Classical Music & Dance

The Classical Beat: Singer Marilyn Maye reflects on a very good year

Chris Mann.
Chris Mann. File photo

For Marilyn Maye’s legion of Kansas City fans, 2014 has been a very good year.

In October, the 86-year-old Maye gave a sold-out performance with the Kansas City Symphony, and now she’s returning with a Christmas present, a holiday concert with her New York combo this Saturday at Yardley Hall.

Maye says that Christmas in Kansas City has always been important for her. She has fond memories of making music and spreading cheer in her hometown during the holiday season.

“Always in Kansas City it was the lighting of the Mayor’s Christmas Tree,” she said. “I did that for many, many years for three different mayors. I’m always home for Christmas, and one year I said to my singer and musician friends, ‘Let’s go caroling.’ The next year other people wanted to join us, and as we went caroling we started to take a collection for the Mayor’s Christmas Tree.

“After several years, the mayor finally gave us a bus because so many people had joined us. We went all over town. We went into hotel lobbies, we went to Children’s Mercy Hospital and the veterans’ hospital. We felt like we were doing something with our voices and our time and our energy. As time went on, as I played Dallas and various other cities, if I was there in December, I would organize caroling in those towns. That was a wonderful dimension to my Christmas.”

This has been an extraordinary year for Maye. Her nightclub career is going stronger than ever. Aficionados throng her New York nightclub performances, which sell out for weeks at a time. In October, right after her performance in Kansas City, she left for London, where she was a big hit.

“I worked five nights there in this wonderful club,” she said. “I never do encores. Once I do my last tune, I leave and that’s it. Well, on opening night and every night, they stood and applauded so long that we did encores every night. It was a joy to be there. We’ll go to London again next year. I keep saying, ‘Next year.’ It gets more frightening to book two years in advance, but that’s kind of what I’m doing.”

Maye is also keeping busy and teaching master classes and helping young singers design their acts. She’s working mightily to pass the tradition of the Great American Songbook on to future generations.

But next Saturday, Maye, who lives in Overland Park, will be doing what she loves best: singing for an audience, especially a hometown audience.

“It’s been at least 10 or 12 years since I’ve been to Yardley Hall,” she said. “It’s a wonderful large theater that feels very intimate. It feels very friendly. This year we’re going to do a little bit of Christmas music. It won’t be all Christmas music. It’ll be songs that I love and adore that are in my repertoire, songs that I did in London recently. I always say my concerts are just a great big party, so this year it’s going to be a big Christmas party.”

You can enjoy a pre-show dinner in the Regnier Center at 6:15 p.m. for $25 per person, but you must purchase the dinner by noon on Wednesday. Call 913-469-4445 to make your reservations.

8 p.m. Saturday. Yardley Hall, Johnson County Community College. $27-$80. 913-469-4445 or www.jccc.edu/theseries.

Owen/Cox Dance Group: “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”

This will be the last year for Kansas City to enjoy two beloved but very different “Nutcrackers.”

The Kansas City Ballet is retiring the Todd Bolender “Nutcracker,” and the Owen/Cox Dance Group is taking its avant garde “Nutcracker and the Mouse King” on the road.

The Owen/Cox Dance Group will perform “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” for two final local performances Saturday and Sunday at the Polsky Theater in the Carlsen Center of Johnson County Community College.

We’ll probably bring it back in a few years, but we’re going to take a break from performing it in town and instead we’ll perform it in venues around the region,” said Jennifer Owen, co-artistic director of the group. “So if people want to see it and they haven’t, this is their last chance for a while.”

“The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is a funhouse mirror version of the traditional “Nutcracker,” playing up the darker themes of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story on which the ballet is based and using Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score as a jumping-off point for the People’s Liberation Big Band’s kaleidoscopic jazz improvisations.

Owen’s choreography is incredibly creative and informed by her many years of dancing in “The Nutcracker” herself. She’s performed in Nutcrackers that have been as surreal as her own version.

“The first job I had was with the Russian State Ballet, and we premiered their new production of ‘The Nutcracker’ in the Arab Emirates,” she said. “I was 18, and we performed in various venues around the Arab Emirates and in Abu Dhabi, where we performed it on the beach of the Persian Gulf. We had to change our costumes in this tent that was very sandy, so we had sand in our tights and sand in our shoes. It was very humid, so there was a lot of condensation on the stage and it was very slippery. I remember the presenter was a little bit disappointed because he was promised that snowflakes would fall during the snow scene, but it wasn’t able to be rigged that way, so although there were snowflakes dancing on stage, there was no snow falling on the beach.”

