I’ve been a fan of Michael Tilson Thomas since I was in high school and the Columbia record club sent me an album of Tilson Thomas conducting Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.”
That album became my teenage headbanging music. So it’s exciting, but also bittersweet, that Tilson Thomas is coming to conduct the San Francisco Symphony one last time in Helzberg Hall on his final tour as its music director.
The March 21 concert presented by the Harriman-Jewell Series will feature three concert hall favorites: Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 with violinist Christian Tetzlaff, and the mighty Symphony No. 2 by Sibelius.
Tilson Thomas is an American institution like few other musicians. A Peabody and three-time Grammy Award winner, Tilson Thomas has won every award there is to win in classical music. But more importantly, he’s won the affection of audiences around the world, including Kansas City.
And Tilson Thomas returns the love. He speaks fondly of Kansas City, and shared his favorite thing about performing here.
“I enjoy the focus of the audience,” Tilson Thomas said. “But in recent years it’s also been a pleasure for me because I have a chance to see so many wonderful alums of the New World Symphony. So many of them have become such amazing members of the Kansas City Symphony, which is known throughout the country as being one of the most creative ensembles in the land.”
Tilson Thomas founded the New World Symphony Orchestra in Miami in 1987. He wanted to help young conservatory graduates by providing a training orchestra. The students also learn financial management, go on mock auditions and learn how to handle the media.
Tilson Thomas says that all the works on his Kansas City program have been signature pieces for him and the San Francisco Symphony.
The concert will open with Ravel’s charming “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” Ravel’s tribute to the Baroque composer Francois Couperin and the history of French music in general. Tilson Thomas says “Le Tombeau” is “an opportunity for wonderful soloists in the orchestra to do what they do.”
He also has high praise for Tetzlaff, who will be the violin soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3.
“Christian is a really amazing, really interesting original thinker,” he said. “His approach to Mozart and Bach is very daring, very much informed by dance rhythms and brisk tempi and a very light easiness of gesture.”
The big piece on program is the Symphony No. 2 by Sibelius. If you breathe in while listening to this work, you can almost feel your nasal passages being cleared out with cold Finnish air redolent of pine trees.
“Sibelius is such an interesting composer because his music is written in many different scales of time,” Tilson Thomas said. “There are some parts of the music that are moving at an almost glacial pace or geological kind of speed. And there are other parts of the music that move in a very fluid way that suggests wind and water. Then there are still other parts of it that are moving in a very folkloric, perhaps song or dance-like way.”
Although Tilson Thomas is stepping down as music director of the San Francisco Symphony after 25 years, he says he will still occasionally conduct the orchestra. He won’t stay idle, that’s for sure.
“In my life I have worked on a number of other things besides conducting, including composing, writing, working in video, working in music theater and quite a number of other areas. I have a checklist of large projects I’ve been working on in these various areas for some years, and before I’m out of here, I want to make sure I’ve checked more off the list.”
7:30 p.m. March 21. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $35.50-$91.50. 816-415-5025 or www.hjseries.org.
Kansas City Chorale
Speaking of Grammy Award winners, the Kansas City Chorale, conducted by Charles Bruffy, will give two performances of a program they’re calling “Fables, Stories and Tales” on March 17 at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library and March 19 at the 1900 Building.
The program is drawing on literature for inspiration, with works like Randall Thompson’s “Frostiana” and René Clausen’s setting of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” It promises to be a great concert for families as well as seasoned connoisseurs of choral music, with settings of nursery rhymes and folk tales thrown in the mix.
2 p.m. March 17 at the Kansas City Library, Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St. and 7:30 p.m. March 19 at the 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods. $10-$30. http://tinyurl.com/yyhb6g2s.
Heartland Men’s Chorus world premiere
The Heartland Men’s Chorus will commemorate a landmark event in gay rights history with the world premiere of “Quiet No More: A Choral Celebration of Stonewall” for two performances, March 23 and 24, at the Folly Theater.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the notorious police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. The music by six LGBTQ composers will honor those who fought back at Stonewall and provide hope and inspiration for those still fighting for civil rights today.
“Quiet No More” is the largest collaboration in the history of LGBTQ choruses, according to a press release. After its debut in Kansas City, the show will go on to New York and Los Angeles.
8 p.m. March 23 and 4 p.m. March 24. Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $15-$67. 816-931-3338 or http://hmckc.org.
Musica Vocale had to cancel its concert on March 3 because of beastly weather, but this weekend should fare better. The fine ensemble, led by Arnold Epley and his assistant conductor, Jay Carter, will present “Chiaroscuro: Contrasts of Humanity and Nature” Sunday at Immanuel Lutheran Church.
I love the evocative title of the program. The composers range from the Elizabethan Thomas Tallis to the contemporary Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds. The texts of the songs, written by poets like Alfred Lord Tennyson and Christina Rosetti, explore the contrasts of light and shade in the natural world.
3 p.m. March 17. Immanuel Lutheran Church, 4205 Tracy Ave. Free. For more information, visit www.musicavocale.org/concerts.
Ensemble Iberica — ‘Roma’
How many other cities are lucky enough to have a world-class ensemble like Ensemble Iberica, capable of performing, with authority, everything from South American indigenous music to music of the Romany?
Romany, or gypsy, music is the focus of “Roma” on March 18 at the MTH Theater.
Ensemble Iberica will be joined by Hungarian fiddle player Zsolt Eder and special guest artist, flamenco singer Jose Cortes. Flamenco music, of course, is strongly influenced by the music of the Roma.
7:30 p.m., March 18. MTH Theater, Crown Center, 2450 Grand Blvd. #301. $25-$30. 816-221-6987 or http://tinyurl.com/y4th9pvu.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.