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.

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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.

Kansas City Connection Leshnoff’s Symphony No. 3

“An Attack: Crossing No Man’s Land” Copyright the Daily Mail
“An Attack: Crossing No Man’s Land” Copyright the Daily Mail

Special Feature by Laura Rollins Hockaday

 

I was proud and thrilled to hear about Jonathan Leshnoff’s Symphony No. 3 in commemoration of World War I, and that my father, Burnham Hockaday, had a connection to it. Dad would be overwhelmed to think that part of one his letters from WWI would be included in a new symphony. Overwhelmed! He would have been proud and thrilled, too, but he was such a humble man, I am sure he would wonder why his name ever came up. 

My father never talked about his WWI experiences. I wish I had asked him about them. I never wanted to bring up harrowing memories. He left Princeton University in his sophomore year, 1917, and enlisted in officer’s training at Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kan., where he was for about a year, training mostly on horseback. According to my mother, he rode a horse across No Man’s Land [the dangerous land between front-line trenches], gathering information for brigade headquarters, but he never told me this. I had to read excruciating details about trench warfare and No Man’s Land to try to understand what he went through. He was a platoon leader and a 1st Lt. in Company A, 354th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division of the U.S. Army, then called the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). A history of the 89th, which Dad gave me, mentions his bravery and leadership under fire but he never pointed that out – I found it in reading.

Portion of Letter by Burnie Hockaday
Portion of Letter by Burnie Hockaday

 

My father lived to be 100; he was born May 4, 1896, and died Dec. 30, 1996. His full name was James Kellogg Burnham Hockaday, but he was known to everyone as Burnie. Long after the war, he had some memorabilia he wanted to give to the museum at the Liberty Memorial, so we went down one day. While there he looked at a display of a trench and its “living” conditions. He remarked briefly that it looked a lot better than what he remembered. He gave the Museum about 25 letters he had written home that his family had saved. I didn’t realize how many he had donated until years later when I wanted to give a talk about my father for my book group and asked the Museum for copies of his letters. What stands out in my mind is that in the letters he never mentions the horror of war or what he had to endure. He never wanted to worry his family back home. He writes to his brother, Irvine O. (Mike) Hockaday about a fight overhead between American and German planes and treats it as a great Fourth of July display. 

My father had tremendous respect and admiration for the men in his company. He was devoted to them and they felt the same toward him – I heard this in person from one man’s granddaughter. They were fiercely loyal and were tough, dedicated men. Many of them were hard-working farmers from Missouri and Kansas. Dad kept a roster of them, and as each died, he would write “Taps” beside his name.

Dad spent six months in the trenches of France, fighting in two major battles, the Meuse-Argonne and the St. Mihiel Drive. After the war, he served 18 months in the Army of Occupation in Germany and was responsible for lodging thousands of soldiers. He spoke German before he went overseas and became close friends with a family he billeted with in Trier, on the Mosel River. They owned a vineyard, which was a lovely dividend. Some of the family visited our home in Kansas City years later. Returning home after nearly three years, Dad went back to Princeton and graduated with his brother in 1921. When he died, my father was the oldest survivor of the Class of 1919.

He always attended the concerts of the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra and later the Kansas City Symphony with my mother, Clara Hockaday. Next to my dad, music was the love of her life. She was president of the Women’s Division of the Philharmonic for several years and co-founded the Jewel Ball in 1954 with Mrs. R. Crosby (Enid) Kemper, Sr. The Philharmonic desperately needed money to survive and Mother thought a ball at the Nelson-Atkins Museum could raise the needed funds. It did and the Jewel Ball continues to this day.

I adored my father. He will always be a hero to me. He never wanted any glory or recognition. He wanted simply to live a good, honest and decent life and to do right by his fellow man. He would be so amazed and thrilled with the new National World War I Museum and Memorial and this musical commemoration. I wish he had lived to see it.


To hear the Kansas City Symphony, led by Music Director Michael Stern, present the world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff’s Symphony No. 3, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online here. Also on the program in Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony and Magnard’s Hymne à la justice. Tickets start at $25.

Get to Know Composer David Ludwig and Guest Violinist Bella Hristova

Violinist Bella Hristova. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
Violinist Bella Hristova. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Editor’s note: Guest violinist Bella Hristova performs David Ludwig’s Violin Concerto (written expressly for her) with the Kansas City Symphony for the April 8-10 concerts in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. On the same program hear Ives’ Symphony No. 3, “The Camp Meeting,” Debussy’s Ibéria and Gershwin’s An American in Paris. Tickets start at $25. Select your seat online here or call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400.

1. Tell us about yourselves. How did you become professional musicians?
Bella: I was born in Bulgaria and started playing the violin when I was 6. I started with the violin because my mother wanted me to. My father was a composer and my mom played piano and was a choral conductor. I was very drawn to the piano as a young child, but it was her dream for me to play violin. Now of course, it’s become my dream and I love playing the violin — but I also love listening to piano music.

