Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Musically Where It's At

On Sunday May 28th, 35,000 people gathered at the Union Station and Liberty Memorial in midtown Kansas City for the annual Celebration at the Station concert by the Kansas City Symphony. Yes, 35,000 people came to hear a symphony concert in Kansas City. I am sure a fair number were drawn in by the promise of fireworks, but most listened intently to the program. For some, it may have been the first time they have ever seen a symphony. I do think many actually came to hear the music as the response to each piece was warm and genuine. The fare was typical holiday music, Gershwin's American In Paris, the suite to Victory at Sea, Ives/Schuman Variations on America, and arrangements of "patriotic" songs. Music Director Stern and Associate Conductor Hankewich conducted. Who said the symphony orchestra is dead?

I think medium size orchestras are on the rebound, and actually are leading the way in innovative and accessible programming. The big orchestras (NY, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, LA, and Philadelphia) are saddled with big name conductors who fly in and out for a few weeks a year. Big heavy programs, everything has to be a monumental occasion or the people paying sky high prices or giving millions are not satisfied. Interesting that many of the above have new conductors or are looking. They are not dead but are not fully alive either.... maybe zombie mode would be a fair description.

St Louis has seen its orchestra rebound with the dynamic programming of David Robertson. When the orchestra's principal oboe got an offer from Philadelphia, she was quoted as wavering in her decision since, to paraphrase as I can not find the original source, St Louis and Robertson were doing some wonderful things and she was excited about the future. I am not sure of the final outcome, but to not have jumped at the chance to go to Philadelphia and even be undecided about the opportunity speaks volumes.

The Minnesota Orchestra landed Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska and has begun an acclaimed Beethoven Symphony recording cycle. The Fort Smith (AR) Symphony provided a wonderful modern recording of William Grant Still's seminal "Afro-American Symphony", to much acclaim. The Grand Rapids Symphony traveled to Carnegie Hall and got excellent reviews.

We here in KC are privy to the renaissance of our orchestra and are going to release a recording soon. Of the major orchestras, only Philadelphia has released a recording; and that was on the Finnish Ondine label since no one else would touch them. The programming of the KC Symphony is second to none. A great mix of new works, standards and some older but rarely heard works. And it is just not the symphony that breaks new ground; our Lyric Opera was roundly praised for its programming of the rarely heard "Turn of the Screw" by Britten.

It is wonderful that we here in the sticks (as most Bi-Costal snobs think) have access to "world class" culture and arts. We are where it is at, the snobs just may have to deal with that.

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