Isaac Stern was not only a great violinist himself, he also took young violinists under his wing and nurtured them and helped them develop their careers.
Pinchas Zukerman was one of those young violinists. Isaac Stern discovered the teenage Zukerman while visiting Israel in 1962, and arranged for him to come to New York, where Zukerman became like an older brother to Stern’s son, Michael, now conductor of the Kansas City Symphony.
Zukerman will be in Kansas City from May 29-31 to conduct his “little brother’s” orchestra and to serve as violin and viola soloist in music by Malcolm Forsyth, Paul Hindemith and Ludwig van Beethoven.
The concert will open with Kansas City Symphony concert master Noah Geller joining Zukerman in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins.
Michael Stern certainly had a rarefied childhood, with the greatest artists of classical music regularly visiting the Stern home. When Zukerman arrived on the scene, he was only a teenager, but with his genius for violin, he fit right in.
“Zukerman was from the get-go this outstanding talent,” Stern said. “I mean it was just extraordinary violin playing, and on top of that, he was so naturally musical. Once my parents decided to bring him to New York to study, they were comprehensively hands-on. They got him set up, found him a place to live and so forth and so on. He was in and out of our apartment a lot. He took lessons with my dad and I would listen to their rehearsals.”
But it wasn’t all high-brow music-making. Stern recalls lots of fun with Zukerman, as well.
“We had a place in Connecticut where we would go sometimes on weekends,” he said. “Sometimes these weekends included Zukerman and some of my father’s other students, and they were all out there having a violin fest. We had a pool, and they were merciless in teasing me. So there was a lot of ‘let’s throw Michael in the pool and see if he can swim’ kind of thing.”
Stern is delighted that Zukerman, whom he describes as “an incredibly loyal colleague and really close friend,” is conducting the Kansas City Symphony in a program that will show off Zukerman’s many talents.
After opening the concert with the Bach double concerto, Zukerman will conduct “A Ballad of Canada” by Malcolm Forsyth, a work that fits in perfectly with the Symphony’s World War I theme this year.
“The middle movement, Flanders Field, is obviously a reference to World War I and Canada’s involvement in that,” Stern said. “There’s another reason it’s on the program. Forsyth’s daughter, the cellist Amanda Forsyth, is Pinky’s wife. Zukerman is very close to this piece by his father-in-law, and I know he’s excited to work with the (Symphony) chorus and bring it to Kansas City.”
The first half of the concert will end with Hindemith’s “Funeral Music.” Hindemith wrote it on Jan. 21, 1936, in memory of King George V who had died the previous day. The work is basically a viola concerto, which quotes the beloved German chorale “Here I Stand Before Thy Throne.” Hindemith, a violist himself, premiered the piece on the BBC the same day he wrote it.
Stern thinks Zukerman will do it justice.
“Pinky is one of the world’s greatest violinists,” he said, “but he’s also, arguably, one of the three best viola players in the world. There’s something about the way that he produces sound on the viola which is absolutely stupefying. He’s a big guy, and the viola, being bigger, needs more effort to coax a beautiful sound from it, and he can do that effortlessly.”
The concert will conclude with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, which Stern calls “young Beethoven at his best.”
“It’s young Beethoven flexing his muscles,” Stern said. “It’s brilliant, but of course there’s not one bad symphony in the nine he wrote. Pinky is very close to this music, and I’m delighted that he’s doing it. It’s also a great way to end the program.”
“Celebration at the Station”
Solstice-sticklers might disagree, but locals will say that summer begins when the Kansas City Symphony presents “Celebration at the Station.”
The annual salute to the nation’s veterans and festive kickoff to the summer season is Sunday at Union Station. The main event is a concert by the Kansas City Symphony conducted by Michael Stern at 8 p.m. This year, the symphony will be joined by popular local band The Elders and television star John Amos.
But there’s a whole day of activities for families to enjoy leading up to the concert, including an instrument petting zoo, drum circle and Science City demonstration. Diverse Jazz Quartet, Allegro Children’s Choir, Vine Street Seven, A La Mode Quintet and the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America also will perform.
The grounds open at 1 p.m. and food trucks will be available along Main Street. Food also will be available on the grounds of Union Station. And, of course, “Celebration at the Station” will conclude with fireworks at 9:45 p.m.
8 p.m. Sunday at Union Station, 30 W. Pershing Road. Free. For more information, visit www.kcsymphony.org.
Guitarist Beau Bledsoe has had a love affair with Mexico since taking a road trip to the country when he was in his early 20s. It was on that trip that he learned various styles of Mexican music and took part in around-the-clock jam sessions. Several return trips to Mexico have deepened his knowledge and love of Mexican culture.
Bledsoe is going to share the love when he and Ensemble Iberica present “Dear Mexico” on Saturday at the Polsky Theatre at Johnson County Community College. Mireya Ramos, who founded New York’s first all-female mariachi band, will perform with Bledsoe and his ensemble, as they explore the various musical styles of Mexico and show how European music and that of indigenous peoples influenced those styles.
Chris Munce and his choral ensemble Kantorei never perform the same old, same old. A great example of that is the program for their next concert, which will be Friday at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in Topeka and Saturday at St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
Munce has unearthed a work by the 17th century Polish composer Bartlomiej Pekiel, “Surpassing Beauty,” which Munce describes as “gorgeous polyphony.” On the second half of the program, Kantorei will perform music inspired by nature, like Willy Richter’s “The Creation” and Frank Ticheli’s “Earth Song.”
7:30 p.m. Friday at Grace Episcopal Cathedral, 701 SW Eighth St., Topeka, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Peter’s, 6415 Holmes Road. $10-$15. www.eventbrite.com/d/local/kantorei.
Jan Kraybill organ concert
Local arts lover John Herbst is a big fan of organist Jan Kraybill and Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral’s 67-rank Gabriel Kney tracker organ.
Through Herbst’s generosity, the cathedral is presenting a free recital by Kraybill at 2 p.m. Sunday and it should be a stunner. Kraybill will play music by Johann Pachelbel, Maurice Durufle and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
The centerpiece of the program is Louis Vierne’s majestic Symphony No. 4. Stick around after the concert to meet Kraybill and enjoy cookies from Boulevard Bakery.
2 p.m. Sunday. Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St. Free. www.ghtc-kc.org.
“The Flying Dutchman”
Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel is a most versatile opera singer. His rich baritone lends itself well to the operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Giuseppe Verdi, as well as English folk songs and Broadway show tunes. But for me, Terfel’s voice especially shines in the music of Richard Wagner. This past February, Terfel sang the role he was born to sing, the Flying Dutchman, at the Royal Opera House in London. You can catch his stunning performance in an HD broadcast Wednesday at the Tivoli Cinemas in Westport.