Kansas City is obviously a classical music-loving town. Not just because of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the Kansas City Symphony, but also the many community orchestras that draw passionate musicians and audiences from around the area.
One of the finest, the Northland Symphony Orchestra, will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a special concert in Helzberg Hall at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 9. As with all NSO concerts, admission is free.
Fifty years ago, a group of musicians in the Northland decided their part of the metro needed a high-quality ensemble to provide concerts to their community and a place for professional, amateur and student musicians to perform together.
“The three families that helped start the organization were the Hammonds, the Hales and the Bryans,” Jim Murray, the Northland symphony’s conductor, said. “The Hammonds were members of the Kansas City Philharmonic but also private teachers that lived up North. The Hales were big music educators in the Northland, and the Bryans were highly skilled musicians. There’s a member of each one of those families still playing in the orchestra today, and I think that’s cool.”
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Murray is celebrating an anniversary of his own. The current season marks his 20th year as the group’s conductor. It has been a winding path to his current position. Growing up in St. Louis, Murray began playing woodwinds in the fifth grade.
“I wanted to follow my teacher’s footsteps and be a woodwind doubler,” Murray said. “So in high school I played saxophone in the jazz band and clarinet in the symphonic band and orchestra. I saw that as my path.”
After graduating from high school, Murray studied music in St. Charles for two years before transferring to William Jewell College. There he studied under Philip Posey, conductor of the Kansas City Wind Symphony. While at William Jewell, Murray was apprentice conductor for the Liberty Symphony and was bitten by the conducting bug. He decided to pursue his master’s degree in conducting at the University of Denver.
“About the time I graduated from the University of Denver in ’97, Dr. Posey wanted to start a youth orchestra under the Liberty Symphony Orchestra, and he asked me if I would return to the area to do that,” Murray said. “Other things fell into place and shortly after moving back, the Northland Symphony was having auditions for a new conductor. I auditioned and they ultimately offered me the position. I’ve been there ever since.”
Murray has chosen a festive program to celebrate his and the orchestra’s anniversaries. It will begin with a choir made up of children from North Kansas City elementary schools singing two selections. Then Nicole Murray, Murray’s wife and a remarkable musician in her own right, will sing the heart-melting aria “Song to the Moon” from Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka.”
Murray has lent her beautiful voice to many local choirs over the years and is currently the director of the Chapel Choir at William Jewell.
Closing out the first half is harpist Emily Granger, a real NSO success story. She won the orchestra’s high school competition in 2005 and is now a professional harpist living in Australia. She’ll return to play the Concert Piece for Harp and Orchestra by Gabriel Pierné.
The second half is devoted to “Scheherazade” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Arabian Nights” fantasy is an over-the-top romantic blockbuster and a challenge for any orchestra. It will show just what the NSO can do. Concertmaster Sarah Saylor will play the work’s prominent violin part.
“This will be my first time doing “Scheherazade” and my first time in the Kauffman Center,” Murray said. “I’ve looked at that score on and off over the years because it is an orchestral showpiece, and we have a strong orchestra and even stronger principal players, so it was pretty obvious that was the piece for this program.”
Murray is not content to rest on his laurels. He has big plans for the Northland Symphony’s future, including an endowment, which he says is almost a reality, and a performing arts center for those who live north of the river.
“I’d love to see us involved in getting movement for some kind of community performing arts center,” he said. “Sort of the Yardley Hall of the Northland, so to speak. I just feel like that’s the next thing, not just for our orchestra but for many groups that would benefit from that. I think it would be a real asset.”
Murray believes his mission is to build on the vision of the Northland Symphony’s founders by nurturing artistic excellence, creating financial stability and continuing to serve the community.
“Every year I’m more thankful to the people who started the Northland Symphony,” he said. “The board and I have been entrusted with something. I feel like we stand on the shoulders of the people who have gone before, and we want to do right by them as we make decisions that will affect the organization for the next five, 10 years in the future.”
Tickets for the 50th anniversary are getting scarce, so Murray suggests calling the Kauffman Center for ticket availability.
3 p.m. Sunday, April 9. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Free. For ticket availability, call the Kauffman Center box office at 816-994-7222. To learn more about the Northland Symphony Orchestra, visit NorthlandSymphony.org.
“Bond and Beyond”
James Bond without his memorable theme is as unimaginable as Bond without a shaken-not-stirred martini. But there’s more music to the Bond films than just that iconic motif, as the Kansas City Symphony will demonstrate when it presents “Bond and Beyond: 50 Years of 007” on April 13, 14 and 15 at Helzberg Hall.
Guest conductor Michael Krajewski and vocalist Debbie Gravitte will perform music from Bond classics like “Casino Royale,” “Goldfinger,” “From Russia With Love” and “Diamonds Are Forever.”
There also will be a tribute to other cinema adventures with music from “The Pink Panther,” “Dick Tracy” and “Austin Powers.” Groovy, baby.