If it weren’t for Summerfest, Kansas City’s classical fans would have to slake their summer musical thirst with ice cream trucks playing Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
Luckily, Summerfest has made the blistering hot days of summer tolerable with chamber music performed by some of Kansas City’s finest musicians and superb guest artists from around the country.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Summerfest, and the ensemble has put together a season that celebrates its past and looks forward to the future. The concerts are on Saturdays and Sundays in July, beginning July 11, as well as Aug. 1 and 2. A gala 25th anniversary performance will take place July 25. There will be no concert July 26.
Summerfest was started in 1989 by flutist Lamar Hunt Jr.; harpist Deborah Wells-Clark; bassoonist Nancy Lutes; harpsichordist Rebecca Bell; and violinist Mary Grant.
Grant says that Summerfest was created by the five musicians partly so they didn’t have to leave the city for the summer.
“We were looking to stay here in the summer,” she said, “and we realized that there was no other classical music in the summer. The symphony has a break, the opera has a break and the Friends of Chamber Music has a break, so we thought, oh, there’s certainly room for a summer music group here.”
There certainly was. Summerfest was popular from its first performances in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church downtown. In fact, Summerfest concerts have become so popular that a few years ago it outgrew St. Mary’s and moved its Sunday concerts to Country Club Christian Church.
“St. Mary’s was a great venue for us and helped us establish another tradition, and that is the reception after the concerts,” Grant said. “St. Mary’s was so generous to provide that for us. It’s a wonderful way to get to know the audience, to meet them afterwards and enjoy a glass of wine and food and talk about the concert and our families. So we kept that tradition even after we left St. Mary’s.”
The programming for Summerfest is a collaborative effort of artistic directors and advisers. This year, Grant, along with clarinetist Jane Carl, cellist Alex East and flutist Shannon Finney, put their heads together to choose music worthy of a silver anniversary. One of the highlights is on the gala concert on July 25, the chamber arrangement of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” for 13 musicians.
“I think whenever you have a chamber version of anything, part of what you’re getting is intimacy,” Finney said. “You’re able to observe and hear the connections between instruments and the musicians. In part that’s because there won’t be a conductor. We’ll be connecting through body language or discussion beforehand or eye contact or simply years of knowing each other. But there will be no lack of majesty in the sound we produce.”
On the same program is William Walton’s “Façade — An Entertainment.” This “Entertainment” will feature two of Kansas City’s most popular actors, Lindsey McKee and Robert Gibby Brand, reciting quirky poems by Edith Sitwell as the Summerfest players perform Walton’s ingenious score that includes everything from a polka to a waltz to yodeling.
The other weekends will have their share of wonderful chamber gems, like Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, a work that was performed on the very first Summerfest concert.
“It’s one of the pinnacles of chamber music,” Finney said, “but also the harp has been a big part of Summerfest over the years. It just seems like everybody loves to hear the harp … and that includes us.”
One work making a return engagement is Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1. According to Finney, the quartet was a hit with the musicians and audiences when Summerfest performed it in the past, receiving some of the most positive audience feedback of any work they’ve done.
Speaking of those audiences, for the past 25 years, Summerfest has built up a strong core of faithful followers who never miss a concert.
“There are some people who have been with us from the beginning, and there are people who come from Topeka and Wichita,” Finney said. “We even have a gentleman who comes from Columbia every Sunday to hear us. He’s been coming for years. But whenever somebody new comes, they say ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I didn’t know about this. This is a great addition to my summer.’ We’re so proud of that.”
Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m. at White Recital Hall, 4949 Cherry, and Sunday performances at 3 p.m. at Country Club Christian Church, 6101 Ward Parkway. $10-$30. $50 for the gala concert on July 25. For tickets, call 816-235-6222 or go to SummerfestKC.org.
▪ July 11 and 12: Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 and music by Gyorgy Ligeti and Georg Philipp Telemann.
▪ July 18 and 19: Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp and music by George Frideric Handel and Paul Moravec.
▪ July 25: Gala Performance: Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” William Walton’s “Façade” and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 (No Sunday afternoon performance)
▪ Aug. 1 and 2: Kristin Kuster’s “Ribbon Earth” and music by Morton Gould, Osvaldo Golijov and Charles Villiers Stanford.