Owen and her husband, Brad Cox, composer and co-artistic director of Owen/Cox, are looking forward to bringing their holiday treat to other audiences in the region, who almost certainly will have never seen anything like it. In fact, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is so well done and such a unique work of art, I think it has the potential to go national.

“We would definitely love to do that, it just depends on finding the right venue and the right presenter and finding the funding to do so,” Owen said. “We just formed a touring company this year, so it’s nice to have people actively researching and making contacts to various presenters who might be interested in bringing the production there. We have a few on our list, and we’re hoping that something works out. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Dec. 14. Polsky Theatre, Johnson County Community College. $10-$20. 913-469-4445 or www.jccc.edu/theseries.

Kansas City Chorale

The Kansas City Chorale will be as busy as Santa’s elves this week. The Grammy-winning ensemble led by Charles Bruffy will be performing four holiday concerts, ranging from a winter-themed program at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to a family-friendly concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Tickets for all concerts are available by calling 816-235-6222.

▪ Wintersong at the Nelson: 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Rozzelle Court, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St. $25 or $100 for reserved seating with a glass of wine.

▪ Holiday Concert: 7:30 p.m. Friday at Rolling Hills, 9300 Nall Avenue, Overland Park, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 4041 Main St. $10-$30.

▪ The Chorale and Friends Christmas Concert: 2:00 p.m. Saturday at St. Michael the Archangel, 14251 Nall, Leawood. $10.

Kansas City Symphony: Oleta Adams and Chris Mann

Here’s a concert that promises to make you feel warm in every possible way. Kansas City’s hometown chanteuse Oleta Adams and Wichita native Chris Mann will team up with the Kansas City Symphony conducted by Aram Demirjian, for a Christmas concert to benefit the Mission Project, a local group helping young adults with developmental disabilities; and First Downs for Down syndrome, which raises money for the Kansas City Down syndrome community.

Adams got her start singing in a Kansas City nightclub before she was discovered by Tears for Fears and subsequently toured the U.S. with the group. She has since had several hit albums and is a popular touring artist.

Mann was a finalist on The Voice, made a guest appearance on Glee and was the star of his own PBS special. Mann’s classically trained voice should complement Adams’ soulful singing beautifully.

8 p.m. Friday. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $52-$125. $125 ticket includes special reception and a meet-and-greet on stage. 816-471-0400 or www.kcsymphony.org.

Patrick Neas is program director for RadioBach.com. You can reach him at pneas@jccc.edu

Free Christmas concerts

If you’re tapped out from Christmas expenses, you especially need some holiday cheer, and Kansas City’s excellent community orchestras are here to help. Here are some free Christmas concerts, and it’s high quality music, too, led by some outstanding conductors.

Kansas City Civic Orchestra — Sounds of the Season

The Kansas City Civic Orchestra conducted by Christopher Kelts will perform Christmas favorites like Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride as well as wintry works like Leopold Mozart’s Musical Sleigh Ride and “Troika” from Sergei Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kije” Suite.

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Atonement Lutheran Church, 9948 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park. www.kccivic.org.

Northland Symphony Orchestra — Holiday Pops Concert

Jim Murray leads the Northland Symphony Orchestra in two holiday pops concerts today.

3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Park Hill South High School, 4500 N.W. River Park Drive. www.northlandsymphony.org.

Heritage Philharmonic — Music of Christmas

Jim Murray is also conducting the Heritage Philharmonic in “Music of Christmas” next Saturday. The orchestra will be joined by the Delta Woods Middle School’s Honor Choir and the handbell choir from First United Methodist Church of Blue Springs.

7:30 p.m. Saturday. Blue Springs High School, 2000 N.W. Ashton Drive, Blue Springs. www.heritagephilharmonic.org.

Messiah Singalong

Every year, music lovers gather at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral to sing the glorious choruses from Handel’s “Messiah,” while some of Kansas City’s finest singers take care of the solo parts. This year, soprano Paulette Resch and counter-tenor Jay Carter are returning soloists, and tenor Joseph DeSota and baritone Edward Straub will do solo honors for the first time. Jack Ergo will conduct the Kansas City Baroque Consortium.

4 p.m. Saturday. Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th. 816-214-9928 or www.ghtc-kc.org.

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