The Kansas City Symphony has just announced its 2016-17 season, and it’s a lineup that crackles with excitement.
Music director Michael Stern and executive director Frank Byrne have designed a season that is chockablock with important classical works, many of which have not been performed by the Kansas City Symphony for many years or even decades. And there’s adventure, too, with lots of brand new pieces by contemporary composers.
There are large-scale choral works such as Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the world premiere of a violin concerto by renowned Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara and the rafter-raising Organ Symphony No. 1 by Alexandre Guilmant featuring the brilliant Paul Jacobs as soloist.
Stern and Byrne have lined up an impressive list of other soloists as well, such as violinists Stefan Jackiw, Anne Akiko Meyers and Philippe Quint and beloved pianist Emanuel Ax. Guest conductors include returning Kansas City favorites Bernard Labadie and Jun Märkl.
“I think the season has got a great mix and a lot of power,” Stern said. “Every program was structured with an idea behind it. I’m very happy with what we’ve put together.”
It’s astonishing the number of standard works that will be heard next year that have not been performed in years by the Kansas City Symphony, such as Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto. And some, such as Claude Debussy’s rhythmically complex “Jeux,” have never been performed by the Symphony.
“There are across the season 34 composers and 43 works, 16 of which have not been performed by the Symphony since it was founded in 1982,” Byrne said. “We have five Kansas City premieres and one world premiere, but we also have an important commitment to playing the masterworks of the classical repertoire and major works by major composers.”
In addition to those masterworks, next season has plenty to please aficionados of contemporary music. New music can be a turn-off for those most comfortable with the chestnuts, but Stern has gained his audience’s trust with an unerring knack for programming new compositions that, while often challenging, are also engaging and tantalizing to the ear.
Next year, the Kansas City Symphony will perform works by contemporary composers Patrick Harlin, Michael Gandolfi, David Hertzberg and Narong Prangcharoen, a Thai composer who studied with Chen Yi at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance. Especially exciting is a piano concerto by a young Russian virtuoso who is being hailed as one of the greatest pianists of his generation.
“Daniil Trifonov is playing his own concerto,” Stern said. “How cool is that? People are going to love it. I’ve looked at the score, and it’s very romantic. The guy is a phenomenal pianist and wrote to his strength. It’s very Russian. It’s a language that people will absolutely embrace.”
Of course, there are plenty of established classics planned for next season as well, including essential works like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, both of which have not been performed by the Symphony in 10 years, and Gustav Mahler’s masterpiece “Das Lied von der Erde,” last performed by the Symphony in 1990.
“ ‘Das Lied’ is for the ages,” Stern said. “It’s something that you can hardly touch. I thought it was kind of a cool idea to pair it with the (Franz) Schubert ‘Unfinished’ Symphony because there is something eternal and timeless about the Schubert that leads into the world of ‘Das Lied’ in a very special way. I like that pairing very, very much.”
Besides the classical series, the Kansas City Symphony is offering a plethora of pops concerts, including an expansion of the popular Screenland at the Symphony series that will feature a return of “Phantom of the Opera” with organ accompaniment and three films with scores by John Williams.
“I think the very best thing about the Screenland at the Symphony series is that we are able to provide a remarkable entertainment experience that still has the focus on extremely high quality music,” Byrne said. “The combination of film with live orchestra has proven to be a very attractive experience for the audience. And next season, we’re particularly excited to present three major John Williams film scores in ‘Home Alone,’ ‘E.T.’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ ”
Next year also will bring comfortable seating for those who enjoy looking down on the orchestra from the choir loft but don’t enjoy the sore back that the stiff benches usually provoke.
“Working with the Kauffman Center, we have a definite plan in place to have the benches in the choral loft replaced with individual seats exactly like those installed throughout the rest of the hall,” Byrne said. “I love sitting in that vantage point because it is so much a part of the music. The new seats will provide greater comfort and will provide another benefit, additional accessible seating.”
There was a time in the ’80s and ’90s when the Kansas City Symphony would try to be ambitious and program, say, Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and the results were a train wreck. But now, the orchestra, shaped by Stern’s musicianship and Byrne’s guidance, has the chops to take on any challenge.
