The 50 voices of the William Baker Festival Singers will be used to grand effect when the choir, led by founder William Baker, will perform Mozart’s “Great” Mass in C minor Sunday, April 8, at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral. Also on the program is the world premiere of “Seven Last Words,” a work the Festival Singers commissioned from composer Ed Frazier Davis.
Baker says he has done research, and it seems the last time Mozart’s “Great” Mass was heard live in Kansas City was in 2009, when it was performed by the Summer Singers of Kansas City, another one of Baker’s choirs. One can understand why. It’s not an easy undertaking.
“It is arguably Mozart’s largest scale work,” Baker said. “He wrote it when he was no longer working as a church musician for Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg, who wanted everything under 45 minutes. Mozart didn’t write this piece on commission for a liturgical occasion. So he had the opportunity to write it on as grand a scale as he wished to do.”
The exact reason Mozart wrote the “Great” Mass is still subject to speculation. But Baker says one theory makes considerable sense.
“I think it’s good speculation that he wrote it as a wedding gift for his wife, Constanze,” Baker said. “The idea being that he wrote the ‘Incarnatus est,’ which is the most amazing of the many amazing solos in the piece, for Constanze to sing in the hope that hearing her sing it would so charm his father, Leopold, that he would bless their marriage.”
No less a music critic than Pope Francis had high praise for the work. The pope told reporters in 2015 that the “Et incarnatus est” from the Mass “is matchless; it lifts you to God.”
Also on the program is Davis’ “Seven Last Words.” Davis, the son of renowned English conductor Andrew Davis, is a candidate for a doctor of musical arts in composition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance. He’s also composer-in-residence for the Festival Singers.
“The ‘Seven Last Words’ is set for a good-sized orchestra and chorus,” Baker said. “It paints the picture of the agony of Christ’s last moments on the cross. Ed’s now written five or six pieces for us, and there are, as with any composer, some common characteristics, but the breadth of the canvas that he paints on in this piece is amazing. ‘Seven Last Words’ is like nothing else I’ve ever encountered.”
2 p.m. April 8. Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St. $5-$20. Tickets available at the door or at tinyurl.com/yd7ut3gy.
Kansas City Symphony
Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony continue their celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s birthday centennial with a work deeply inspired by the composer’s Jewish heritage. The Kansas City Symphony Chorus directed by Charles Bruffy will join the Symphony for Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Beethoven’s rapturous Choral Fantasy April 13-15 at Helzberg Hall.
Tchaikovsky’s festive Concert Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, with pianist Eldar Nebolsin, will round out the program.
Chichester Cathedral commissioned Bernstein to compose a work for the Southern Cathedrals Festival in 1965. But the Chichester Psalms premiered in New York rather than England, with the composer himself conducting the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein’s previous work set to Jewish texts, the Kaddish Symphony (1963), is a much more melancholy work, while the Chichester Psalms evoke hope and peace.
If the Chichester Psalms are serenely joyful, Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy is downright ecstatic. Many consider it the prototype for the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Although the identity of the poet who wrote the text is in doubt, there is no doubt that the words inspired some of Beethoven’s most transporting music.
Accept, then, you beautiful souls,
Joyously the gifts of high art.
When love and strength are united,
Divine grace is bestowed upon Man.
8 p.m. April 13 and 14 and 2 p.m. April 15. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $35-$100. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.
The International Center for Music at Park University has produced quite a crop of world-class musicians. In the field of violin, one of its most esteemed graduates is David Radzynski, currently the concertmaster of the Israel Philharmonic.
Radzynski will give a recital April 15 at the 1900 Building. He’ll be joined by pianist Lolita Lisovskaya-Sayevich to perform music by Brahms, Ernest Chausson, Claude Debussy and Jan Radzynski, the violinist’s father.
Radzynski, 31, earned degrees from Indiana University and the Yale School of Music. After receiving his master’s from Yale, he went to Park University’s ICM, where they did what they do best: Polish already top-notch musicians into virtuosos worthy of performing in any concert hall in the world.
When he isn’t at his job with the Israel Philharmonic, Radzynski performs with orchestras and gives recitals around the world. We’re lucky he’s making a stop in Kansas City for what promises to be a memorable recital.
4 p.m. April 15. 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods. $10-$20. 1900bldg.com/performances.
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