Get to Know Christmas Festival Guest Soprano Lisa Vroman

Lisa Vroman
Lisa Vroman, soprano

Guest soprano Lisa Vroman joins the Kansas City Symphony, Symphony Chorus, Allegro Choirs of Kansas City and the Rezound! Handbell Ensemble for seven presentations of the Symphony’s annual Christmas Festival concerts Dec. 15-18 and 20. Tickets from $30 for adults and $15 for children. Reserve tickets online or call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400.

Tell us how you got your start in music. When did you know you were going to become a professional musician?
My mother was my junior high and high school choral music teacher from Upstate, New York. I played the flute and sang in chorus. I also loved sports! I went to The Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, following my sister (also a music educator) and have an undergrad degree in music education. I then completed my masters (MFA) at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. I also have an honorary doctorate from Potsdam.

I will add that my stepfather was a Robert Shaw Chorale singer in the 1950s and also was a graduate and choral professor at Potsdam! Music has been in my family DNA for many years!

Since you’re singing in the Kansas City Symphony Christmas Festival, we must ask if you have a favorite seasonal song or carol?
Since I sing multiple holiday symphony concerts, I do repeat many favorites each year… But having a choral upbringing means I am happiest when singing with a choir for the holidays. I could not pick one favorite.

Do you celebrate for the holidays? Do you have any traditions?
I sometimes do not get home until Christmas Eve … and am off again for a New Year’s concert elsewhere, so it is a really great work season. Even when starring as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, or any show, you do not get holidays off as vacation. We are the entertainment for the rest of the world!

I do miss my family, as we are extremely close, but you have to make time the rest of the year.

Have you sung with the Kansas City Symphony in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center before?
Not with the Symphony, but I spent time in Kansas City getting my Equity card at KC Starlight Theatre one summer after grad school.

How much of your time is spent practicing vs. performing vs. traveling? Do you have much down time? What do you like to do during your leisure time?
Traveling takes a lot of energy. For example, I was with the Hong Kong Philharmonic last season, and it is tricky to fly, recover to sing, then recover after the flight home. I am constantly preparing for the next concert event, which means arranging music, learning new pieces and developing concerts and recitals. I also have been singing corporate events, recitals and giving master classes more and more.

In my “down” time” (not very much) my husband and I love working on our home, and we have a 2-year-old, 70-pound rescue dog named Barber (after American composer Samuel Barber).

Photo of Barber the dog, a 2-year-old, 70-pound rescue dog, who is named after American composer Samuel Barber
Photo of Barber the dog, a 2-year-old, 70-pound rescue dog, who is named after American composer Samuel Barber

Who is your favorite artist of all time and why?
It depends on what genre… Elly Ameling, Benita Valente, Barbara Cook, Ella Fitzgerald, Elton John… the list is a long one!

Since you’ll be in Kansas City for several days, is there anything else you want to do outside of the concert hall?
I will probably not spend a lot of time outside the concert hall/hotel. That is typical during a run of many concerts! You must eat well, exercise and rest. I have a project coming up in January and also will be learning music by composer Kurt Weill that week.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I have spoken to Maestro Jason Seber, and I am so looking forward to sharing the stage with him, the orchestra musicians and the two choirs. I have said I never get to see my family for the holidays, so I will just adopt your audience as my extended family.


Kansas City Symphony Christmas Festival is Dec. 15-18 and 20.
Kansas City Symphony Christmas Festival is Dec. 15-18 and 20.

Secure seats to the Kansas City Symphony Christmas Festival by visiting this page or by calling the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400.

Get to Know Guest Pianist Robert Levin

Pianist Robert Levin. Photo credit: Clive Barda
Pianist Robert Levin. Photo credit: Clive Barda

The Kansas City Symphony presents “Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn” featuring guest pianist Robert Levin and led by guest conductor Bernard Labadie on Nov. 25-27 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Levin performs Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, and the program also includes two Mozart overtures from Don Giovanni and La clemenza di Tito, as well as Haydn’s Symphony No. 98. Tickets from $25. Call the Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select your seat here.

Tell us about Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, which you’re performing with the Kansas City Symphony for the Nov. 18-20 concerts.
It is deeply influenced by Mozart’s Concerto No. 24 (K.491), which is in the same key and had a profound influence on Beethoven. An oft-cited anecdote has him strolling through the Augarten, a public park in Vienna, with his friend the composer and later music publisher and merchant Johann Baptist Cramer. A performance of the Mozart concerto was taking place in the park. At a certain passage Beethoven grabbed his friend by the arm and cried out, “Cramer! Cramer! We shall NEVER be able to do anything like this!” Indeed, Mozart’s fondness for the key of C minor was taken over by Beethoven in such works as the Pathétique piano sonata, the sonatas Op. 10/1 and 111, the violin sonata Op. 30/2, the string quartet Op. 18/4 and the Fifth Symphony. In turn Beethoven’s Third Concerto influenced Rachmaninoff, who took over some of its characteristics (the key of C minor, the use of an exotic key, E major, for the middle movement, and a fugal passage in the finale). The first movement combines bravura and fire; the second is a profound spiritual experience, and the last movement a gypsy romp.

Do you have a favorite movement? If so, which one and why?
I don’t, because each is so intensely and irresistibly different, but the finale is particularly fun to play.

You’re known for your ability to improvise in the style of great composers, such as Mozart and Beethoven. Will you have the opportunity to improvise in these performances — will you play your own cadenzas?
Yes, I shall be improvising a total of five cadenzas — the long one in the first movement, and slower ones in the second movement (1) and the finale (3). These will stay within Beethoven’s language and are high-wire acts, because I do not prepare: they are absolutely off the cuff.

Tell us about guest conductor Bernard Labadie. How often have you two had the opportunity to collaborate?
Numerous times, in Canada and the U. S. I have enormous respect for Maestro Labadie. His recording of my completion to the Mozart Requiem, made immediately after 9/11, is one of the best. Collaborating with him is a great pleasure.

The programs also feature Mozart overtures from Don Giovanni and La clemenza di Tito. As a Mozart scholar, is there any other background or context that might fascinate or intrigue audiences about either of these two works?
Both were “rush jobs” at the last minute: Mozart wrote down the overture to Don Giovanni in the wee hours the night before the premiere: Constanze had to keep plying him with coffee and tell him stories to keep him awake. One can see this in the autograph: the notation of the first violin and bass lines is clear and careful, the other string voices a bit more hurried, the winds a bit more so and the brass and timpani are written at breakneck speed, with the note stems, which should be vertical, all drawn toward the right in a desperate attempt to get the overture on paper so the copyist could prepare the orchestral parts on time. In the case of La clemenza di tito the entire opera was composed in something like three weeks; Mozart did not have enough time to write the recitatives himself and his assistant, Franz Xaver Süssmayr (who later had the unenviable task of trying to finish the Requiem so that Mozart’s widow could receive the second half of the commission fee, which she needed urgently to feed her two sons) had to take that job over.

These concerts follow the Thanksgiving holiday, which is centered around food and family. We contend attending live music also makes for a lovely holiday tradition. What are you thankful for this year?
I am perpetually thankful that God brought my beloved wife, the piano virtuoso Ya-Fei Chuang, into my life.

What advice do you give to aspiring music students?
A piece of music tells a story. If you don’t tell a story that grabs the audience, no-one will listen. Be brave, take risks, build suspense, joy, terror, ecstasy. Keep people up at night thinking about how your performance changed their understanding of life. Do for music what Meryl Streep does for acting.

After Kansas City, where do you go next? What are other upcoming highlights for you this season?
To Juilliard, for one of my guest stints there; then to Burgundy to perform and record the Schubert piano trios with Noah Bendix-Balgley (concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic) and Peter Wiley (formerly of the Beaux-Arts Trio). In February I record nine of the Mozart sonatas on his piano for ECM (the other nine will be done in 2018). In March I tour for the second time with violinist Hilary Hahn. Later in the spring I solo with and conduct the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra.

When you’re not making music, what other pastimes do you enjoy?
I’m a streetcar/light rail enthusiast.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I can’t wait to get back to Arthur Bryant’s for a burnt ends sandwich.

Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn
Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn

 

Secure your seats to “Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn” by calling the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or selecting seats online here. Tickets start at $25.

 

Get to Know Guest Conductor Bernard Labadie

Bernard Labadie. Photo Credit: Francois Rivard
Bernard Labadie. Photo Credit: Francois Rivard

The Kansas City Symphony presents “Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn” featuring guest conductor Bernard Labadie and guest pianist Robert Levin on Nov. 25-27 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The program includes two Mozart overtures from Don Giovanni and La clemenza di Tito, as well as Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto and Haydn’s Symphony No. 98. Tickets from $25. Call the Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select your seat here. 

Tell us about the program for the Nov. 18-20 Kansas City Symphony concerts.
The program explores both the dark and bright sides of the late Classical/early Romantic repertoire. The overture to Don Giovanni opens with the vivid description of hell, which later returns to haunt the main character at the end of the opera. Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto is a profound and compelling reflection on the conflicting emotions of human life, from the stark and menacing beginning to the deep and poignant lyricism of the slow movement. In contrast, the overture to La Clemenza di Tito and Haydn’s Symphony No. 98 celebrate life with radiant — and even witty — jubilation.

These concerts fall immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday, which is centered around food and family gatherings — and we think music should be part of that set too. What are you thankful for this year?
The answer is easy: I’m just thankful for being alive. Two and a half years ago I was diagnosed with a severe form of lymphoma, which brought me through a very long journey of suffering, anxiety, sadness, resilience and slow rebirth. Only this fall have I resumed my conducting career at full speed. Making music has never been so joyful and so meaningful. Life is a great and beautiful thing, and one should never take it for granted.

Since you’re returning to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts to once again lead the Kansas City Symphony, how do you describe the auditory experience of performing in Helzberg Hall? How does it compare to other halls, in your opinion?
There is no doubt in my mind that Helzberg Hall has world-class acoustics comparable to the best concert venues both in North America and Europe. The listener feels very close to the music and the musicians, and everyone is engulfed in a wonderful and sensuous sonic experience. The sound is at the same time very warm, extremely detailed and clear.

Tell us about pianist Robert Levin. How long have you two known each other? What special qualities does he bring to the stage as a performer?
I have known Robert for 25 years, first as a conducting student while he was performing at the Bachakademie in Stuttgart in 1991. We have performed numerous times together ever since, and I view every single encounter with him as a fabulous privilege. Robert is much more than just a great pianist, musician or musicologist (he is all three at the same time). He is one of those extremely rare individuals whose understanding of music allows them to absorb and recreate the complexity and richness of the great geniuses’ music to their full extent. His capacity to improvise ornaments and cadenzas live on stage in late Classical repertoire, like Mozart and Beethoven concertos, is second to none. He is a leading authority on performance practice, and his work on Mozart’s unfinished works is simply remarkable. The only version of Mozart’s Requiem I ever conduct nowadays is the brilliant completion he published in the early ‘90s. Robert is truly one of the greatest treasures of American music, and it is a privilege to be able to call him a friend.

What advice do you give to aspiring music students?
Believe in you, work hard, stay humble in the face of music and colleagues, and yet pursue your goals with determination and passion. Music is an amazing gift and must always be treated with utmost respect.

What are other upcoming highlights for you this season?
This season is really full of exciting challenges for me. Among others, I will return to the New York and the Los Angeles philharmonics, the St. Louis Symphony and the Bavarian State Radio Orchestra in Munich. I also will have my debut with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto (with one of my favorite operas: Mozart’s Magic Flute) next January, as well as first appearances in Oslo and Vienna (at long last!). And, of course, I have more projects with the two groups I founded in Quebec City, the Les Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Québec.

When you’re not traveling, preparing for upcoming concerts or the like, do you have pastimes you enjoy in your down time?
I used to walk a lot before my illness, and I can’t wait to have entirely rebuilt my muscular strength so that I can go back to it regularly. My girlfriend has introduced me to fishing last summer and I loved it! When I travel, I always try to save some time for discovering the many wonderful places I’m privileged to visit… especially if there is a vineyard in the neighborhood!

Anything else you’d like to add?
Returning to the Kansas City Symphony is one of the joys of my year. The orchestra is fabulous, the management and whole organization are world-class, and the audience always vibrant and knowledgeable. Can’t hope for more!


Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn
Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn

Secure your seats to “Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn” by calling the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or selecting seats online here. Tickets start at $25.

Friday, Nov 4: Symphony to Hold First Friday Event

First Friday event from 2015 - Photo credit Eric Williams
First Friday event from 2015 – Photo credit Eric Williams

 

FIRST FRIDAY OPEN HOUSE
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 4 from 6-9 p.m.
Performances from 7-8:30 p.m.
1703 Wyandotte, Kansas City, Mo.
Vitagraph Room

Spend your First Friday in the Crossroads Arts District with members of your Kansas City Symphony, as they perform FREE, short and casual programs. Stop by the Symphony offices at 1703 Wyandotte anytime between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Friday, November 4 and enjoy fantastic music performed live. Watch as Hallmark’s master artist Michael Driggs sketches our musicians while he is inspired by the music as it is performed. Unbelievable Symphony ticket discounts offered during this free performance, too.  Toast a world of delightful music with us this First Friday, November 4.