“I think this will be our most confident season because the orchestra has no impediments at all,” Stern said. “The Kansas City Symphony really sounds great. We play with an urgency to make every concert the best it can be. And you can feel that in the audience. The experience of coming to the concerts with programs this dramatic and fun and meaningful will be a different experience than ever. You haven’t heard anything yet.”
You can reach Patrick Neas at email@example.com.
▪ Sept. 30-Oct. 2: Patrick Harlin’s “Rapture,” Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto (with violinist Stefan Jackiw)
▪ Oct. 21-23: Alexandre Guilmant’s Symphony No. 1 for Organ and Orchestra, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem (with organist Paul Jacobs, soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Romano, tenor Andrew Stenson, bass Wei Wu and the Kansas City Symphony Chorus)
▪ Nov. 18-20: Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Daniil Trifonov’s Piano Concerto and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 (with pianist Trifonov)
▪ Nov. 25-27: Mozart’s Overture to “Don Giovanni,” Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 98 (with guest conductor Bernard Labadie and pianist Robert Levin)
▪ Jan. 13-15, 2017: Zoltán Kodály’s Concerto for Orchestra, Béla Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 5 (with guest conductor Cristian Macelaru and violinist Noah Geller)
▪ Jan. 20-22: Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn and Richard Wagner’s Suite from “Die Meistersinger” (with guest conductor Asher Fisch and pianist George Li)
▪ Jan. 27-29: Michael Gandolfi’s Suite from “The Garden of Cosmic Speculation,” Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 “Spring” (with flutist Michael Gordon)
▪ Feb. 10-12: Anton Webern’s Passacaglia No. 1, Claude Debussy’s En Blanc et Noir, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 “Reformation” (with guest conductor Jun Märkl and cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan)
▪ Feb. 17-19: Paul Hindemith’s Ragtime, Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, David Hertzberg’s “for none shall gaze upon the Father and live,” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 (with pianist Wei Luo)
▪ Feb. 24-26: Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” and Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” (with mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and tenor Joseph Kaiser)
▪ March 24-26: Carl Nielsen’s Overture to “Maskarade,” Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Violin Concerto (world premiere), Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane and Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 (with violinist Anne Akiko Meyers)
▪ May 5-7: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem (with soprano Christine Brewer, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, baritone Stephen Powell and the Kansas City Symphony Chorus)
▪ June 2-4: Debussy’s “Jeux,” Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 19 & 16 and Richard Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” (with pianist Emanuel Ax)
▪ June 16-18: Narong Prangcharoen’s “Phenomenon,” Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 (with violinist Philippe Quint)
▪ Oct. 28-29: Boyz II Men with the Kansas City Symphony
▪ Jan. 6-7, 2017: Simply Swingin’ with Sinatra and Friends starring Steve Lippia
▪ Feb. 3-4: Screenland at the Symphony: “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”
▪ April 14-15: Bond and Beyond: 50 Years of 007
▪ Sept. 18: Buckets and Boards. From Branson, a high-energy show featuring fun songs, percussion and tap-dancing
▪ Jan. 8, 2017: Presto, Mambo! A young boy “helps” the orchestra play music of the Americas
▪ March 5: Around the World in 80 Days. Local theater artist Alex Espy and the Symphony adapt Jules Verne’s classic with puppetry and symphony favorites
▪ Dec. 1-4: George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” (with guest conductor Laurence Cummings, soprano Sherezade Panthaki, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera, tenor Benjamin Butterfield, baritone John Brancy and the Kansas City Symphony Chorus)
▪ Dec. 9: Jim Brickman with the Kansas City Symphony
▪ Dec. 15-18, 20: Christmas Festival
▪ Dec. 21-22: Screenland at the Symphony: “Home Alone”
▪ Sept. 9: The Music of Led Zeppelin with the Kansas City Symphony
▪ Oct. 27: Screenland at the Symphony: “Phantom of the Opera” with organist Dorothy Papadakos
▪ Nov. 10, 12: Screenland at the Symphony: “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (Special 35th Anniversary Celebration)