Arts & Culture

‘It is a massive undertaking’: Kansas City Symphony tackles challenge of Bruckner

Kansas City Symphony Music Director Michael Stern
Kansas City Symphony Music Director Michael Stern Kansas City Symphony

Anton Bruckner is one of the most important composers of classical music, and his symphonies are core works of the canon. Yet the Kansas City Symphony hasn’t performed any Bruckner since 2005, shortly before Michael Stern became music director. The long Bruckner drought will come to an end, however, when the symphony conducted by Stern performs Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 on Nov. 1-3 at Helzberg Hall.

The program will include Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Poulenc’s “Salve Regina” featuring the Kansas City Symphony Chorus conducted by Charles Bruffy singing a cappella.

The lack of Bruckner certainly hasn’t been for disdain or lack of interest on Stern’s part. Bruckner has always been part of his long-term plan for the symphony. Now he believes the symphony is ready to tackle this challenging composer.

“Not doing Bruckner has been a real void,” Stern said. “The orchestra had lost the tradition of playing, and the audience had lost the tradition of hearing it, so it had to be reintroduced in the right way, and I think the seventh is the right one to do it with. It’s accessible, it’s majestic, it’s incredibly powerful. And it’s not his longest one.”

The length of a typical Bruckner symphony provides a challenge not just for the audience but also for the musicians.

“It is a massive undertaking,” Stern said. “It’s a huge edifice of control and focus and concentration. It’s the architecture that holds it together and that requires a control of playing and intonation from both brass and winds and strings. Bruckner builds a massive cathedral, which starts with the foundation and builds up and up and up until you come to the spire, and that’s it.”

Bruckner, a devout Catholic, was organist for St. Florian monastery in Linz, Austria, and his symphonies are often said to have an organ-like quality. The Symphony No. 7 was dedicated to King Ludwig II of Bavaria and was first performed by the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig in 1884. Among the symphony’s felicities is a cymbal crash in the second movement, which, according to legend, Bruckner wrote when he heard that his idol, Richard Wagner, had died.

“Bruckner wrote the seventh symphony in his 59th year, and it spoke to me because I’m in my 59th year,” Stern said. “When I was in my 30s and 40s, I absolutely hesitated to do Bruckner. This music requires a life experience and a patience and an understanding and a vulnerability, and sometimes all those things are less present in a young person than in someone who’s lived a little bit longer. My teacher, Max Rudolf, used to say, ‘When you’re young, you think Brahms is everything, and then you grow up and realize that Bruckner is the answer.’ Now I know what he meant.”

8 p.m. Nov. 1 and 2 and 2 p.m. Nov. 3. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$88. 816-471-0400 or

‘Phantom of the Opera’

It’s become a Halloween tradition — and a welcome one at that — for the Kansas City Symphony to present a silent horror film accompanied by Dorothy Papadakos on Helzberg Hall’s mighty Casavant organ. This year it’s the Lon Chaney 1925 film version of “Phantom of the Opera,” which will be shown Oct. 29. Chaney, “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” outdid himself here.

During the first screening, several women fainted when the Phantom removed his mask to reveal the acid-scarred skull beneath. Papadakos’ masterful organ accompaniment should amp up the terror considerably.

7 p.m. Oct. 29. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$60. 816-471-0400 or

Musica Vocale

Arnold Epley has made incalculable contributions to choral music in Kansas City over the years, both as long-time teacher at William Jewell College and as conductor of numerous area choirs. He’s continuing to make his mark with his outstanding ensemble Musica Vocale. This superb choir will present “Cathedral Classics” Nov. 3 at St. Anthony Catholic Church.

The program will include inspiring works by Josquin des Prez, Orlando Gibbons, William Byrd and Josef Rheinberger. A highlight will be the first Kansas City performance of Anthony Maglione’s “Ave, Maris Stella.”

3 p.m. Nov. 3. Saint Anthony Catholic Church, 318 Benton Blvd. Free. See

William Baker Festival Singers

Saints come from all cultures and backgrounds, and the William Baker Festival Singers will acknowledge this fact with “For All the Saints” Nov. 3 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. The concert, conducted by William Baker, will honor the sanctified with music by composers of various eras and nationalities, including Claudio Monteverdi and the Festival Singers composer-in-residence Edward Frazier Davis.

The centerpiece of the program is Bach’s Cantata No. 106 “Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit,” also known as Actus Tragicus. Considered by musicologists to be one of the earliest of Bach’s cantatas, it’s also considered one of his finest. Using texts from the Old and New testaments as well as Lutheran hymns, the work is an exhortation to prepare for death. The German musicologist Alfred Dürr wrote that “The Actus tragicus belongs to the great musical literature of the world.”

3 p.m. Nov. 3. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 1307 Holmes St. $5-$50.

Behzod Abduraimov

It’s always a special treat to hear Behzod Abduraimov, London International Piano Competition winner and artist-in-residence at Park University’s International Center for Music. Abduraimov will present a recital Oct. 30 at the 1900 Building that is the epitome of 19th century romanticism. In addition to Chopin’s Op. 28 Preludes and Debussy’s delightful Children’s Corner, Abduraimov will perform Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

If all you know is Ravel’s orchestration of these Russian miniatures, you need to hear the original piano version, which has a power that might make you forget about Ravel.

This recital is a preview of the program that Abduraimov will present in Carnegie Hall on Dec. 10. Let’s count our lucky stars that we have such stellar talent in our midst that no trip to New York is necessary to hear the finest musicians in the world.

7:30 p.m. Oct. 30. 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods. $10-$30.

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The National Dance Company of Siberia National Dance Company of Siberia

Dance Company of Siberia

Brace yourselves, the Dance Company of Siberia is coming. With a fiery passion that can thaw frozen tundra, this company of dancers, with swords gleaming, will gallop into Yardley Hall Nov. 2.

Preserving the rich Siberian folk culture with colorful costumes and dazzling dance, the National Dance Company of Siberia is acclaimed for its authenticity and power to enthrall audiences with mind-boggling athleticism.

8 p.m. Nov. 2. Yardley Hall, Carlsen Center, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park. $18-$49. 913-469-4445 or

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