Call the Kansas City Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 for more information.

Kansas City Symphony Chats with Organist Paul Jacobs

Photo of Paul Jacobs
Paul Jacobs

Paul Jacobs is helping the King of Instruments retake its rightful place in classical music. The Kansas City Symphony is presenting “Mozart’s Requiem,” featuring Guilmant’s Symphony No. 1 with Paul Jacobs at the console of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ on Oct. 20-23  in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets from $30. Call the Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select your seat here. Best availability is on Thursday, October 20.

Tell us about yourself. When did you start playing organ? When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?
I began with the piano at age 5, but didn’t start organ lessons until I was 12 years old, a situation that isn’t uncommon, as the organ is considered an unusual instrument. Things went rather quickly, though, after that; I had my first professional music job at 15, when I was appointed head organist of the church in my hometown of Washington, Pennsylvania, with a congregation of 3500 families. Getting to play the organ so regularly for many people brought me a sense of accomplishment, and I sensed early on that the joy of the organ literature and of playing for others would be my life’s work.

You’ll be performing Alexandre Guilmant’s Organ Symphony No. 1 with the Kansas City Symphony for the opening weekend of our Classical Series. What do you love about the work? What do you want audiences to know about the piece?
I’m looking forward to bringing the Guilmant Organ Symphony to the Kansas City audience.  This might be the first organ symphony a number of audience members are hearing live, and it happens to be a grand, popular work; Alexander Guilmant was a prolific composer and organist, whose many accomplishments included giving 40 recitals in 1904 on the
largest organ in the world, the St. Louis Exposition Organ, now preserved as part of the Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia.

How does the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ compare to other organs you play? What is the process for becoming acquainted with an instrument when you travel?
The Kauffman’s Casavant Organ is a magnificent instrument. It’s a pleasure to play in this great hall, especially, since the room in which an organ is housed acts as the ‘resonator’ for the instrument. This instrument possesses a fine mechanical action, which offers quite
a bit of nuanced control over the sound emanating from each organ pipe. The process for becoming acquainted with an organ is much more complex than most people realize. I spend many hours adjusting the registration of the organ, learning the sound, making sure I can
master the sound I’m creating.

Who are your top three favorite composers and why?
It’s impossible to choose. This varies from day to day, depending upon many factors.  Of course, I share the sentiment of the German Romantic composer Max Reger, who said, “Bach is the Alpha and Omega of music.”

What do you like to do in your free time?
I don’t get a lot of free time between practicing, performing, and teaching at Juilliard, but when I do have some time, I love to go outside and explore nature. I try to take long walks, during which time I think about music and sometimes locate a quiet spot to read. Living in New York City, I think it’s important to get away every once in a while, even if it’s just to spend an hour in Central Park or to visit one of the many museums.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to doing while you’re in Kansas City outside of the concert hall?
I’ll spend a lot of my time in Kansas City in the concert hall working with the organ, but I’m hoping to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum and a few others sites. Plus, I look forward to enjoying a nice steak dinner, and maybe some tasty barbecue.

What are other highlights of your 16/17 season?
I just gave a recital at Lincoln Center’s Paul Hall, and performed in the season opener of the Cleveland Orchestra. I also have performances with the LA Phil, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony and the Edmonton Symphony. I’ll also join the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for a performance in Alice Tully Hall. Later in the season, I’ll return to the Oregon Bach Festival to perform and to direct the Organ Institute.

Where are you headed next after Kansas City?
I’m headed back to New York to prepare for upcoming performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, where I’ll have the unusual honor of playing in all three works they’re presenting — the highly virtuosic Toccata Festiva by Samuel Barber, the world premiere of an organ concerto by Christopher Rouse, and, after intermission, the organ work that is probably best known to audiences: Saint-Saëns’ “Organ” Symphony, which I was scheduled to perform with the Orchestra last February with Maestro James Levine of the Met, but unfortunately the
performance was cancelled. Now it has been rescheduled, and the orchestra’s Music Director, Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin will be conducting.


Don’t miss our next classical concert, “Mozart’s Requiem,” featuring Guilmant’s Symphony No. 1 with Paul Jacobs  at the console of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ on  Oct. 20-23 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets from $30. Call the Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select your seat here. Best availability is on Thursday, October 20.

Kansas City Symphony Chats with Organist Dorothy Papadakos

Dorothy Papadakos
Dorothy Papadakos

Dorothy Papdakos is known for her silent film programs. The Kansas City Symphony is presenting the 1929 silent film classic “Phantom of the Opera” starring Lon Chaney. Papadakos will improvise at the console of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. while the film is shown giant screen in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets from $25. Select your seat here or call the Box Office at (816) 471-0400.

Tell us about yourself. When did you start performing the organ for silent film classics?
I learned how to improvise for silent films while I was Cathedral Organist at NYC’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine from the legendary theater organist Lee Erwin who played silent films there every Halloween. I sat up at the organ watching him, taking it all in at the master’s feet. By then, Lee was in his 90s! One year he didn’t feel well and at the last minute they threw me on! I had two days to compose musical cues for a double feature of “Phantom of the Opera” in front of 3,500 people. I was terrified — my improvisations were “liturgical,” and I’d never improvised in the harmonic language of a silent film. But I dove in … Lee coached me over the phone on how to write good musical cues for my characters … 30 minutes into the first performance something inside me broke free, and I’d never felt freer in my improvising or at the organ. It’s an incredible feeling I still get in every silent film performance. Each show is utterly new and different. I never get bored!

How do you prepare? Do you watch the film many times?
Improv is best when it’s fresh and I’m on the edge of my seat, so I rarely preview a film once I’ve learned it. When we do screen check, I get to see some scenes, but I prefer seeing it fresh each time. I do study the scene breakdown and cue sheet on the plane flying to a gig, but my biggest preparation is registering a venue’s organ — choosing sound combinations to match the scenes and setting my pistons (the organ’s computer memory).

How does the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ compare to other organs you play? What is the process for becoming acquainted with an instrument when you travel?
Helzberg Hall’s magnificent 5,548 pipe Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ is a genuine masterpiece! I LOVE playing this instrument because it goes wherever I need it to musically in any moment of a film — from loud and spooky to sparkling and charming — it has lots of what we organists call “toys and heavy artillery” on board! Getting acquainted occurs over hours of listening to each stop and combining sounds. Every film is different, so each year the sound combinations are different.

What part of “Phantom of the Opera” is your favorite and why?
I love the scenes where Carlotta brings down the chandelier, when the Phantom takes Christine on his gondola into his lair, the Masked Ball and when the inspector and Raoul search for Christine in the dungeons under the Opera House and get trapped. Universal’s 1929 re-issue of the 1925 original feature was brilliantly edited by the film’s star, Lon Chaney, down to 92 minutes and the action never stops. These scenes in particular are emotionally charged and the audience and I are right in there with the characters. I think this is why this film is so popular — together we all go on an exciting emotional ride of humor, suspense and romance with a profound subtext about “the outsider cast from society” are what makes this film so enduring and such a satisfying experience.

Since this film is presenting near Halloween, do you have any Halloween traditions? What do you find spooky?
My annual Halloween Horror Tour has become my Halloween tradition! In fact, I’ve become a Halloween tradition in many places … Dorothy coming to town with her costumes and creepy friends Nosferatu, the Phantom, Quasimodo, Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde. For me, spooky is a delayed or cancelled flight on tour! I love graveyards, full moons and pumpkins … though I’m pretty sure I never want to run into Nosferatu. THAT’S scaaaary.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
This Christmas my new Young Adult (11-14) sci-fi adventure book “The Kingdom of Winter” is being released! It’s book No. 1 of the “Kingdoms of the Seasons” quartet, and it’s already getting lots of great attention. It’s nature’s four seasons like you’ve never experienced them! Also in development, I have a terrific new TV drama series, “The Golden Door,” about Ellis Island’s incredible team who managed the largest migration in human history of 12 million immigrants. And, on top of it all, my fun musical “Bacchus” is also in development!

If you have any free moments while visiting Kansas City, is there anything particular you plan to do outside of the concert hall?
I have dear friends who live in the area, and we always get together for a lovely meal. I love Kansas City’s jazz history since jazz is how I learned to play the piano and improvise. Maybe I can catch a set somewhere!

