The Kansas City Symphony will open its fifth season in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts with an over-the-top romantic violin concerto, a powerful symphony by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and a rapturous curtain-raiser by American composer Patrick Harlin. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Oct. 2 in Helzberg Hall.
Michael Stern will conduct the program, which opens with the rhythmic, driving minimalism of Harlin’s “Rapture.” The work was inspired by a 2007 expedition into the Krubera Cave in the republic of Georgia, the deepest cave on Earth.
“I find it incredibly evocative,” Stern said. “The deepest cave could be a little claustrophobic, but there’s something mysterious and exhilarating about the music, and it’s very well-crafted.”
After “Rapture,” Stefan Jackiw is the soloist for Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto. This will be Jackiw’s third appearance with the Kansas City Symphony. The 31-year-old violinist says he greatly appreciates the orchestra.
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“The Kansas City Symphony has a kind of eagerness and excitement about the music that they’re playing, which I feel as a guest,” he said. “I can feel that they’re happy to be there and really want to bring the music alive, and that’s something I look forward to in an orchestra.”
The Korngold concerto will call on all the passion Jackiw and the Symphony can muster. Dedicated to Alma Mahler and first performed by Jascha Heifetz and the St. Louis Symphony in 1947, the concerto luxuriates in fin-de-siécle Viennese romanticism.
“Korngold was also a great film composer,” Jackiw said. “Even though this piece wasn’t written for film, it still has this Hollywood, dramatic sweep and an incredible, songful, romantic line. There’s a lot of playful fire and drama in the last movement and heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism in the slow movement. It’s that generosity and indulgence in drama that I try to bring to his music.”
For all of its audience-friendly qualities, the Korngold is not nearly as well-known as violin concertos by Johannes Brahms and Ludwig Van Beethoven, for example. But Stern says don’t let lack of familiarity put you off.
“If anybody shies away from the program because of the fear of not knowing this, they absolutely should take a leap of faith because they will love it.” he said. “It’s incredibly tuneful, it’s incredibly lyrical and will be incredibly well-played. They should come and give it a chance.”
The heart-tugging continues on the second half of the program with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Nadezhda von Meck, who commissioned the work from Tchaikovsky, insisted he write a detailed program “explaining” the symphony. According to Tchaikovsky, Fate was the central theme.
“The fatal power which prevents one from attaining the goal of happiness. There is nothing to be done but to submit to it and lament in vain,” he wrote to his patroness.
The Symphony No. 4 reflects the turmoil Tchaikovsky was experiencing in his life at the time. But now the work is appreciated for its purely musical values and not for any sort of literal meaning.
“There are certainly unresolved questions and great longing in the piece, and that could have come from his inner turmoil, his search for identity, his personal unhappiness, but it’s also just music,” Stern said. “Tchaikovsky was a troubled guy, but Mozart wrote some of his happiest music in his darkest days. Beethoven, too. It’s in a minor key, but it’s got one of the great triumphant endings of all time.”
When the Symphony No. 4 was first performed in the United States in 1890, it was not well-received. A reviewer for the New York Post wrote: “If Tchaikovsky had called his symphony ‘A Sleigh Ride Through Siberia’ no one would have found this title inappropriate.”
Today it is one of Tchaikovsky’s most popular works. Full of storm and stress it may be, but it is also a thrilling affirmation of the human spirit and perfect way to celebrate the Kansas City Symphony’s landmark anniversary in Helzberg Hall.
Jessica Lang Dance
As artistic director for the Harriman-Jewell Series, one of Clark Morris’ enviable tasks is scouting talent. For the past several years he’s had his eye on Jessica Lang Dance. The company was founded in 2011 by Jessica Lang, a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music and a former member of Twyla Tharp Dance.
Morris will bring his discovery to the Muriel Kauffman Theatre this Saturday, so everyone can enjoy the unique artistry of Jessica Lang Dance.
Although relatively new on the scene, the company has already made quite a name for itself, performing at some of the most important dance venues and festivals, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival.
Jessica Lang Dance will perform four works, two of them serving as anchors for the program: “Thousand Yard Stare” and “Tesseracts of Time — A Dance for Architecture.” “Thousand Yard Stare” was inspired by a 1945 Life magazine story about a soldier traumatized by World War II.
“Tesseracts of Time” should have special interest for local architecture buffs. It’s a collaboration between Lang and Steven Holl, who designed the award-winning addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. “Tesseracts” is in four sections that correspond to the four types of architecture: under the ground, in the ground, on the ground and over the ground.
Lyric Opera: Schubert / Beatles
The Lyric Opera’s new “Explorations” series makes its debut with the music of Schubert and the Beatles Saturday at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral. “Explorations” is intended to explore the varied world of vocal music beyond grand opera, like lieder or art song.
Schubert/Beatles will present lieder by Schubert alongside songs of the Beatles in what promises to be a fascinating juxtaposition. Steven Blier, artistic director of New York Festival of Song, came up with the idea for the show along with his publicist and a former student.
“I had done an all-Beatles program a number of decades ago, but I liked this idea of Schubert and the Beatles, especially given a little distance from the 1960s. The farther we get from Beatlemania, the easier it is to program Beatles songs.”
The concert will present Schubert and Beatles songs in pairs, each pairing based on a particular theme. Blier believes the audience will be astonished by the similarities.
“They were young composers who had short careers that dealt with the kinds of things people in their late adolescence and 20s deal with,” he said. “They were iconic to their generations and they summed up the way people thought about love and work and the cosmos. I also think there’s a tremendous lyrical impulse in the Beatles. There’s almost a bel canto line to many of the Beatles songs.”
Kantorei: Prayers of the People
Kansas City is blessed with many superlative choral ensembles. Right up there with the best of them is Kantorei directed by Chris Munce. Kantorei will present “Prayers of the People” Sunday, Sept. 25, at Central United Methodist Church so you can hear for yourself the gorgeous, beautifully blended sound this group makes. The program will include works by Fredrik Sixten, Francis Poulenc and Stephen Paulus.
▪ 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25. Central United Methodist Church, 5144 Oak St. $10-$15. KantoreiKC.org.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat.