Last August, Village Presbyterian Church inaugurated its new $2 million organ, the 22nd one built by Richards, Fowkes & Co. Elisa Williams Bickers, the church’s principal organist and associate director of music ministry, gave a concert that, in my opinion, was one of the most memorable of 2017.
Bickers, who is also a member of the Bach Aria Soloists, will be joined by her colleagues for “Opus 22: The Organ and BAS,” a concert Feb. 10 at Village Presbyterian.
Bickers and violinist and Bach Aria Soloists founder Elizabeth Suh Lane, soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson and cellist Hannah Collins will perform music by Bach, Handel, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Charles-Marie Widor. It’s an opportunity to hear this amazing organ as a solo instrument and as part of an ensemble.
Bickers will start and end the program with solo works to show off the mighty Opus 22. Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 will open the concert, a piece Bickers calls “wonderful and dramatic.”
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“It’s unlike any piece I know that he’s written,” she said. “It’s got fiery sections and decrescendos down to a lush and chromatic slow movement, and then it goes back to fiery and ends with a fugue that only Bach could have conceived of.”
The concert will end with the first movement from the sixth symphony by Widor, one of the greatest French composers for the organ. Widor wrote the work after attending a performance of the Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner and being intoxicated by the lush, operatic score.
“I think this is Widor’s attempt at making an opera for the organ,” Bickers said. “So many organists play it fast and furious, and it certainly has some elements like that, but really it’s more Sturm und Drang, with dramatic pauses. You’re supposed to play it freely and declamatory and not just fast.
“So the way I play it is to harken back to this idea of operatic drama that’s got stabbings and secret marriages. It’s a very exciting way to close the concert.”
In between these showstopper bookends are works highlighting other instruments and musicians of the Bach Aria Soloists. Anderson will sing arias from Handel operas with Bickers accompanying on harpsichord, and Collins will play a suite of variations by modern composers on music by the 17th century composer Giuseppe Colombi.
One of the highlights of the concert is Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending.” Inspired by a poem by George Meredith, Vaughan Williams’ soaring, lofty “pastoral romance” has become much more popular than the poem and one of the greatest hits of classical music.
It was originally written for violin and piano, and later Vaughan Williams arranged it for violin and orchestra. Lane and Bickers will perform Bickers’ own arrangement for violin and organ.
“I’m trying to imitate those orchestral sounds from the orchestral version,” Bickers said, “but it’s not always possible because I only have so many fingers and feet. When there are horns on top of oboes on top of bassoons, I can’t quite do that. So it will be a completely unique creation, but the organ does a really nice job of balancing Elizabeth.”
Looking at the size of the Opus 22, one might think a violin would be overwhelmed by the organ’s sound. Bickers said that’s not the case.
“I can make it soft in an incredible variety of ways,” she said. “There can be many different flavors of soft and sweet, all of which I’ll be using. So I’m not worried at all about overpowering Elizabeth because the instrument is very easy to register to make it a good team player.”
Bickers has been playing the Opus 22 regularly since August, but she still feels like she has yet to discover all that the organ is capable of.
“I get to know it differently and more every day,” Bickers said. “It’s such a thrill because it’s not like it’s in and now I know all of her secrets. That’s not true. There are so many things I discover every time I sit down. It’s like a friendship that keeps blooming and blossoming. I’m so excited and constantly inspired by this instrument.”
7:30 p.m. Feb. 10. Village Presbyterian Church, 6641 Mission Road, Prairie Village. $17-$35. bachariasoloists.com/concerts/opus-22.
Super Bowl Sunday Concert in the Temple
Organ lovers have another great concert to look forward to Sunday, Feb. 4. Jan Kraybill will present her Super Bowl XIX concert at 2:30 p.m. at the Community of Christ Temple in Independence. For many, Kraybill’s annual organ recital is as required for Super Bowl Sunday as Buffalo wings and a bowl of guacamole.
Kraybill always chooses a rousing program designed to get your adrenaline flowing and make sure it’s the right length so you’re home in time for the big game. This year, she’ll perform favorites like Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” as well as rarities like “Yorùbá Lament” by Nigerian composer Fela Sowande. And the audience will have a chance to sing along with the hymn “This Is My Song.”
A plus: unlike the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, it’s free.
2:30 p.m. Feb. 4. Community of Christ Temple, 201 S. River Blvd., Independence. Free. For more information and a complete program, visit jankraybill.com/calendar.
Dance Theatre of Harlem
The Harriman-Jewell Series will present the Dance Theatre of Harlem on Feb. 9 at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre. The company, one of America’s most remarkable classical dance ensembles, was founded by Arthur Mitchell in 1969 in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Mitchell, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, wanted the company to be a source of inspiration and an outlet of creativity for children who lived in Harlem.
Beginning in 2004, the company had to close down for several years because of finances, but now it’s back and better than ever. Its Harriman-Jewell Series performance will feature a mix of purely classical works and those that draw on a more modern idiom. The high classicism of Marius Petipa’s 19th century “Le Corsaire” will be contrasted with works like “Vessels,” choreographed in 2014 by Darrell Grand Moultrie with music by Ezio Bosso. Whatever this company performs is exciting. It’s good to have them back.
7:30 p.m. Feb. 9. Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $20-$70. 816-415-5025 or hjseries.org.
You can reach Patrick Neas at email@example.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.