After KC, where are you headed next? What are other highlights for your 16/17 season?
From here I go to St. John’s Cathedral in Denver to play “Nosferatu,” then to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco for a double feature of “Nosferatu” (two in one night!). Both venues have spectacular, huge organs and acoustics, much like Helzberg Hall, so I feel very lucky to get to perform in all these wondrous buildings. Two really special treats coming up for me are performing “Phantom of the Opera” in Singapore in 2017 and a tour of “Phantom of the Opera” in Japan (TBD), which means translating the film for the first time ever into Japanese! Won’t that be cool to see!

Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to perform “Phantom of the Opera” in Helzberg Hall! I can’t wait to be with you all again and see your costumes — as I discovered the last two seasons with “Nosferatu” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Kansas City loves their horror movies and ROCKS!


Don’t miss “Phantom of the Opera” with Dorothy Papadakos at the console of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. while the film is shown giant screen in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets from $25. Select your seat here or call the Box Office at (816) 471-0400.

Guest violinist Stefan Jackiw talks with the Kansas City Symphony

Stefan Jackiw
Stefan Jackiw

Guest violinist Stefan Jackiw will perform the Korngold Violin Concerto on Opening Weekend (Sept 30-Oct. 2) with the Kansas City Symphony.

Tell us about the Korngold Concerto you will be playing with the Symphony.
Korngold was most well-known as a film composer. This violin concerto, although not film music, is filled with cinematic drama and sweep, heart-on-your-sleeve romance, and kinetic energy. I particularly love the unabashed expressiveness of the first and second movements. The slow movement gets me right in the feels every time.

How do you feel about returning to perform with the Kansas City Symphony? What are looking forward to?
I love playing with the Kansas City Symphony! The orchestra sounds so great and is so supportive to work with. I have some friends from school days in the orchestra, so it’s always nice to reconnect with them. Also, you guys seriously have one of the most gorgeous halls in the world. It’s such a treat to play there. And Michael Stern strikes a tone in rehearsal that is both serious and thoughtful but also at times playfully irreverent, which somehow brings us all closer together. Also, KC BBQ…

Have you recorded anything lately?
I just finished recording the complete sonatas of Charles Ives with one of my favorite musicians, pianist Jeremy Denk. Ives’ music has a reputation of being thorny, and while that’s true, at the core his music is about nostalgia, memory, and longing for the past, all very Romantic themes. I love his music deeply and feel so fortunate to have made this recording.

What are your sources of motivation and inspiration?
So many. Composers and their lives. Who was Brahms? What was Beethoven’s life like? What made Mozart tick? Also other musicians I get to work with. Books I’ve read, films, friends.

What do you like to do in your free time?
Read, watch great movies, cook, watch terrible movies, Netflix, running, chill with friends.

What are some highlights for the 2016-17 season for you? Where are you headed to next?
Immediately after KC, I’m headed to Amsterdam to perform at the Concertgebouw, which is another one of the world’s great halls with a great history and tradition behind it. I love playing there, and I love the city. After the two halls in KC and Amsterdam, I’m going to be so spoiled…


Stefan Jackiw performs with the Kansas City Symphony
Guest Violinist Stefan Jackiw will perform Korngold’s Violin Concerto with the Kansas City Symphony.

Kansas City Symphony’s Opening Weekend: Tchaikovsky’s Fourth also features Patrick Harlan’s Rapture and Stefan Jackiw as soloist for the Korngold Violin Concerto. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased through online or by calling the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400.

Get to Know Guest Artist Brody Dolyniuk

Brody Dolyniuk
Brody Dolyniuk

Guest artist Brody Dolyniuk joins the Kansas City Symphony to present David Bowie: A Musical Odyssey with the Kansas City Symphony on Saturday, September 24 at 8 p.m. in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at $40. To order, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online.

You’ve been called a multi-instrumentalist — what instruments do you play?
I started on piano, then guitar, drums, bass and harmonica. I’ve also dabbled on the mandolin a bit. I’m strictly self-taught by ear. To this day, I still can’t read sheet music. I’ve also done some arranging for orchestras, which is pretty unorthodox for someone who doesn’t read music. And oh yeah … I sing sometimes.🙂

How would you describe this concert? What makes it special?
It’s a hybrid rock concert/symphonic performance. At the core is a great band that faithfully performs Bowie’s catalog, but Brent Havens has written great arrangements for symphony that sometimes underscore what the band is playing, and other times they become the dominant element. Of course, Bowie’s music lends itself well to this pairing because they’re such well-written songs in the first place.

Do you have a favorite Bowie song?
There are so many to choose from. “Space Oddity” is sort of an obvious choice, but the day David Bowie passed, I stayed up until the wee hours of the next morning listening to his catalog and rediscovered “Life On Mars,” and suggested it for the show. Thankfully, we’ve not only included it, but we’ve made it our closer. It’s a perfect choice for the concert. There are a few other songs we don’t do that I love, like “Jean Genie,” “John I’m Only Dancing,” “The Man Who Sold The World,” etc., but really there’s not a single song in the show that isn’t great or highly recognizable. The man wrote a lot of very good songs!

With Bowie’s passing earlier this year, how does that change a tribute concert like this?
I sense that people are still reeling from the loss a bit, and there’s a notable amount of emotion. There are many die-hard Bowie fans out there whose lives were impacted or changed by the man, and this show has to be a balance of musicality, respect and also good-natured fun. I’m not trying to be David Bowie up there, I just try to make it a celebration of his life in my own way, from one fan to another. With all the shows, I do my best of singing in the vein of the original artist without it coming off like an impersonation.

Why is this a can’t-miss concert?
First and foremost, you have a very talented, major orchestra right here in your city, and everyone should take part in that culture. It’s a great family bonding event in an age when it’s so easy to get distracted with gadgets and TV. Furthermore, this is great, timeless music… I feel it has the staying power of the classical composers (classical purists, don’t hate me), and quite honestly, whether you’re a fan of rock, pop or classical music, I recommend seeing the show as it’s a different twist that brings different genres together. Anything that brings people from different cultures together is a good thing, in my book.

Is this your first time to Kansas City? What are you looking forward to with this trip?
Actually I was born in Wichita, Kan., but moved away as a baby (I took my parents with me). And when I first started playing music professionally, one of my first gigs was playing in the dueling piano bar/restaurant inside the Kansas City Station riverboat casino. That was back in ’97, so it’s my first time back since then. Kinda nice how things turned out.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I’m looking forward to sharing in this great musical experience with the Kansas City Symphony … and meeting some friendly Kansas Citians🙂


Tickets for David Bowie: A Musical Odyssey with the Kansas City Symphony start at $40 and can be purchased through online or by calling the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400.

Get to Know Five for Fighting (Singer-Songwriter John Ondrasik)

Five for Fighting (John Ondrasik) performs with the Kansas City Symphony on Thursday, June 9.
Five for Fighting (John Ondrasik)

Editor’s note: John Ondrasik, also known as Five for Fighting, performs with the Kansas City Symphony on Thursday, June 9 in a special, one-night-only concert. To secure your seats, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online. 

Welcome to Kansas City! What are you looking forward to most for your performance with the Kansas City Symphony?
Performing with a symphony allows me to add a new dimension to the popular songs as well as pull songs from my catalogue that I would not perform in a typical band show. I have been blessed to work with some world-class composers during my career and the opportunity to share their creations with fans, old and new, is exciting.

How many different orchestras have you performed with, and how does this setting differ/compare to one of your non-orchestral concerts?
I have performed with more than a dozen orchestras and look forward to building out this part of my career. Frankly, though my audience (and I) enjoyed the rock clubs and festival shows, to be able to sit down and interpret these songs with world-class orchestra’s fills me with the joy I experienced in my first national tour. The medium also allows me to provide a more intimate experience and talk about the inspirations for certain songs and the stories behind the music.

Which of your songs do you consider the most fun to play in this kind of setting? And why?
The songs with the amazing arrangements by Brazilian George Del Barrio have to be at the top of the list. I have to be careful during “Two Lights,” “Devil in The Wishing Well,” and “Nobody” as it’s easy to get lost in George’s orchestrations. Of course, singing “Superman” and “100 Years” with an orchestra behind you is rather awesome as well…

Could you tell us about where the name “Five for Fighting” came from?
Early in my career my record label came to me and said that the male singer-songwriter was dead, that nobody could pronounce “Ondrasik” (true), and I needed to come up with a pseudonym band name. I had just come from a L.A. Kings hockey game so I blurted out, “How about Five for Fighting?” (The reference comes from a 5-minute penalty for fighting in hockey) To my shock, they loved the name, and though there aren’t five band members, and my boxing skills are rather limited, 15 years later … here we are.🙂

Where are you off to after Kansas City?
I am doing a tour with quartet directly after this KC gig. The response to the symphony shows has inspired me to take a smaller version to other markets across the country that may not have local orchestras … hence Five for Fighting with Quartet. After that, I’m off to New York to work on a Broadway musical or two… Stay tuned!

