The Kansas City Symphony ended its 2014/2015 season with a program celebrating the triumph of the individual. Friday night’s concert in Helzberg Hall showcased solo voices, guest pianist Vadym Kholodenko and Richard Strauss’ riotous heroic tone poem.
The audience offered deserved and robust applause often throughout the concert.
Indeed, even before the downbeat, the audience was on its feet in response to music director Michael Stern’s acknowledgement of a season well done by the volunteers, the support staff and the players themselves.
“I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am, but since you stood up already,” he joked, “thank you and good night!”
Nevertheless, they proceeded with Christopher Theofanidis’ “Rainbow Body,” based melodically on a chant from 12th century mystic nun Hildegard of Bingen and conceptually on a Buddhist stage of enlightenment.
This atmospheric work favored the low voices in the orchestra with impassioned solos from the bass clarinet and cello. Melding tones, shimmering evocatively, laced and scooped under sparkling accents.
Kholodenko, gold medalist in the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition, performed Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s massive Piano Concerto No. 1. The demanding piece was, as expected, forceful and lavish, but it was Kholodenko’s playfulness that brought a renewed level of delight to this familiar work, commanding applause after the first movement, multiple curtain calls at the work’s conclusion, and another prolonged ovation after his encore.
He brought forth an array of characters, attaching different attitudes to the sequencing lines and captivating cadenzas. A ferocious yet nuanced performer, Kholodenko immediately refocused the audience’s attention after Stern’s baton clipped the music stand during a furious section, the broken end whirling up and over the viola section.
For Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life) the ensemble neared on-stage capacity and offered a riveting display of force and energy. Many breathtaking moments — the scorching horns, almost imperceptible cello tremolo, the cannon-shot like bass drum hits, an introspective English horn solo — eclipsed the occasionally ragged presentation in a piece that is as weird as they come.
The initial fanfare was followed with fantastic pockets of silence before the winds entered with their nagging, dismissive lines against a foreboding tuba.
Concertmaster Noah Geller was defiant and vigorous during his extended solo.
Tremendous dynamic control across the full spectrum and immediate, dramatic shifts heightened the excitement. They embraced the loopy, frenetic aspects of the work, the end coming as a sudden and enigmatic resolution to the hero’s story.