Classical Music & Dance

The Classical Beat: Joyce DiDonato will perform twice in next Harriman-Jewell Series

Kansas native Joyce DiDonato will perform Dec. 7 at the Folly Theater and April 28, 2017, at the Kauffman Center for the 2016-17 Harriman-Jewell series.
Kansas native Joyce DiDonato will perform Dec. 7 at the Folly Theater and April 28, 2017, at the Kauffman Center for the 2016-17 Harriman-Jewell series. File photo

Can you ever have too much Joyce DiDonato? That’s like asking if you can ever have too much barbecue. Of course not.

The Harriman-Jewell Series 2016-17 season is offering two healthy servings of Kansas City’s hometown mezzo-soprano that are as welcome as two heaping platters of burnt ends and ribs. And there’s plenty more to make next season a veritable feast of music and dance.

In addition to DiDonato’s two appearances, Renée Fleming, perhaps the only other American diva to rival DiDonato in star power, will give a recital. Other big-name classical artists in the new season include violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Denis Matsuev. The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine will fill the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts with their powerful sound.

And dance, always an important part of the Harriman-Jewell Series, is represented by Russian National Ballet and Jessica Lang Dance, which will be making its first appearance in Kansas City.

“Our mission is to bring the best, so we’re really trying to execute that at the highest level,” said Clark Morris, executive director of the series. “I’m enormously proud of this season because it’s a wonderful collection of artists from throughout the world. We try to present diverse and sometime unknown artists to Kansas City that our audience wouldn’t experience without us bringing them here.”

Morris can spend years following talent and then seizing just the right opportunity to present them in Kansas City. One example of that is Jessica Lang. Morris believes that next season is the perfect time for her company’s Kansas City debut.

“I’ve been going to New York and viewing her work and watching her company develop,” Morris said. “I’ve been trying to find the sweet spot when we have a opening in our schedule and also where the maturation of her company has reached an important level. … When I was in New York recently, we got to see excerpts from some of her new work, and it was really incredible. It brought tears to my eyes.”

Another artist Morris has had his eye on is the Russian pianist Denis Matsuev, who won the 11th International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1998 and has appeared at Carnegie Hall 20 times.

“He’s been on our radar for quite some time,” Morris said, “but whenever we would talk to the management about opportunities, it didn’t match up with our schedule. They say that patience is a virtue, so we held on and at last we were finally able to bring him.”

Two orchestral heavy hitters are coming up: the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, a returning favorite, and a newcomer, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine.

“The last time we had the Boston Pops was in the Music Hall in 2002, and Kansas City just really went crazy for them,” Morris said. “So we’re really excited that they’re coming back with Keith Lockhart, who is so dynamic.”

The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine is one of Eastern Europe’s best-kept secrets. Founded in Kiev in the early 1800s, it’s one of Europe’s oldest orchestras, but hasn’t done much international touring. It will be a rare opportunity to hear this acclaimed orchestra, which has made more than a hundred recordings.

One of the world’s greatest violinists will return next season. Anne-Sophie Mutter made her debut at the age of 13 in 1976 with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who continued to nurture her career. With a distinguished international career and a solid gold discography, she is in the pantheon of violin superstars.

“We had Anne-Sophie Mutter with her Mutter Virtuosi last season, our 50th season, and she just knocked us off our feet,” Morris said. “The Times of London calls her the undisputed queen of violin playing, and I won’t argue with that. I just felt that there was magic in the room, so we were thrilled that we were able to bring her back so quickly.”

Nicola Benedetti, at 28 one of today’s finest young violinists, will perform with the Venice Baroque Orchestra, a superb period-instrument orchestra known for its performances of Italian Baroque music. Benedetti made her first appearance on the series in 2007 on one of its free Discovery concerts.

Next season will be the 13th year for the Discovery concerts, one of the Harriman-Jewell Series’ great gifts to the community. Music lovers get to hear artists of Benedetti’s caliber absolutely free.

“We’ve actually increased the number of Discovery concerts next year because of their popularity,” Morris said. “Richard Harriman’s (the founder of the Harriman-Jewell Series) concept was always that he didn’t want the arts to be elitist and only for the wealthy. He wanted the arts to be accessible to all. We’re going to continue to test that boundary to see how much demand there is in Kansas City, and I’m hopeful that maybe some day we’re doing even more of these.”

Next season is sure to please vocal music lovers. Ben Bliss, a Kansas City native and rising opera star, will make his American recital debut on a Discovery concert. Bliss is a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and has appeared many times in Metropolitan Opera productions. And there’s Fleming, the beloved soprano.

“We’ve never presented Renee in Helzberg Hall. We’ve always presented her in the Folly Theater,” Morris said. “One of the wonderful revelations about Helzberg Hall is that even though it was really built for orchestras and ensembles, it works beautifully as a recital hall.”

Finally, there’s Joyce. DiDonato will appear at the Folly Theater in December with the early music group Il Pomo d’Oro in a program entitled “War and Peace,” and she’ll return with the English Concert in April 2017 with a cast of singers to perform George Frideric Handel’s opera “Ariodante” in Helzberg Hall.

For Morris, the opportunity to program DiDonato twice in one season was simply irresistible.

“With our close connection to Joyce and the pride that we all feel in her and her career, we thought we’re never going to look back and complain, ‘Oh, we had Joyce twice in one year,’ ” Morris said. “And these projects are very distinct from one another. It’s much like my sister-in-law at family meals. My mom or my wife always makes two desserts so that there’s an option, and my sister-in-law can never choose, so she has to have both of them. That’s sort of the way we were with these two projects. They are both so delicious that we couldn’t turn either one down.”

Bon appétit.

You can reach freelance writer Patrick Neas at

Harriman-Jewell Series 2016-17

Sept. 24: Sphinx Virtuosi chamber orchestra in a free Discovery Concert. (Folly Theater)

Oct. 1: Jessica Lang Dance (Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts)

Oct. 14: Renée Fleming, soprano (Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center)

Oct. 22: Ben Bliss, tenor, in a free Discovery Concert which is also his American recital debut. (Folly Theater)

Oct. 28: Denis Matsuev, pianist (Folly Theater)

Nov. 15: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Choir (Folly Theater)

Dec. 1: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Big Band Holiday (Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland)

Dec. 7: Joyce DiDonato and Il Pomo d’Oro performing “War and Peace.” (Folly Theater)

Dec. 15: WindSync wind quintet presents Simple Gifts: A Holiday Sampler, a free Discovery Concert (Folly Theater)

Jan. 27, 2017: Russian National Ballet presents “Romeo and Juliet” plus great Russian gems (Muriel Kauffman Theatre)

Feb. 16: Venice Baroque Orchestra with violinist Nicola Benedetti (Folly Theater)

Feb. 26: Simone Porter, violinist, in a free Discovery Concert (Folly Theater)

March 10: National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine with pianist Alexei Grynyuk (Helzberg Hall)

March 24: Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart. (Muriel Kauffman Theatre)

March 31: Anne-Sophie Mutter, violinist (Folly Theater)

April 8: Tomer Gewirtzman, pianist, in a free Discovery Concert (Folly Theater)

April 22: The Great Flood: guitarist Bill Frisell with ensemble and a film by Bill Morrison (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

April 28: Joyce DiDonato with the English Concert and vocal cast in George Frideric Handel’s “Ariodante.” (Helzberg Hall)