What advice would you give to aspiring singers and songwriters?
Listen to great songwriters, write hundreds of songs, record your songs in simple formats so you can listen back, and most importantly Play Live. Your audience will be your greatest teacher.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Congrats on your Royals! As a huge sports fan I was so pleased to see you all get your ring. No fan base deserves it more! Repeat???


Singer-songwriter John Ondrasik, best known by his stage name Five for Fighting, joins your Kansas City Symphony for one very special evening of inspired hits on Thursday, June 9 at 8 p.m. in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City, Mo.. Enjoy favorites like “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” “The Riddle,” “Chances” and “100 Years” performed with stunning live orchestral arrangements. Tickets start at $30. To purchase, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online.

Get to Know Guest Conductor/Pianist Jeffrey Kahane

Jeffrey Kahane
Jeffrey Kahane

Editor’s note: Maestro Jeffrey Kahane conducts the Kansas City Symphony for the June 3-5 Classical Series concerts and is the featured soloist for Ravel’s jazzy Piano Concerto in G Major. To secure your seats, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online. 

Welcome back to Kansas City! Is there anything you hope to do during your visit that you didn’t get a chance to do last time? 

Well, the only problem with a program like this, where I am playing a difficult concerto as well as conducting the entire program, is that I don’t have any time to do anything much other than practice, rehearse, eat and sleep! I’d love to do some sight-seeing in KC, but I’m afraid that will have to wait for another visit.

What are you most looking forward in these upcoming Kansas City Symphony concerts?

Pretty much everything. I had such a great time with the orchestra last time playing Mozart and conducting Rachmaninoff, and this time it will be a joy to play one of my absolute favorite works, the G major Ravel Concerto, as well as conducting the delightful Symphony No. 88 of Haydn. I suppose I could say that it will be an extra-special treat to conduct to magnificent works which are all-too-little know to concert-goers, Dvořák’s thrilling late tone-poems “The Water Goblin” and “The Noon Witch.” These are pieces written at the end of Dvořák’s life, after he had returned from American to his homeland and after he had composed his most famous work, the so-called  “New World” Symphony. They show the composer at the peak of his imaginative powers, displaying his gift both for glorious melodies and ravishing orchestral colors, with the added element of gripping musical story-telling

Tell us about yourself; where did you study piano and conducting, and how long did it take you to master doing both at the same time?

I studied piano in Los Angeles where I grew up, as well as at the San Francisco Conservatory, at Juilliard, and in London. I never studied conducting formally, though I had wonderful guidance from a number of distinguished conductors and had the great education of observing great conductors in rehearsal from the time I was very young.

Conducting and playing at the same time is something that actually came fairly naturally to me, it was not something that took a long time to learn, but I suppose I have refined my approach to it quite a bit having done it now for more than 25 years.

What considerations must a musician account for while conducting and playing the piano simultaneously as opposed to individually?

One has to be able to concentrate on exactly the right thing at the right time. In other words, one has to know when the orchestra really needs a cue or some kind of particular guidance, and when they can simply rely on themselves.

Do you have a favorite part (or parts) in the Ravel piece? If so, which part(s) and why?

The opening of the slow movement of the concerto is one of the most moving and beautiful things in all of music. I have played it easily a hundred times in performance, and I never tire of it. It is also particularly moving when that great melody comes back and is played by the English horn — most players of that instrument will agree it is one of the half-dozen greatest solos for the instrument ever written, and I also relish that moment because I simply listen to and accompany the English horn there.

Why did you select Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 and the Dvořák works, The Water Goblin and The Noonday Witch, to also be on the concert program? Generally speaking, how do you like to approach programming for a Symphony concert? 

I don’t have a single approach to programming, it varies constantly. Sometimes I’ll program with a them in mind, and others, like the program I’m conducting this coming weekend with the Kansas City Symphony, I simply put together with the idea of balance and variety. These are just four works I love and I think make for a wonderfully varied and interesting evening.

What’s next on your performance agenda? 

I’ll be conducting and playing with the Milwaukee Symphony, in a program that also includes the Ravel Concerto, but also includes Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story,” and the original jazz band version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the audience? 

I think this is going to be a special week for me, and I hope it is for my colleagues and the audience as well!


The Kansas City Symphony performs “Spring Fling: Ravel and Dvořák” June 3-5 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City, Mo. On the program is Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 and The Water Goblin and The Noonday Witch by Dvorak. Tickets start at $25. To purchase, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online.