As the Kansas City Symphony’s current season winds down, recent news of the impending departures of concertmaster Noah Geller at the end of this season and executive director Frank Byrne at the end of next season has left the orchestra’s fans and well-wishers feeling wistful. There is gratitude for what both men have contributed to the orchestra and the city, but also sadness at seeing these two important figures leave.
The Symphony’s penultimate concert June 15 to 17 at Helzberg Hall should lift spirits, however. Music director Michael Stern will conduct a program that includes intriguing contemporary works by Einojuhani Rautavaara and Thomas Adès, as well as a violin concerto by Joseph Haydn and one of Felix Mendelssohn’s most popular symphonies.
Opening the concert is “Cantus Arcticus” by Rautavaara. Like Jean Sibelius before him, Rautavaara was a Finnish composer with a deep connection to nature. Perhaps no work of his better demonstrates this than his “Cantus Arcticus.” The piece uses recordings of arctic bird songs, but the effect is not gimmicky.
“There’s something really beautiful about Rautavaara’s music,” Stern said. “In the ‘Cantus Arcticus’ there is this connection with nature, which is kind of mystical. Incorporating these bird song recordings is not like added filigree. It’s not an afterthought. It’s a really integral part of the point of the piece. Especially the last movement, the one with the swans, is so beautiful. It’s so beautiful.”
After Rautavaara’s arctic music, Augustin Hadelich is the soloist for Haydn’s bracing Violin Concerto No. 1.
“Haydn was a miracle of creativity,” Stern said. “He was innovating and looking for new paths before Mozart came along. This violin concerto is buoyant and happy and brilliant. The slow movement is one of the most simple and pure and beautiful things ever written.”
Hadelich will immediately follow the Haydn with the violin concerto “Concentric Paths” by British composer Adès, whom the UK Telegraph calls the first major composer of the third millennium. The 47-year-old is a darling of the critics, winning high praise for his operas “Powder Her Face” and “The Tempest,” as well as his chamber and symphonic works. But the complexity of Adès’ music, which Stern describes as full of detail and sometimes hard to play, can leave audiences scratching their heads.
“I think he’s kind of a genius,” Stern said. “He writes incredibly well-crafted music, but it’s not always the easiest, although I would say everybody should be prepared for a thrilling experience. The chaconne and the whirlwind of the last movement are really effective.
“But when you have an advocate for the music, as we have in Augustin Hadelich, who really knows the piece and lives it and believes in it, it becomes a different experience. I think it’s going to surprise people how much they like it.”
Concluding the concert is Mendelssohn’s sunny Symphony No. 4 “Italian.” The work, which Stern calls “a perfect piece,” is always an audience favorite but hasn’t been performed by the Symphony in several years.
“I think this is one of most eclectic programs we’ve had all year,” Stern said. “It’s one of the most interesting and one of the most beautiful.”
8 p.m. June 15 and 16 and 2 p.m. June 17. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$82. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.
Bach Aria Soloists & Kansas City Chorale
When two of Kansas City’s most dynamic musicians, Elizabeth Suh Lane and Charles Bruffy, and their respective ensembles, Bach Aria Soloists and the Kansas City Chorale, come together, you can expect an unforgettable concert.
The two groups are joining forces to perform works by Bach, Britten, Vaughan Williams and Ola Gjeilo on June 16 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The concert will open with a cantata by the Bach Aria Soloists’ namesake. Bach’s “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut” is almost operatic in its telling of the progress of a soul from despair to redemption. With a title like “My Heart Swims in Blood,” one might expect a rather grim work, but Lane says it’s ultimately joyful, concluding with a happy gigue.
“I think it’s gorgeous,” she said. “At the beginning, the soul is very remorseful and repenting, but the soul is redeemed throughout the cantata. By the end, the soul will take whatever fate God gives him.”
Two British choral classics follow: Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb” and Vaughan Williams’ absolutely ravishing “Serenade to Music.” Vaughan Williams composed his work for a jubilee concert honoring British conductor Henry Wood, who founded the Proms concerts.
“When I was a violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra in the ’90s, we used to record in Henry Wood Hall quite a lot,” Lane said. “So it’s nice to have that personal connection.”
The concert will conclude with Gjeilo’s “Dark Night of the Soul.” The Norwegian composer is quite popular in choral circles right now, and Bruffy deserves some of the credit. His 2012 recording of Gjeilo’s works with the Phoenix Chorale helped bring the composer’s music to a wider public.
“Dark Night of the Soul” is Gjeilo’s setting of the words of the great Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross.
“It’s a very rhythmic piece,” Lane said. “It’s completely different from all of the other pieces. The Bach Aria Soloists has a big range, and the Gjeilo piece will demonstrate that.”
7:30 p.m. June 16. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 11 E. 40th St. $17-$35. bachariasoloists.com.
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