Find gems of classical music in venues of all kinds

08/24/2014 4:00 AM

08/24/2014 9:00 AM

The smaller-is-better ethos is being embraced more and more by those distrustful of the giant, corporate (some would say soulless) culture that has dominated American life since the end of World War II.

Wonder Bread is being rejected for rustic, artisanal bakeries, and McMansions are losing their appeal in favor of the small-house movement.

Even the way we listen to music is being creatively downsized.

Of course, when it comes to symphonic classical music, only a large concert hall will do, and luckily we have one of the best.

But early music ensembles and vocalists are discovering that much can be gained by performing in smaller venues.

Local talents, tenor Nathan Granner and guitarist Beau Bledsoe, have had great success performing in nightclubs and espresso bars, as has Israeli-born cellist Matt Haimovitz, who has gone on U.S. tours performing only in coffeehouses and nightclubs.

“There’s so much competition in the performing arts, everybody is trying to gain more audience,” said Elizabeth Suh Lane, founder and director of the Bach Aria Soloists. “We’re trying to detract from the so-called elitist nature of classical music, I think lots and lots of people are trying to make it more casual.”

For several years now, the Bach Aria Soloists have been giving concerts in area homes, which not only make for a more cozy, relaxed atmosphere, but also give audiences an idea of what concerts in the Baroque era were like.

“Originally, chamber music was performed in the composers’ homes and the homes of their friends,” Lane said “Another perfect example of where music was performed was in coffeehouses. The Café Zimmermann in Germany was where (Johann Sebastian) Bach had a regular series every week. It would be on a Friday or something, and he and his fellow musicians, friends and students would go and perform his music and the music of (Georg Philipp) Telemann and the music of his friends.”

Of course, not all concerts were in modest surroundings.

The works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn were regularly performed in the palaces of the aristocrats who commissioned them.

But even these concerts, taking place in special rooms or chambers (hence “chamber music”), had an intimacy that is often lost in concert halls designed for larger orchestral music and much larger audiences.

Lane says performing Baroque and chamber music in smaller venues has benefits for both audiences and musicians.

“There’s the convivial nature of the whole thing, where there’s no barrier between the musicians and the audience,” she said. “The audience cannot help but become involved in the music because of being so physically close to the musicians. I love that. The chemistry is much more palpable when you’re in such a small setting.”

“I think people in the classical music world are realizing that you can’t have all this formality all the time. A lot of people don’t like that. One reason people aren’t coming to concerts is that they think they have to follow all these rules. We want concerts without so many rules. We just want people to enjoy the music.”

Kansas City Symphony

The antithesis of the smaller venue aesthetic would have to be Helzberg Hall. But, come on, where else are you going to perform the magnificent tone poems of Richard Strauss?

For the 2014-2015 season of the Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern has programmed works that will exploit Helzberg Hall’s spatial openness and acoustics to their utmost.

Music written in the World War I era figures prominently this season, which happens to be a period when some of classical music’s most sonically stupendous pieces were written.

From the music of Richard Strauss and Alexander Zemlinsky to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” the Kansas City Symphony promises a year of orchestral sublimity.

All concerts are in Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets: 816-471-0400 or www.kcsymphony.org

Sept. 12-15: Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony will be joined by Joyce DiDonato for music by Charles Griffes, Maurice Ravel, Richard Strauss and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Sept. 19-20: Music of the Mad Men Era. Guest conductor Steven Reineke will lead the symphony in this pops concert of music from the swingin’ Sixties.

Oct. 24-26: Michael Stern will conduct Felix Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” symphony and the Kansas City Symphony Chorus will be featured in Zemlinsky’s “Psalm 23” and Johannes Brahms’ “Schicksalslied.” Also on the program is Richard Wagner’s overture to “The Flying Dutchman.”

Oct. 29: The Kansas City Symphony will present a special Halloween edition of Screenland at the Symphony with F.W. Murnau’s 1922 film, “Nosferatu.” Murnau’s Expressionistic masterpiece is considered one of the best and creepiest vampire movies ever. Its goth factor will be considerably ramped up when Dorothy Papadakos accompanies the film on the hall’s Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ.

Oct. 31 and Nov. 1: Halloween weekend, the Kansas City Symphony will present Mysterioso: A Magical Night. This sounds intriguing. An old school Las Vegas variety show that combines magic, illusion and television theme songs performed by the Kansas City Symphony led by guest conductor Jack Everly.

Nov. 21–23: Violinist Philippe Quint will perform Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade after Plato’s Symposium” and Michael Stern will lead the orchestra in music by Ravel and Richard Strauss. The main work on the program is Jean Sibelius’ very Nordic-sounding Symphony No. 3.

