Guest conductor David Zinman will continue the Kansas City Symphony’s celebration of the Leonard Bernstein centennial Feb. 23-25 at Helzberg Hall. The concert will feature Bernstein’s music for the film “On the Waterfront,” Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto with guest artist Stephen Waarts and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2.
Bernstein took the job of scoring “On the Waterfront” in 1954 when he was riding high in his career and was the hottest name in classical music, conducting the New York Philharmonic, writing hit musicals and giving lectures on TV. But he had never written a movie soundtrack. What a first effort. By many critics accounts, “On the Waterfront” is one of the greatest American film scores ever written.
One of its great champions is Jon Burlingame, an instructor in film-music history at the University of Southern California.
“Every film composer must negotiate the tricky balance among sound elements (dialogue, natural sound, music), but Bernstein ‘pushed the envelope’ more than most,” Burlingame wrote in notes to accompany a Criterion DVD release of “On the Waterfront.” “When he felt that music needed to come to the fore, he didn’t shy away from the challenge, and very often he found a way for the dialogue and music to share the aural space on the soundtrack.”
Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 will provide a bracing counterpoint to the Bernstein. The work, first performed by French violinist Robert Soetens and the Madrid Symphony Orchestra in 1935, is a case of Russia meets Spain. The first movement has the sound of a Russian folk song, but following a flowing second movement, the rondo finale is a burst of Spanish color, complete with castanets.
Concluding the concert is Schumann’s Symphony No. 2. Written at a time of great turmoil in the composer’s life, it’s his most Bachian symphony. In August 1844, Schumann suffered a severe health crisis. He wrote that he was afflicted with “dizziness, weakness and pain in the limbs, rheumatism, disturbance of vision, insomnia, and hearing problems.” The very act of listening to music caused intense pain.
“I really have not been able to listen to music for quite some time,” Schumann wrote. “It cuts into my nerves as with knives.”
Medical detectives now speculate that these symptoms were brought on by a syphilitic infection, the same infection that would also eventually kill him.
Schumann’s health began to improve enough in 1845 that he was able to begin an intensive study of Bach’s counterpoint, which he declared led to “a new way of working.” The influence of his intensive Bach studies can be discerned in his Symphony No. 2. In addition to borrowing themes from Bach’s “A Musical Offering,” Schumann also imitates forms popular in the Baroque era, like the chorale prelude, of which Bach was a master.
8 p.m. Feb. 23 and 24 and 2 p.m. Feb. 25. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$82. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.
Polsky Theatre will sound like a flamenco bar in Granada when the Performing Arts Series of Johnson County Community College presents Ensemble Ibérica performing Guitar Flamenca on Wednesday, Feb. 21.
Guitarist Beau Bledsoe and his band, Ensemble Ibérica, always put on a great show. With master flamenco guitarists Antonio Andrade and Miguel Sotelo flying in from Seville, Spain, for the concert, this should be an especially memorable evening of passionate music.
7:30 p.m. Feb. 21. Polsky Theatre, Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, KS. $25. 913-469-4445 or jccc.edu/theseries. To learn more about Ensemble Ibérica, visit ensembleiberica.org.
Life-affirming gems by Henry Purcell and music by 17th century female composer Isabella Leonarda. Beloved, familiar music and an exciting new discovery. In other words, classic Musica Sacra programming.
Led by conductor and founder Timothy McDonald, Musica Sacra will perform the “Messa Concertata,” a sonata and a setting of a psalm verse by Leonarda, as well as Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate. The concert is Sunday, Feb. 18, at Arrupe Hall auditorium on the campus of Rockhurst University.
McDonald is a veritable musical sleuth, discovering extraordinary music by obscure composers like Johann Adolph Hasse and Francesco Durante. Leonarda is the latest example of McDonald uncovering a worthy yet forgotten composer and expanding our musical horizon in the process.
“Leonarda came from a noble family from Novara in northwestern Italy and entered an Ursuline convent at the age of 16,” McDonald said. “She remained a part of the religious community until her death. Almost all of the over 200 compositions published by Leonarda were written after she turned 50. In an age when few women composers were active, Leonarda published an extraordinarily large number of works.”
The second half of the concert will be devoted to Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate. Choral aficionados know and love these works and they’re well-represented on recordings. But they deserve to be much more popular and widely known. Scored for chorus, vocal soloists, strings, organ and trumpets, the Te Deum and Jubilate are warm, joyful and guaranteed to lift spirits.
“Purcell composed the Te Deum and Jubilate in D Major for the Feast of St. Cecilia in 1694,” McDonald said. “Since the work was composed for Anglican worship, the text is in English throughout. Purcell responds to the text in two contrasting ways, with celebratory pomp and splendor at the choral sections and with eloquent intimacy in several of the solos and duets.”
Arrive early for McDonald’s Live Program Notes at 6:15 p.m. for further enlightening commentary.
7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18. Arrupe Hall auditorium, 1100 Rockhurst Road. $12-$22. 816-235-6222 or available at the door. For more information about Musica Sacra, visit tinyurl.com/yd3dekg8.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.