Violinist Pinchas Zukerman has been performing in Kansas City ever since he became a touring musician in the 1960s.
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra founded in 1972 has made numerous appearances here. On Friday, the Friends of Chamber Music bring Zukerman and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra together in a program of classical favorites that includes Zukerman as soloist in works by Ludwig Van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
It’s fair to say that Zukerman and Orpheus are Kansas City favorites. They light up the stage and fire up the audience with their charisma and impeccable musicianship.
Zukerman will bring his virtuosity to Beethoven’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G Major, Op. 40 and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216.
“The Beethoven Romance is beautiful,” Zukerman said. “It’s got a beautiful first section and a very clear middle section and ends in a very ethereal sort of way. It’s just wonderful music, as most Beethoven is.”
Zukerman thinks Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 is equally beautiful. Mozart wrote the concerto for himself to play when he was 19.
“He obviously must have been a very good violinist,” Zukerman said. “To sustain that beautiful legato line is not easy. It’s like an aria. Just beautiful. The last movement is a happy-go-lucky kind of rondo. But the concerto also has a quality of darkness in it, drama. It’s all very interesting stuff. But you better play in tune — or otherwise fuhgeddaboudit.”
As an outsider who has only made occasional visits here, Zukerman has an interesting perspective on Kansas City and how it’s changed over the years. Zukerman has a great fondness for the city, but is honest enough to point out that there have been low points.
“I remember Kansas City going through hell,” he said. “It was the top of the music profession in the ’60s and ’70s, and then it had a huge dip. Most places did, economically. But there was particularly harsh stuff happening in Kansas City. For many years, it was an avoidable city, which is unfortunate because you have one of the best audiences in the world. But it’s been revived now in the past 10 to 15 years. People are giving from their bank accounts, but it’s not just their bank accounts. They really want to hear the best there is.”
Zukerman’s relationship to Kansas City has deepened in recent years since his boyhood friend, Michael Stern, became music director of the Kansas City Symphony in 2005. Isaac Stern, Michael’s father, discovered Zukerman in Israel in 1962 and brought him to America and became the young violinist’s mentor at Juilliard and guided his career as an international violin superstar.
“Obviously Michael comes from the best ingredients,” Zukerman said. “The Stern ingredient is pretty damn good, as we all know. It has to do with honesty in music, what his dad taught us all. His dad was unbelievable.”
Zukerman never takes his skill for granted. He continues to maintain an incredibly intense practice schedule. It’s a devotion to music that was instilled in him by Isaac Stern.
“I work my ass off every day,” he said. “I practice my scales. I just got through practicing one hour. My ongoing dedication to the profession is absolutely without any hesitation. I don’t think twice about anything except making it better every day. I teach like that, I play like that and I live like that.”
Zukerman, whom the Los Angeles Times has described as a “forever-young virtuoso,” has an unflagging passion for music. It is music, Zukerman says, that will make America great again.
“I talk about it whenever I can,” he said. “Bring back mandatory music education for the little ones, starting at the age of 6 or 7. We have to bring it back, particularly in America.”
St. Matthew Passion
English composer Edward Elgar called Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion the “noblest sacred work in existence.”
Hearing Bach’s almost three-hour masterpiece performed by the right choir is certainly a moving musical experience and an opportunity not to be missed.
The William Baker Festival Singers will perform the St. Matthew Passion at 2 p.m. Saturday at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Joshua Lawlor will sing the role of Jesus. Other soloists include Sarah Tannehill Anderson, Kristee Haney, Tytus Abrahamson and Paul Davidson. The audience also will have a chance to participate, by singing the chorales. The entire work will be sung in English.
“As much as I love anything German, and have done the passions in German for historical merit, I believe uncompromisingly that Bach’s wish for the Matthew is that it is done in the vernacular,” William Baker said, “or as Robert Shaw says, ‘in the language the listener dreams, hopes, remembers, thinks, loves and believes.’ ”
▪ 2 p.m. Saturday . Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St. $20-$50. Tickets available at the door or at www.festivalsingers.org.
The Heartland Men’s Chorus led by Dustin Cates will explore the many facets of choral music, from sacred to folk to current pop, when it presents “Perfect Pitch” on Saturday and March 20 at the Folly Theater. The 120-voice choir will be joined by the youth choir Kansas City A Cappella and beatboxer Luke Harbur for a program that includes works as diverse as “Loch Lomond” and a choral arrangement of the Imagine Dragons’ hit “Radioactive.”
This seems to be a golden age of choral music in Kansas City. There are so many top-notch ensembles doing so much extraordinary music. One group, Musica Vocale, conducted by local choral legend Arnold Epley, is an important part of this illustrious scene. Musica Vocale will present “Contemporary Viewpoints from Our Centuries” on Sunday at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral.
The program encompasses works from the modern era, including “What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?” by Melissa Dunphy and “Christus Est Vita” by William Jewell College alumnus Stewart Duncan. Mezzo-soprano Aidan Soder is the soloist for Aaron Copland’s “In the Beginning” and organist John Schaefer is featured prominently in the Missa Brevis by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.
▪ 2 p.m. Sunday. Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St. $10-$15. Tickets at the door. For more information about Musica Vocale, visit www.musicavocale.org.
You can reach freelance classical music writer Patrick Neas at email@example.com.