From an important ballet premiere to a concert by an internationally acclaimed orchestra, the first half of 2016 is chock full of excitement for classical music lovers in Kansas City. The next few months will see big performances of big pieces by big stars. There are no half-measures.
The Kansas City Symphony will be joined by an internationally acclaimed pianist who also happens to be a local student. The Harriman-Jewell Series is presenting two of the world’s greatest orchestras, one Russian and one period instrument.
There are excellent pianists on the Friends of Chamber Music Series, the “Royal Family of the Guitar” is visiting Yardley Hall, and the Lyric Opera will present a rising opera star in an iconic role.
To cap it all off, the Kansas City Ballet will mark a watershed by performing one of the most popular works in the repertoire for the very first time.
Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a delirious ride.
Kansas City Symphony
▪ When London International Piano Competition winner Behzod Abduraimov performed the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff with the Kansas City Symphony in 2011, it was spellbinding.
So there’s every reason to expect fireworks again when Abduraimov joins the Symphony March 4-6 to perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The concert conducted by Michael Stern also will feature Anatol Liadov’s “The Enchanted Lake” and Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony.
▪ The Symphony will end its season June 16-19 with Ludwig Van Beethoven’s iconic Symphony No. 9. The work, which concludes with the famous “Ode to Joy,” has inspired audiences and other composers ever since the completely deaf Beethoven conducted its premiere. It’s the perfect way to cap off a season of great performances.
Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.
Harriman-Jewell: Russian National Orchestra
The Harriman-Jewell Series likes to do things in a big way, such as bringing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra last November. And it has more giganto concerts in the works before this season is over.
▪ Feb. 28, it’s the Russian National Orchestra conducted by its founder, Mikhail Pletnev. No one does Russian music better, and the concert will feature such great works as Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Igor Stravinsky’s orchestral showpiece, “The Firebird Suite.” Pianist Yuja Wang will join the orchestra for Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
▪ April 23, a renowned period instrument ensemble, Les Arts Florissants, will appear in the Harriman-Jewell Series in what is being described as a French program of “serious airs and drinking songs.” William Christie will conduct Les Arts in music by French baroque masters like Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Michel Lambert. This is a don’t-miss concert.
Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. 816-415-5025 or hjseries.org.
Friends of Chamber Music
The Friends of Chamber Music has great news for lovers of piano music. In 2016 it will present two of the world’s finest pianists: Richard Goode and Alexander Melnikov.
▪ Goode has a long affiliation with the series, beginning in the late 1980s with a performance of all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. He returns Feb. 19, and once again Beethoven will figure prominently in his recital, with the composer’s Piano Sonatas Nos. 27 and 31 and his Six Bagatelles, Op. 126.
But this time Goode is adding Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata, D. 959, a work written in the final months of the composer’s life. It’s considered one of Schubert’s greatest masterpieces.
▪ Melnikov is the sort of musician that is a Friends of Chamber Music specialty. He’s not exactly a marquee name, but he is a sublime artist much admired by cognoscenti. Melnikov’s previous concert on the Friends’ series in 2013 blew people away, and with the program he has chosen for his March 4 recital at the Folly, he’s certain to do the same.
With works like the Wanderer Fantasy by Schubert, 7 Fantasies Op. 116 by Johannes Brahms, and Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich, it’s the kind of recital you can sink your teeth into.
▪ Another concert on the Friends schedule to look forward to is the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra with violinist Pinchas Zukerman on March 18. It is as finely tuned as a Bulova Accutron watch, and Zukerman — well, he’s simply one of the greatest violinists in the world. Put them together, and you’re pretty much guaranteed an evening of great music, especially when they perform music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Beethoven and Maurice Ravel.
Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. 816-561-9999 or chambermusic.org.
Lyric Opera of Kansas City
Filled with memorable tunes and featuring a lusty title character, George Bizet’s “Carmen” is one of the most popular operas in the repertoire. It has been six years since the Lyric Opera has mounted the work, so this production, April 23-May 1, will be the first time it will be performed in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre. Expect plenty of spectacle.
Something else to look forward to is Latvian mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde, a rising star getting a lot of buzz in the opera world, who will sing the role of Carmen.
Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. 816-471-7344 or kcopera.org.
Kansas City Ballet
▪ Devon Carney’s brilliant new staging of “The Nutcracker” bodes well for his “Swan Lake,” which will be performed by the Kansas City Ballet Feb. 19-28. Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece is a central work in the ballet repertoire, but it has never been performed by the Kansas City Ballet.
Carney has been increasing the size of the company and thoroughly grounding his dancers in the romantic ballet style so they can do the work justice. “Swan Lake” is yet one more reason why this is a watershed year for the Kansas City Ballet.
▪ As if a brand new “Nutcracker” and first-ever staging of “Swan Lake” weren’t enough, the ballet will conclude its season May 6-15 with yet another ambitious undertaking: an edgy staging of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”
Stravinsky’s ballet of shamanic human sacrifice provoked riots when it was first performed in 1913, and choreographer Adam Hougland’s conception promises to be just as provocative. Set in an apocalyptic future, Houghland’s “Rite” explores the consequences of humanity’s abuse of the environment. Kudos to Carney and the Kansas City Ballet for daring to shake things up with programs like this.
Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. 816-931-8993 or kcballet.org.
Performing Arts Series of Johnson County Community College
The Performing Arts Series of Johnson County Community College is in the midst of its 25th anniversary season, for which its general manager, Emily Behrmann, has put together a remarkable lineup. The second half of the landmark season features such delights as Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and the Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra.
I’m especially looking forward to the Feb. 20 performance by Los Romeros. The group, known as the Royal Family of the Guitar, was founded in 1960 by Celedonio Romero. When the Romeros perform, you can expect guitar playing at its finest. The whole family is steeped in the Spanish guitar tradition, and its concerts often feature some of the most beloved selections of the Spanish repertoire.
Yardley Hall, Johnson County Community College. 913-469-4445 or jccc.edu/theseries.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kansas City Symphony: “Brilliant Brits”
The Kansas City Symphony is kicking off the new year with a program of music from jolly old England.
“Brilliant Brits” will feature acclaimed conductor Robert Spano leading the orchestra in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony, a gorgeous travelogue of the British capital. Cellist Timotheos Petrin will be the soloist in Edward Elgar’s cello concerto, and also on the program is “Higglety, Pigglety Pop!” by contemporary composer Oliver Knussen.
8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, and Saturday, Jan. 9, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $23-$84. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.