Nov. 28-30: Guest conductor Bramwell Tovey will lead the Kansas City Symphony in Gustav Holst’s cosmic “The Planets,” and Orion Weiss will be the soloist for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23.

Dec. 5-7: The Independence Messiah Choir and the Kansas City Symphony Chorus, directed by Charles Bruffy, will once again join the Kansas City Symphony for a beloved tradition: George Frideric Handel’s glorious oratorio “Messiah.”

Dec. 18-21: The Kansas City Symphony will celebrate the lighter side of the yuletide season with its annual Christmas Festival. Associate conductor Aram Demirjian will lead the orchestra and a slew of special guests in this tinselly extravaganza.

Lyric Opera of Kansas City

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City is offering operatic meat and potatoes this fall.

Giuseppe Verdi’s heartbreaking “La Traviata” is always a crowd pleaser, and “The Italian Girl in Algiers” is Gioacchino Rossini at his witty, effervescent best.

The Lyric Opera will be updating “Italian Girl,” so that Isabella is an Amelia Earhart-style aviatrix who crash lands, as the Lyric’s website says, “in an Arabic Society,” which the site describes as “ultra-traditional patriarchal.” It will be interesting to see how the Lyric Opera navigates some touchy themes in these politically correct times.

All performances in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets: or 816-471-7344 or www.kcopera.org.

Sept. 27, Oct. 1, 3 & 5: Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata”

Nov. 8, 12, 14 & 16: Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers”

Harriman-Jewell Series

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Harriman-Jewell Series, one of Kansas City’s gems and the envy of classical music lovers across the country.

Clark Morris, the executive director of the series, has outdone himself with a spectacular season that features everyone from Yo-Yo Ma and Anne-Sophie Mutter to the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, with special guest violinist Gil Shaham.

Tickets: 816-415-5025 or www.hjseries.org

Oct. 10: National Acrobats of China at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Oct. 16: Yo-Yo Ma, cello, and Kathryn Stott, piano, at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the performing Arts.

Oct. 18: Kronos Quartet “Beyond Zero: 1914-1918” at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Oct. 24: Senegal St. Joseph Gospel Choir at the Folly Theater,

Nov. 12: Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra with special guest violinist Gil Shaham at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Nov. 16: Anne-Sophie Mutter at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Nov. 22: Simon Trpceski, piano, at the Folly Theater.

Dec. 12: Sybarite 5 String Quintet in a free Discovery Concert at the Folly Theater.

Dec. 20: The King Singers’ Holiday Concert at the Folly Theater

Friends of Chamber Music

The Friends of Chamber Music continues its commitment to quality with a season of superb musicians. Those who missed the critically acclaimed Galileo Project a few years ago will have an opportunity to attend a repeat performance in November. Lovers of early music can also look forward to the choral ensemble Vox Luminis in October and Anonymous 4 perfoming a Christmas concert in December.

All concerts at the Folly Theater, unless otherwise noted. Tickets: 816-561-9999 or www.chambermusic.org.

Sept. 26: Brentano String Quartet with pianist Juho Pohjonen

Oct. 10: Philharmonia Quartett Berlin at White Recital Hall, 4949 Cherry St.

Oct. 24: Vox Luminis at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral

Nov. 9: The Galileo Project with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra

Nov. 21: Quatuor Ébène

Dec. 14: Anonymous 4 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Bach Aria Soloists

For a 21st century, American approximation of what a concert in an 18th century palace would have sounded like, consider attending the Bach Aria Soloists’ hauskonzert Oct. 5 at Leslie Lerner’s Mission Hills home.

Be warned: Tickets for these house concerts go fast, so don’t dawdle.

If Bach’s laid-back concerts at Café Zimmerman would have been more your style, the Bach Aria Soloists are offering “Bach, Beer and Brats” at Boulevard Brewery on Oct. 23.

Tickets: www.bachariasoloists.com.

Oct. 5: Hauskonzert at Leslie Lerner’s home. Soprano Rebecca Lloyd will join the Bach Aria Soloists, and the evening will conclude with a reception.

Oct. 23: “Bach, Beer and Brats” at Boulevard Brewery, 2501 Southwest Boulevard. Toss back a brewas the Bach Aria Soloists perform music ranging from country to classical.

Nov. 22: “Bach Enlightened” at the Kansas City Central Library will feature one of the world’s greatest Bach scholars, Christoph Wolff, sharing his insights as the Bach Aria Soloists perform Bach’s music.

Patrick Neas is program director for RadioBach.com. You can reach him at pneas@jccc.edu.

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