As Christmas lights are extinguished and the gloom and cold of January set in across the land, it’s easy to get in a funk.
But for classical music lovers, a glance at the amazing concerts that are coming soon to Kansas City should certainly lift the spirits.
Leading the way is the Harriman-Jewell Series, which is in the middle of its 50th Anniversary Season. The season so far has been pure gold, and it’s only going to get better.
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Clark Morris, the executive director, has done amazing work lining up all these great artists, but his coup de grace was bringing together two of the world’s greatest opera singers for a joint recital.
On Feb. 1, Harriman-Jewell will present mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and tenor Juan Diego Florez together at Helzberg Hall. This promises to be one of the most memorable concerts in Kansas City classical music history. The program has yet to be announced, but I would expect a lot of luxurious bel canto repertoire. But let’s face it, it doesn’t matter what they sing — it’s going to be a love-fest.
One of the most meaningful concerts in the Harriman-Jewell season will take place May 2. Emanuel Ax will give the Founder’s Concert at John Gano Memorial Hall on the campus of William Jewell College in Liberty.
It was in Gano Hall where this illustrious series had its beginning on Dec. 3, 1965, with a performance by dancers Edward Villella and Patricia McBride. Ax also had the most profound respect for Richard Harriman and his namesake series, so this should be a very special concert.
Other highlights include the Mark Morris Dance Group with “Acis and Galatea” on Feb. 7 at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre; Joshua Bell in recital March 14 at Helzberg Hall; the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, with pianist Jeremy Denk, on March 20 at Helzberg Hall; tenor Joseph Calleja on April 14 at the Folly Theater; and Parsons Dance on June 6 at Muriel Kauffman Theatre. (816-415-5025 or HJSeries.org)
Kansas City Symphony
Michael Stern’s World War I theme has yielded many riches on the Kansas City Symphony’s 2014-15 season. The centennial of the Great War will continue to provide Stern and the Symphony with powerhouse material, including stunning orchestral works from Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss.
Any time the Symphony plays Mahler it’s a special occasion, in my opinion. Stern’s insight into Mahler’s music has given us some memorable performances in the past. Feb. 6-8 the Symphony will perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Haydn’s Symphony No. 22, known as “The Philosopher.”
Stern also has an affinity for Strauss. There’s something about those over-the-top, fin de siecle orchestrations that bring out the best in Stern. May 1-3 the Symphony will perform “Don Juan,” written when Strauss was only 24. This was the first of the composer’s great tone poems.
For the season finale, June 19-21, the Symphony will perform “Ein Heldenleben” (“A Hero’s Life”), which Strauss composed when he was 34. This tone poem sounds like quintessential Strauss, which didn’t always please the critics of the time. After a performance in 1899, critic Otto Floersheim wrote that it was “revolutionary in every sense of the word … the climax of everything that is ugly, cacophonous, blatant and erratic, the most perverse music I ever heard in all my life.” Now that’s something to look forward to. (816-471-0400 or KCSmphony.org)
Kansas City Ballet
Full-length fairy-tale ballets from the 19th century never seem to lose their power to enchant and delight. Devon Carney, artistic director for the Kansas City Ballet, will give us his version of the classic “Giselle” from March 13 to 22.
Other music and dance
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City will give the Kansas City premiere of the opera “Silent Night” from Feb. 21 to March 1 in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre. And what a timely opera it is. In 2014 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Christmas truce, during which British and German soldiers made their way out of their trenches and across the no-man’s land to sing carols, play soccer, and trade food and gifts.
“Silent Night,” with music by Kevin Puts and a libretto by Mark Campbell, tells this remarkable story, which has special meaning as we celebrate the World War I centennial. The story, by turns tragic, joyous and heartbreaking, has all the makings of a great opera. (816-471-7344 or KCOpera.org)
Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin is one of the glories of the early Italian baroque. Monteverdi was also the first opera composer, so his Vespers is full of theatrical flourishes and a cast of thousands. This is why it’s rarely performed and why an upcoming performance is most certainly not one to miss.
On March 27 at Visitation Catholic Church, 5141 Main St., and on March 22 at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in Topeka, the Spire Chamber Ensemble conducted by Ben Spalding will perform the Monteverdi masterpiece on period instruments. Spalding has a way with large-scale baroque works, so this promises to be an exciting and memorable concert.
When ticking off the list of the world’s greatest pianists, Andras Schiff has to be near the top. His exquisite pianism, especially sublime with repertoire from classical era, will be on full display with “The Late Great Sonatas of Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert,” presented by Friends of Chamber Music on March 6 at the Folly Theater. He’ll return next year with concert two of “The Late Great Sonatas” series on the Friends’ 40th anniversary season.
If you have never attended a concert by a string quartet, make it your New Year’s resolution to do so. A good choice would be the Artemis Quartet on April 18 at the Folly Theater.
The quartet is named after the Greek goddess of hunting and the wilderness. That’s apt because the Artemis always hits its mark. These German musicians are one with the classical repertoire, and they can unleash it with power. String quartet newbies will be won over by the Quartet’s energy and commitment, if nothing else.
The group will perform popular works like Antonin Dvorak’s American Quartet and String Quartet No. 1 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Also on the program is a work by contemporary Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. His music shares certain qualities with that of his fellow countryman, Arvo Part, but it’s always uniquely his own. (816-561-9999 or ChamberMusic.org)