Performing Arts

Cathedrals will echo with stirring choral works and French organ music

William Baker will lead the Summer Singers of Kansas City in a concert of works with themes of war and peace on Sunday, Aug. 21, at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral.
William Baker will lead the Summer Singers of Kansas City in a concert of works with themes of war and peace on Sunday, Aug. 21, at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral. skeyser@kcstar.com

Grand choral works and a marathon of glorious French organ music will conclude the Summer Music at the Cathedrals series with concerts Sunday, Aug. 21 at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral and Sunday, Aug. 28, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The Summer Singers of Kansas City conducted by William Baker will perform Franz Joseph Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem” Aug. 21 at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral. Baker’s chorus of 100 voices will be joined by 15 instrumentalists.

With their themes of war and peace, Baker sees the Haydn and Vaughan Williams works as especially apropos for the current world situation.

“Haydn wrote his Mass at a time when Austria feared an invasion from Napoleon, and Vaughan Williams wrote ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ in the winter of 1935-1936, when storm clouds were brewing in England,” Baker says. “I’m not predicting we’re looking at war right now, but we are looking at worldwide conflict and terrorism at a level that we haven’t experienced in my lifetime.”

It would be wrong, however, to characterize the two pieces as anti-war. Haydn’s Mass, although sounding unsettled at times, is basically an upbeat work.

“The timpani brings the foreboding, but the spirit of the Mass is really rather joyful, with a sense that the threat of Napoleon will be defeated by the Austrians, which, of course, it wasn’t,” Baker says. The Mass ends with the words “Dona nobis pacem,” he adds, and that will lead into the Vaughan Williams piece, which begins with those words.

Vaughan Williams used sections of the Mass, three Civil War poems by Walt Whitman, a speech that a British parliamentarian gave during the Crimean War and selections from the Bible as the text for his cantata. The Whitman poems, “Beat! Beat! Drums!,” “Reconciliation” and “Dirge for Two Veterans,” are by turns horrific, hopeful and comforting.

“Whitman talks about the horrors of war and the thirst for reconciliation and the hope that war in all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,” Baker says. “But also the factors that lead to war: evil, barbarism, violence, aggression. Those things must fall away, so the need for war will never be there.”

The French Organ Festival on Aug. 28 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception can only be described as a sonic spectacular. For four hours, some of Kansas City’s finest organists will take turns playing colorful French music on Immaculate Conception’s many-splendored Ruffatti. This year’s lineup includes Jan Kraybill, Nicholas Good, Claudette Schiratti, Thomas Vozzella, Thomas Andrews, Jacob Hofeling and Dina Pannabecker Evans.

Mario Pearson, Immaculate Conception’s organist and music director, conceived of the French Organ Festival four years ago, while sitting in Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral enjoying Bachathon, the annual celebration of Johann Sebastian Bach.

“I was thinking this is such a neat experience, how could we make organ music even more vital in the community,” Pearson says. “I thought how could we make our cathedral work. And then it hit me: French organ music.”

With an impressive range of digital sampling, Immaculate Conception’s Ruffatti is uniquely suited among Kansas City’s organs for the symphonic, coloristic sound of the French music, especially that of the 19th century. But the French Organ Festival reaches back even further to Baroque composer François Couperin and also will explore the music of 20th century composer Olivier Messiaen.

Messiaen’s music is like a multicolored stained glass window, glowing with bird song and melodies taken from Gregorian chant. But it can also sound strange to someone hearing it for the first time. As in years past, Pearson will provide aids to help listeners get the most out of the music.

“We have PowerPoint, we have pictures, we have everything that gives you the background on what Messiaen was thinking and the context for each of these pieces,” Pearson says. “My suggestion would be to listen for the simple melodies along with the discordant harmonies and just take time to absorb it.”

As a sort of halftime show, the Organetto Organistrum duo will perform French dances for organetto, a sort of precursor to the modern organ, and hurdy-gurdy. Pearson says that children especially enjoy this particular combination of instruments.

And he says everyone enjoys the French cafe, which will offer baguettes and macarons.

Summer Singers of Kansas City: 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St. $5-$20. Tickets available at the door. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/j838h6e. French Organ Music Festival 2016: 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 W. 12th St. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/zg4qh9h.

Kansas City Chamber Orchestra

The Kansas City Chamber Orchestra will inaugurate its 30th season in grand style with a concert featuring three stellar musicians from Park University’s International Center for Music.

Violinist Ben Sayevich, who was also the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra’s founding concertmaster, will be joined by pianist Lolita Lisovskaya-Sayevich and cellist Daniel Veis for Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Triple Concerto.

Other special guests for the concert on Saturday, Aug. 27, include some of the center’s most impressive students: pianist Jinhong Li, violinist Laurel Gagnon and cellist Dilshod Narzillaev. Bruce Sorrell, who founded the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra, will conduct the program, which also will include music by Henryk Wieniawski, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Frédéric Chopin.

8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $36.50-$46.50. 816-235-6222 or KCChamberOrchestra.org.

You can reach Patrick Neas at patrickneas@kcartsbeat.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat.

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