Every two years, the Friends of Chamber Music blesses Kansas City with a December concert by the Tallis Scholars, one of the world’s great choral ensembles. The group will make its much-anticipated return on Friday, Dec. 1, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with a program commemorating the 500th anniversary of Netherlandish composer Heinrich Isaac.
Peter Phillips founded the Tallis Scholars in 1973 to perform Renaissance polyphony. With his profound scholarship and sensitivity, Phillips has created an ensemble that is peerless in this repertoire and that has won countless awards, including the Diapason d’Or de l’Année and Gramophone Magazine’s Record of the Year and Early Music Award. In 2013, by popular vote, the Tallis Scholars were added to Gramophone’s Hall of Fame.
The choir’s program on Dec. 1 will focus on Isaac, one of the most important composers of the Renaissance, but will also include works by his contemporaries Josquin des Prez, John Browne and Nicolas Gombert.
All of these composers were masters of polyphony, a style of choral writing that evolved from Gregorian chant, which consisted of a single line. Over the centuries, composers began adding lines, until polyphony burst forth into majestic complexity and beauty in the Renaissance. It is for good reason that aficionados put Isaac and Josquin on the same level as Beethoven.
Usually when the Tallis Scholars perform in Kansas City in December, the program comprises music written for the Christmas season. This year, however, the selections are more wide-ranging, including Josquin’s setting of the Lenten sequence “Stabat Mater.” The text by medieval Franciscan friar Jacopone da Todi recounts the sorrow of the Blessed Virgin as she stood at the foot of the cross. Joaquin perfectly matches the words with music of tender pathos and beauty.
Also on the program is Browne’s “Stabat juxta,” which has a similar text to the Stabat Mater. Browne was writing music for the private chapel of the Earl of Oxford, John de Vere, around 1500. Only 15 of Browne’s works remain, but they are treasured by music connoisseurs. Phillips has called Browne’s music “subtle, almost mystical” and “extreme in ways which apparently have no parallel, either in England or abroad.”
No matter whether they perform Christmas music or not, the Tallis Scholars always provide deep spiritual nourishment, which is what many need in the middle of a hectic holiday season. Kudos to Cynthia Siebert and the Friends of Chamber Music for regularly bringing the Tallis Scholars to Kansas City.
As an added bonus, the very fine local ensemble Te Deum will give a pre-concert performance at 6:30 p.m.
7:30 p.m. Dec. 1. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 W. 12th. $35. 816-561-9999 or chambermusic.org.
Canadian Brass with the Kansas City Symphony
Whether it’s images of angels blowing trumpets or a group of scrappy Salvation Army musicians playing outside a department store, brass bands seem to go with Christmas. One brass ensemble that has always reveled in the holiday season is the Canadian Brass. The group will join the Kansas City Symphony for “Christmas Time Is Here” on Dec. 1 at Helzberg Hall.
The Canadian Brass is a long-time Kansas City favorite, so it’s no surprise the concert is sold out. There is a glimmer of hope, however. People often return their tickets for a variety of reasons, and you can be put on waiting list to snag those tickets by calling the Kansas City Symphony box office.
8 p.m. Dec. 1. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $55-$100. 816-471-0400 or kauffmancenter.org.
You can reach Patrick Neas at email@example.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.