Saturday, April 09, 2022

A Breath of Fresh Air: The 2022-23 Classical Symphonic Music Season in Kansas City and an Update!

Yes, my first blog entry since 12/2016. Even then there was only one for the year. Has it been that long? Guess so. Lots has happened since then.

1) I just kind of lost my muse; writing became forced and a chore. I would write something and then throw it out, unsatisfied at my ability to put thoughts to paper. I was doing some occasional writing for a web magazine but quit when a format change was made. Was just too much for me. I thought of going back and doing just topics of interest or musing/rants about life but that didn't work either. I was washed up.

2) Work at my former job got nuts. Lots going on, people always wanting something and never satisfied. I was so tired; I had no time to write.

3) Late 2019 I had a small stroke. It was not huge by many standards but affected by walking and balance. I had been suffering from stomach issues too, which just knocked me for a loop. This guy was getting old.

4) In April 2020 I had to retire, just as the Pandemic played havoc on live concerts all over theworld. There was nothing to write about.

So now, the concert world is getting back to business, we hope.

In KC, we are upon the last season for Kansas City Symphony Music Director Michael Stern, who is leaving after 18 eventful years. We got to hear a lot of great music during that time, witness the orchestra grow in stature and make some acclaimed records for Reference Recordings. Starting his tenure, Stern programmed much new and under-performed music. But as time went on, the repertoire settled on the standard classics, with scattered newworks here and there, most notably the wonderful works of Johnathan Leshnoff. I found myself less motivated to attend.

The 2022-2023 season features several guest conductors, many of whom are likely "trying out" for the position of musicdirector. Few are familiar to me, and I am still an avid listener. The guests seem to be bringing new and exciting works, most never heard here before to my knowledge.

Stern contributes the wonderful, seldom heard choral elegy "When Lilacs Last in Dooryard Bloom'd" written by Paul Hindemith in 1946, one I have not heard live. Walt Whitman wrote the poem in memory of Abraham Lincoln, when the country was still in mourning over his assassination. Hindemith used the poem to commemorate the death of Franklin Roosevelt. Moving, powerful, a profound work of genius, full of American spirit and pathos. Definitely hearing this one.

Guest conductor Teddy Abrams programs two incredible newer works, Caroline Shaw's "The Observatory" and Missy Mazzoli's "Violin Concerto" with Jennifer Koh as solo. Shaw's work, inspired by a trip to the Griffith Observatory in LA, is chaotic, colorful, calm and full of symphonic structure. Mazzoli's concerto was written for Koh in 2022. This will be one of the earliest performances of the work. Subtitled "Procession," the violin leads the ensemble through a series of escapades and healing spells. Not heard yet, but should prove to be a winner, as Mazzoli's music so often is.

Thomas Wilkins (one I have heard of as the long time Music Director of the Omaha SO and currently the Hollywood Bowl SO) brings us Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's "Suite from Hiawatha" drawn from his epic triptych "Song of Hiawatha" along with Gershwin and Nielsen. So admired was Coleridge-Taylor in the early 1900's that he gained the nickname "The African Mahler". Certainly one to hear.

Other notable works include Ligeti’s “San Francisco Polyphony”, Mason Bates’ “Garages of the Valley”, the late Polish Composer Grazyna Bacewicz’s “Overture” and Billy Childs’ Saxophone Concerto (a KCS co-commission,) both conducted by Ruth Reinhardt, plus Stern Leading “Five Freedom Songs” by Jessie Montgomery (another KCS Co-commission, Carlos Simon’s “AMEN!” and the Percussion Concerto by KCS favorite Adam Schoenberg.

Stern also conducts Amer’ican by James Lee II and “Jeder Baum Spricht” (Every Tree Speaks) by Iman Habibi early in the season.


But the biggest event I am looking forward to is the Kansas City debut of Marin Alsop with her Orquestra Sinfonica Do estado de São Paulo and a program of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” and some wonderful, seldom heard works by the prolific Brazilian Hector Villa-Lobos.

We hear selections from “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 one of his series of works in homage of Bach, with a Brazilian flare (hopefully the gorgeous opening string only chorale Prelúdio (Introdução), the charming “Harmonica Concerto” and the exciting, more Brazilian folk inspired Chôros No. 10 ("Rasga o Coração") (Rend the Heart.)

The Choros, a favorite piece of mine, is scored for chorus and orchestra with a colorful, slower first half and a rowdy choral folk song 2nd half. Just exciting, rhythmic and a work of genius. So happy to hear Villa Lobos played in Kansas City and knowing that his works continue to be recorded as well, with a new Symphony cycle in progress. Know where I’ll be on October 10th!

Join me! It is so gratifying to see such diverse and new programs next season!