Go big or go home. The Harriman-Jewell Series is definitely going big with its 2018-2019 season. The esteemed series is bringing more world famous orchestras and conductors than ever before, as well as a host of smaller ensembles and musicians with megawatt star power.
Three major orchestras are on the schedule: the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Mariinsky Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony. Also coming are Ballet Folklórico de Mexico and Russian National Ballet to showcase different sides of the world of dance, as well as top-level musicians ranging from up-and-comers like pianist Khatia Buniatishvili to beloved Harriman-Jewell favorite Itzhak Perlman. Another returning superstar is none other than Kansas City’s own Joyce DiDonato.
“I think a special feature of this season is the concentration of great orchestras,” says Clark Morris, executive director of the Harriman-Jewell Series. “We try to have a couple of great orchestras every season, but we normally don’t have this many.
“It’s the convergence of our reputation as a storied presenter of major orchestras and having this great hall with world-class acoustics. The very best music directors in the world want to have their orchestras perform there.”
Morris says that in the pre-Helzberg Hall days, the Harriman-Jewell Series would bring great orchestras, but they were often conducted by someone other than the orchestra’s music director. That’s certainly not the case next season when the three orchestras will be lead by their music directors: Valery Gergiev will conduct the Mariinsky and Michael Tilson Thomas the San Francisco Symphony. The Philadelphia Orchestra will be conducted by one of the hottest names in classical music right now, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
“Yannick has shot to the top of the classical music world, and people are fascinated with his talent and his vision and insight into music,” Morris says.
In addition to his role as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, last year it was announced that Nézet-Séguin will become music director of the Metropolitan Opera in the 2020-2021 season. With the recent dismissal of the scandal-plagued James Levine as the Met’s music director, there is speculation that Nézet-Séguin’s promotion might be accelerated.
After conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in September, the 42-year-old Montréal native will return to Kansas City to accompany DiDonato on her recital.
“To pair Joyce with this superstar conductor at the piano adds a really interesting element to the recital,” Morris says. “It reminds me of our 50th anniversary when we had the duo recital with Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez. You have two giant superstars on the same stage at the same time, and you just watch the magic and the sparks that are created by having two great musical minds working together in the same recital.”
Tilson Thomas is currently leading the San Francisco Symphony in his 23rd season as its music director, making him the longest-tenured music director at any major American orchestra. It was recently announced that he will step down in 2020 after marking his 25th season with the symphony.
“This will be his last national tour with the orchestra,” Morris says. “The few times that we’ve been able to present him have been very special evenings. Kansas City has a love and appreciation for Michael Tilson Thomas, so I’m sure many people will want to see him for the last time with the San Francisco Symphony.”
Another returning favorite is pianist Emanuel Ax, of whom Morris has fond memories.
“He’s one of my favorite people in the world,” Morris says. “He was a great fan of Richard Harriman, our founder, and when Richard passed away (in July 2010), Emanuel Ax came back that fall and gave a tribute recital with all the proceeds to fund a scholarship in Richard’s name. He did all of that out of his own thoughtfulness. He’s just an extraordinary person.”
Beloved violinist Itzhak Perlman has also appeared many times on the Harriman-Jewell Series. Audiences look forward to Perlman’s encores, when he displays a puckish sense of humor and shows a more casual side. Morris says the violinist’s entire recital next season will give the audience a chance to see even more of the real Perlman.
“It’s called an evening with Itzhak Perlman, and that’s intentional because it is more of a curated evening and not a typical recital performance,” Morris says. “There will be some narration and additional theatrics that will highlight Perlman and his career, and there will be shorter works interspersed. He’ll talk to the audience throughout the evening.
“People have sensed that when he does encores, he has a great sense of humor and has a lot to say, but you normally only see that in tiny snippets. This will tease that out more, and people will get to explore the man behind the artistry.”
Other performances of note next season include a recital by Georgian powerhouse pianist Khatia Buniatishvili and concerts by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with guest pianist Jeremy Denk and the 10-piece all-female brass ensemble tenThing, founded and led by Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth.
Dance, always an important part of the Harriman-Jewell Series, will be represented by two contrasting companies: Ballet Folklórico de Mexico and the Russian National Ballet. Founded in Mexico City in 1952 by Amalia Hernández, Ballet Folklórico de Mexico always puts on a spectacular show with live music, authentic dancing and eye-popping costumes. The Russian National Ballet, on the other hand, is one of the finest companies devoted to preserving the art of Russian classical ballet.
“It’s been quite a while since we’ve presented ‘Swan Lake,’ so we’re bringing the Russian National Ballet,” Morris said. “We like to bring authentic Russian companies to do these classic ballets.
“Part of our role is to make sure we’re reaching out into the world to bring the finest performers to broaden the notion of what is classical culture and what every person should see in their lifetime. We think every person ought to see Folklórico de Mexico, and they ought to see ‘Swan Lake’ danced by a good Russian ballet company.”
For tickets and more information, call 816-415-5025 or visit hjseries.org.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.
Sept. 26: Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin and violinist Lisa Batiashvili. (Helzberg Hall, Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts)
Oct. 29: Mariinsky Orchestra with conductor Valery Gergiev and pianist Denis Matsuev. (Helzberg Hall)
Nov. 3: Ballet Folklórico de Mexico (Helzberg Hall)
Dec. 13: Joyce DiDonato with pianist Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St.)
Jan. 24, 2019: “Swan Lake” danced by Russian National Ballet (Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts)
March 2: The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with pianist Jeremy Denk (Folly Theater)
March 16: Emanuel Ax (Folly Theater)
March 21: The San Francisco Symphony with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and violinist Christian Tetzlaff (Helzberg Hall)
April 7: TenThing Brass Ensemble (Helzberg Hall)
April 14: Khatia Buniatishvili (Folly Theater)
May 11: Violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Rohan De Silva (Helzberg Hall)