Friday, May 25, 2007

Kansas City Symphony: Thursday Bon Bons

The Kansas City Symphony rewarded their volunteers, donors and contributors with an invitation only Contributors' Concert last night at the Lyric Theatre. From the crowded lobby and lines for food and drink at the reception, everyone in Kansas City has had something to do with the Symphony this year.

The concert itself was a light affair but 100% enjoyable. An appropriate curtain raiser was a rousing and sparkling "Forza del Destino" overture by Verdi. The brass have certainly come a long way as their dramatic clarion calls were solid and forceful, as the force of destiny should be.

Associate Conductor Damon Gupton led a fine performance of Beethoven's "Creatures of Prometheus" overture. Ending his first season as Associate, Maestro Damon showed the large audience that he is a fine conductor with a commanding presence.

Next was Christina Yuen, winner of the KC Young Artists Competition playing the first movement of the Saint-Saens Piano # 2 again with Gupton conducting. I had heard her perform the same piece at an earlier concert and this one was about the same. Fabulous technique for 14 years old, maturity will bring more nuance and ability to communicate. She certainly has the potential.

For me the highlight was the wonderfully turned, dramatic, fun and exciting Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story". Bernstein's finest music bar none (it is said that he spent the rest of his composing career trying to match it), the Symphonic Dances was pulled together from the dance scenes of the play by Bernstein in 1961. Many of the great tunes are featured (Maria, Somewhere, Jet Song, Rumble) in brilliant full orchestration, complete with finger snapping and shouts of "Rumble"!

The orchestra dug into this music; despite its "popular beginnings" it is not especially easy. The percussion was pointed and driving, the brass swung and the winds were sweetly in tune and beautifully hushed in the quiet, devastating finale. Some of the best ensemble playing I have heard from the symphony.

The final piece was Brahms Academic Festival Overture, which one patron found funny as hell. I guess she recognized the tunes. I rarely find Brahms funny, even when he is being "festive". I put aside my reservations about the piece and Brahms in general, and note a fine, well balanced and spirited performance.

We were treated to dessert: The Farandole from L'Arlesienne by Bizet.

Light fare, bon bons, whatever, it showed again that the Symphony is a force to be reckoned with and a major contributor to the life of the city.


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