Among John Schaefer’s many contributions to the musical life of Kansas City, Summer Music at the Cathedrals is one of the most welcome.
Schaefer, director of music and an organist at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, started the series in 1982 to show off the cathedral’s new organ. It has become an annual respite from summer’s heat. Every Sunday in August, music lovers can enjoy enriching music in the cathedral’s cool, Gothic interior.
KC VITAS Chamber Choir will open the series at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7, with a program of new choral works. The artists on subsequent Sundays are violinist Anne-Marie Brown and cellist Lawrence Figg and William Baker’s Summer Singers of Kansas City. The French Organ Festival will conclude the series at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with a variety of musicians and organists led by Immaculate Conception’s music director, Mario Pearson.
“The original idea was for there to be some summertime music,” Schaefer said. “That was long before Summerfest or June Kansas City Symphony concerts or anything like that. It was a unique thing, and what we had done is use local artists, as much as possible, performing diverse programming. What it’s come down to is basically four programs all reasonably different that certainly make music more interesting in the month of August.”
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KC VITAS Chamber Choir is new to the series this year, but William Baker’s Summer Singers, who will perform Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Mass in Time of War” on Aug. 21, are annual favorites. Brown and Figg will be featured in recital on Aug. 14.
“All the pieces (on Brown and Figg’s program) will be for violin and cello,” Schaefer said. “It’s a very broad bunch of music. Everything from (Luigi) Boccherini to (Bohuslav) Martinu, which should be just great fun. They will end with a wonderful (George Frideric) Handel passacaglia that’s been arranged by (Johan) Halvorsen. It’s just a fabulous piece.”
The final concert of the series is the marathon French Organ Festival at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception from 1 to 5 p.m. on Aug. 28.
Schaefer takes delight in choosing the musicians for the series every year, but he says he has an ulterior motive in the selection process.
“I like as much as possible to use my friends because then I can suggest what music I would like to hear.”
KC Symphony in Super Audio
Reference Recordings has just released the Super Audio version of Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony’s recording of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony, and it’s a stunner.
The standard two-channel disc released last year was thrilling enough, but the high definition sound of the Super Audio release takes it to a new level.
Noah Geller’s playing on the very first track lifts you out of your seat. In Super Audio, his rich violin on the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is gloriously atmospheric. The rest of the disc is just as good and concludes with Jan Kraybill’s teeth-rattling performance of the Organ Symphony finale on Helzberg Hall’s Casavant organ.
The surround sound is tastefully done. No ping-pongy hi-fi effects, just the right amount of ambiance and instrument spacing to bring the concert hall experience into your home.
Super Audio made its debut in 1999 and seemed to fizzle out by 2007. But the format, thankfully, has proven remarkably durable, with labels like Reference Recordings, Chandos and Harmonia Mundi continuing to release Super Audio CDs.
There’s much hand-wringing among audiophiles about the decline of sound quality in the age of compressed MP3s. I find Advance Audio Coding to be a very fine compromise between MP3 compression and a lossless compact disc. AAC has fooled many ears into believing they’re listening to CD quality sound, and it’s actually far better than standard FM radio and at least equal to HD radio.
But even though I’m no persnickety audiophile, there’s no denying that listening to a superbly engineered Super Audio recording on a surround sound system is a whole other experience. My AAC iTunes collection satisfies me 90 percent of the time, but once in a while it’s great to sink into a comfortable chair with a relaxing beverage and listen to the finest sound possible, sound you can almost touch. There’s no better mental therapy in the world, and the Kansas City Symphony’s Saint-Saëns Super Audio recording is medicine I will take as needed.