied with Rudolf Serkin and Menahem Pressler. Finckel and Han will perform together in recital on Feb. 22 in Yardley Hall.
The husband-and-wife team will perform music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Felix Mendelssohn, Claude Debussy and Benjamin Britten. One of the programs highlights will be the Sonata for Piano and Cello No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Lunch and Listen
Hows this for a free concert? Ho Ahn, master cellist, member of the Kansas City Symphony and all-around nice guy will give a Lunch and Listen recital Feb. 20 at Visitation Church. You can bring your lunch, so I would suggest a container of hot chicken noodle soup. Then relax and enjoy the rich, mellow sound of Ahns cello in the warm embrace of Visitation Church. You will have defeated Old Man Winter.
11:45 a.m. Feb. 20 at Visitation Church, 5141 Main St. Free. VenueVisitation.net