As welcome as a cherry Popsicle and a cool breeze, Summer Music at the Cathedrals has provided relief to sweltering Kansas City music lovers every August since 1982.
This year once again, the Gothic interiors of Grace & Holy Trinity and Immaculate Conception cathedrals will be filled with the cooling sounds of classical music every Sunday in August.
John Schaefer, music director and organist for Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, provides a varied and delightful season that showcases some of Kansas City’s finest local musicians. This year, there’s something unique for all tastes, from an intimate song cycle by Franz Schubert to bombastic French organ music.
Concert pianist Avguste Antonov will open the series Sunday with contemporary music most likely never before heard in Kansas City.
“They’re not severely modern works,” Schaefer said. “They’re pretty. It’s just interesting new music which he has championed.”
On the program is newly composed ragtime by Gregory Hutter, as well as a cosmic piece by Matthew Saunders called “Starry Wanderers.”
On Aug. 9, tenor Joseph DeSota, accompanied by pianist Natalia Rivera, will perform Schubert’s “Die Schöne Müllerin.” These 20 songs run the gamut from youthful ecstasy to darkest despair. Based on poems by Wilhelm Müller, “Die Schöne Müllerin” is considered one of the greatest of all German song cycles.
Musicians who regularly perform at Grace & Holy Trinity will have a chance to strut their stuff on Aug. 16. This “Potpourri” concert will feature flutist Jordan Buckner, oboist Meribeth Risebig, baritone David Helder, bassoonist Claudia Risebig, baritone Paul Davidson and organist Lynne Tidwell.
Schaefer says the concert will be “a real fun bag of music performed by people who perform at the cathedral but don’t perform as soloists very often.” A highlight will be baritone John Pinkston singing a rarity by Francis Poulenc, “Le Bestiaire,” based on Aesop’s fables.
On Aug. 23, the series moves to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the third annual French Organ Festival. This magnificent marathon of organ music is the brainchild of Mario Pearson, director of music and organist at Immaculate Conception. He wanted it to complement Bachathon, which takes place in May at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Although he’s a devoted acolyte of Johann Sebastian Bach, Schaefer also appreciates French organ music, from the grandeur of Romantic composers like Louis Vierne and Charles-Marie Widor to the delicate filigree of French baroque masters like François Couperin.
“I love it,” Schaefer said. “Music of the French baroque is very intricate. I’m always fascinated with how people will embellish the notes with little twirls and twiddles.”
Even though Schaefer is a fierce champion of Grace & Holy Trinity’s 67-rank Gabriel Kney tracker organ, he acknowledges that Immaculate Conception’s 50-rank Ruffatti organ with its digital enhancements is perfect for French organ music.
“It’s a fine, fine instrument,” he said. “It’s been enhanced with a lot of colorful digitally sampled sounds. It has more sound on the instrument than the stock nomenclature would indicate. It may have 50 ranks, but you really have hundreds more because of the digital sampling. The acoustics in Immaculate Conception are just right for it, too. The sound is able to move and bloom and still have a little decay, which is so typical of the French cathedrals.”
The Lyric Arts Trio will conclude Summer Music at the Cathedrals on Aug. 30 with “Remembering the Great War.” Soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson, clarinetist Elena Talley and pianist Dan Velicer will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I with music from that era.
“What will be on that program I do not know at this point,” Schaefer said, “but it will be beautiful and wonderful because they are amazing musicians who build significantly fine programs. There will be some music from that period, but there’s a new piece in the works using poetry from that time set by a more recent composer.”
But wait, there’s more.
In addition to the Summer Music at the Cathedrals series, Schaefer and three of his friends will perform a free recital on his birthday, Aug. 7. Joined by soprano Kayleigh Aytes, violinist Susan Goldenberg and trumpeter Keith Benjamin, Schaefer will celebrate his natal day with what he calls “a little bag of treats.”
“It’s music I want to play,” he said. “The first piece is the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat by Bach, which is my favorite Bach prelude and fugue. I like the grandeur of it. I mean, there are some pieces that are grand, but I just find the E-flat Prelude and Fugue to be grander than most.
“I like to do significant things on my birthday anniversary. It’s kind of fun to take that day and say, ‘OK, here’s something for you to do this evening.’ I’m also hoping it will generate some funds for our next choir tour to Exeter Cathedral and Norwich Cathedral in July 2016.”
Summer Music at the Cathedrals
▪ Sunday: Pianist Avguste Antonov performs music by contemporary composers. (2 p.m. at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St.)
▪ Aug. 9: Tenor Joseph DeSota and pianist Natalia Rivera perform “Die Schöne Müllerin” by Franz Schubert (2 p.m. at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral)
▪ Aug. 16: Cathedral Musicians’ Potpourri Concert (2 p.m. at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral)
▪ Aug. 23: French Organ Festival (1-5 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 W. 12th St.)
▪ Aug. 30: The Lyric Arts Trio (2 p.m. at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral)
▪ Aug 7: John Schaefer’s Birthday Concert with John Schaefer, organ; Kayleigh Aytes, soprano; Susan Goldenberg, violin; and Keith Benjamin, trumpet (7 p.m. at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral)