The prestigious Harriman-Jewell Series is in the midst of its 50th-anniversary season, for which it has been pulling out all the stops.
But how about next year? How in the world do you top a season that just a few weeks ago gave us Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez in a duo recital?
Well, it’s clear the series is determined to keep the party going.
Its recently announced 2015-16 season has a lineup of classical stars to rival those on its glittering golden anniversary. From Les Arts Florissants conducted by William Christie to a duo recital by Itzhak Perlman and Emanuel Ax, the 51st season of the Harriman-Jewell Series promises no diminution in quality.
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“John Middelkamp, the chair of our board of advisers, was poking us a little when he said that you don’t want to have a blowout 50th season and then drop off the map,” said Clark Morris, executive director of the Harriman-Jewell Series.
“We wanted to maintain people’s interest and give them something that’s worthy to come back to, and we were fortunate in being able to come up with stars we weren’t able to use in the 50th season. We also have some really interesting and exciting projects.”
The standout for many of us is Les Arts Florissants, which Morris rightly describes as “the greatest early music band in the world.” Whenever Christie brings his ensemble to town, you are guaranteed a memorable concert. For their concert at Helzberg Hall in April 2016, Les Arts will perform a program that received raves at Wigmore Hall in London in 2013.
“It’s called ‘Serious Airs and Drinking Songs,’” Morris said. “It’s a sort of baroque concert opera that has roots in 17th-century music that was created for nobles and in people’s houses. It is lightly staged as a wedding, and putting these songs together, serious songs and humorous songs. Should be a lot of fun.”
Another highlight of the new season is a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti. The orchestra, one of the greatest in the world, has never appeared on the Harriman-Jewell Series. According to Morris, the Symphony hasn’t performed in Kansas City since the 1950s.
“It’s been a hole in the great orchestras we’ve presented,” Morris said, “and the fact that we’re going to be able to present them now and with a conductor many people consider one of the greatest in the world is a thrilling opportunity for us.”
Ballet, which has always been so important to the Harriman-Jewell Series, is well represented by Stars of American Ballet and the Russian National Ballet Theatre. For dance with a more ethnic flair, there’s Compania Flamenca Jose Porcel and the Krasnoyarsk National Dance Company of Siberia.
There are no vocal superstars on the level of DiDonato and Florez next season, but mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, a Metropolitan Opera regular, and critically acclaimed baritone Nathan Gunn will give a duo recital that promises vocalism of the highest order. And for those whose tastes incline more toward Broadway, there’s Audra McDonald.
“We’ve presented Audra twice before, but it’s been quite a while, so I know our audience is going to be hungry to hear her again,” Morris said. “She had only won four Tonys when we presented her in 2005, and now she has six. People just melt when she sings. She can do almost any genre. She has a Metropolitan Opera-quality voice but can take it anywhere you want to go. She’s just really extraordinary.” McDonald has more Tonys than any other actor, and has won in all four categories.
The season is filled with many other felicities. In addition to the star-powered season-opener featuring Perlman and Ax, there’s pianist Stephen Hough, the Vienna Boys Choir and four free Discovery concerts with superb classical talent like the 28-year-old Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang.
Morris is especially looking forward to a concert featuring the Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards.
“We’ve done a few of these British and Scottish bands in the past, and it’s always an incredible spectacle,” he said. “We have so much fun. They’re very special events.”
The 2015-16 Harriman
Sept. 8: Itzhak Perlman, violinist, and Emanuel Ax, pianist, in duo recital (Helzberg Hall)
Sept. 26: Audra McDonald, in concert (Helzberg Hall)
Oct. 2: Compania Flamenca Jose Porcel (Folly Theater)
Oct. 9: Krasnoyarsk National Dance Company of Siberia (Helzberg Hall)
Oct. 17: Metropolitan Opera Rising Stars Concert Series with Brian Zeger, pianist (Folly Theater)
Oct. 23: Stars of American Ballet (Muriel Kauffman Theatre)
Oct. 27: Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Riccardo Muti (Helzberg Hall)
Oct. 30: Daniela Liebman, pianist in recital. Discovery concert, free. (Folly Theater)
Nov. 20: Vienna Boys Choir (Folly Theater)
Jan. 14, 2016: Russian National Ballet Theatre (Muriel Kauffman Theatre)
Feb. 15: The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards (Helzberg Hall)
Feb. 20: Ye-Eun Choi, violinist in recital. Free Discovery concert. (Folly Theater)
Feb. 28: Russian National Orchestra led by Mikhail Pletnev with Yuja Wang, piano soloist (Helzberg Hall)
March 5: Vilde Frang, violinist in recital. Discovery concert, free. (Folly Theater)
March 12: Stephen Hough, pianist in recital. (Folly Theater)
April 15: Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano; Nathan Gunn, baritone; Stefan Milenkovich, violinist; and Julie Gunn, pianist; in recital (Folly Theater)
April 23: Les Arts Florissants chamber orchestra and choir led by William Christie (Helzberg Hall)
April 29: Edgar Moreau, cellist in recital. Discovery concert, free. (Folly Theater)