It’s always wonderful to see a talented and passionate new arts group take root. That’s the case with KC VITAs, a choral ensemble founded by Jackson Thomas in 2015.
The choir, which is dedicated to performing newly composed music, will offer its third summer of concerts on Aug. 4 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and Aug. 6 at Country Club Christian Church.
KC VITAs, which is an acronym for vibrating internal thyroarytenoids, was the vision of Thomas, 29, who wanted to form a choir dedicated to contemporary classical vocal music. An important part of KC VITAs’ mission is commissioning new works.
For this concert, KC VITAs reached out to composers through social media, advertisements and, most importantly, word of mouth. It’s not often that a composer has the chance to have his or her work performed by a high-level choir and then have a recording of that performance for free. The result was 150 submissions from around the world that the group winnowed down to 10 compositions.
“It’s the most diverse program that we’ve had to date,” Thomas said. “It will include not only choral works, but also small ensemble and solo works. We have five regional premieres as well five world premieres.”
One of the world premieres is “Here Among the Flowers” by David von Kampen, a composer from Nebraska. For his text, he used poetry by G.K. Chesterton.
Chattering finch and water-fly
Are not merrier than I;
Here among the flowers I lie
Thomas says Kampen vividly brings that “chattering finch” to life.
“It’s got this incredible playful quality,” Thomas said. “When he mixes that with lush jazz chords, it really creates a beautiful story. So many people have this idea that new music is totally unapproachable, it’s all avant-garde, it’s just something that people can’t listen to. We’re trying to show that new music is alive and well, and this piece is a wonderful reminder of that.”
At the more challenging end of the spectrum is “Hvem er det” by composer Yotam Haber, who was born in Holland. According to Thomas, his singers say it is the hardest piece they’ve ever done.
“Haber uses a lot of extended techniques for the voice,” Thomas said. “It’s in Old Danish, and it talks about conjuring up spirits during the witching hour. It’s going to be a ear-bender, that’s for sure. This is part of the mix. We not only do things that are accessible to the average person, but we are able to do serious compositions that take a professional musician to bring to life.”
The final work on the program is “Beneath the Wave” by Luke Flynn, a composer based in California. The work, which KC VITAs is giving its regional premiere, is dedicated to the survivors of the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
“You have this beginning wave that starts out in the voices with these repeating minor thirds that cause you to feel the tide going in and out,” Thomas said. “As soon as you think it’s OK, it goes into this cinematic depiction of tragedy, and then finally the tide clears for the country to rebuild at the very end.”
Although the work, which features what Thomas calls a “fairly epic solo” by soprano Alyssa Toepfer, deals with an event from six years ago, Thomas believes the mood of the piece also reflects current events.
“There’s just no way you can listen to this powerful piece and not feel the pain of rebuilding,” he said. “We’ve all been there and are quite possibly there right now. These are such uncertain times, and we all feel these waves coming through.”
7 p.m. Aug. 4 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 1307 Holmes St., and 3 p.m. Aug. 6 at Country Club Christian Church, 6101 Ward Parkway. Free. For more information, visit kcvitas.org.
Comprising first-place laureates of the Sphinx Competition for black and Latino string players, the Harlem Quartet is one of the most exciting young string quartets in America.
The Grammy Award-winning group will perform at the Polsky Theatre at Johnson County Community College on Aug. 2. The concert is part of the Heartland Chamber Music Festival, which partners with the college’s Performing Arts Series.
“Typically, part of the partnership is bringing in a professional quartet to work with the students and also perform a concert,” Emily Behrmann, general manager of the Performing Arts Series, said. “Our relationship with the Harlem Quartet is special. They’ll be making a third appearance with us in November, so we thought, why not bring them in for the festival?”
The Harlem Quartet will give a typically diverse program ranging from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Dizzy Gillespie. Marigold’s food truck will be on the scene from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
7 p.m. Aug. 2. Polsky Theatre, Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park. $5-$15. 913-469-4445 or jccc.edu/theseries.