David: I grew up in a very musical family, but kept my own life as a musician pretty private until after I began on my own career path. I started getting commissions and making a life as a professional composer in my mid-twenties.

When I was 6, I wanted to be a steam roller, but quickly realized that wasn’t possible. So after that, I tried lessons on as many instruments as I could, settling on a few … but all along I was interested in writing — second to composing was playwriting. I’ve come to think that being a composer is like the merging of being a playwright and musician.

David Ludwig, composer.
David Ludwig, composer.

2. How did this commission come about, and what is the intent for the piece?
David: This commission is the result of a long conversation between Bella and me, Jaime Laredo, and Alan Jordan. Alan had the idea for the concerto with the Vermont Symphony (Alan is executive director with the Delaware Symphony now). Jaime is the music director of the VSO and they became the lead commissioner. Jaime has been an incredible mentor and friend to both Bella and me, and the thought was that the violin concerto would celebrate our marriage in some way. The commission became a consortium of eight orchestras total with additional support from New Music USA.

With a consortium, everybody wins — the composer and soloist get to have the piece played multiple times, and orchestras each get to premiere a new work regionally for a more feasible buy-in than if they were the sole commissioner. We love this because it means we can share this piece with audiences and have it played by terrific groups like the Kansas City Symphony.

3. Can you describe the movements?
(From the program notes) The piece is about the ritual of marriage, and it imagines the before, during, and after a traditional wedding ceremony.

The first movement “Dances” begins with a loud crash–a jarring but transformative start to something new that transitions into a waltz-like music soon after. All told there are four dances in the first movement, connected by a cadenza and concluded by a Rachenitsa in its traditional irregular meter. The second movement “Ceremony” follows the progression of the wedding ritual. A slow unraveling processional is woven throughout the fabric of this movement, ending in musical rings created by the rise and fall of the violin against solo instruments in the orchestra. The third movement “The Festival” is my version of a Krivo Horo or “Crooked Dance” that captures the way people attempt to walk home after a great party. The music is celebratory to the end, reflecting the coming together of a community inspired by two people promised to preserve each other’s wellbeing for the rest of their lives.

4. For Bella, what do you love most about this concerto?
Bella: It’s difficult to pick a favorite part of something this meaningful — and David has hidden little gems throughout the piece, such as our initials at the end of the second movement. Perhaps the most personal quote and one of my favorite things about it is that he quotes about 10 measures from my father’s violin concerto in the Ceremony movement. My dad passed away when I was very young and I never got to know him — and this way David found a way that my dad could be in some way involved in our wedding!

5. For David, what do you love most about your work?
David: That my beautiful and extraordinarily talented wife is premiering it! I have been thinking about this piece since we started together nearly six years ago.

6. Will this be your first time in Kansas City, and first time performing with the Kansas City Symphony?
Bella: Yes, it’s my first time in Kansas City and first time performing with the Symphony. I have many friends in the orchestra and have known Maestro Stern for quite a few years now, so I’m thrilled for us to come together for a very exciting week of music making!

David: Also my first time on both counts. And ditto/agreed on the rest. We have many good friends in that orchestra, and we’ve both known and admired Michael Stern for a long time. Also, I’m going to need to try the barbecue as soon as possible.

7. When you’re not making music, what other activities or pastimes do you enjoy?
Bella: I love spending time with our two cats, Uni and Schmoopy, watching TV, playing video games and solving jigsaw puzzles.

David: I guess I don’t have a lot of hobbies, but I love teaching and working with people and communities while on residencies. I spend a fair amount of time reading articles about music, science, and movies online — and probably too much time on Twitter and Facebook.

(The cats do keep us busy, but I’ll remind my wife that we have a pact not to bring them up when under 10 minutes of an interview or 500 words…)

8. What do you hope audiences take away from the performances?
David: For me, I want the concerto to share its message of partnership, empathy, and communion. But even before the message is the experience — I want the audience to be engaged in and moved by the music from the opening crash of the piece to the fast ending scales. And between soloist, orchestra, and conductor — to extend the playwright analogy — I have incredible actors and a great director to make it happen.

Bella: I am so excited to share this very personal and special work with the audiences of Kansas City. I hope they will see this great new concerto coming to life right in front of them.

9. Anything else you’d like to add?
David: I can’t wait!

Bella: Ditto! Also, barbecue!!!


To secure your tickets to hear guest violinist Bella Hristova perform David Ludwig’s Violin Concerto (written expressly for her) with the Kansas City Symphony for the April 8-10 concerts in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, visit the ticket page here or call the Symphony Box Office between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tickets start at $25. Also on the program is Ives’ Symphony No. 3, “The Camp Meeting,” Debussy’s Ibéria and Gershwin’s An American in Paris.

Get to Know Guest Violinist Vadim Gluzman

Vadim Gluzman. photo: Marco Borggreve
photo: Marco Borggreve

Guest violinist Vadim Gluzman appears as soloist with the Kansas City Symphony Feb. 5-7 to perform Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Visit the concert listing page for more information on programming and tickets.

What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming performances with the Kansas City Symphony in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts?
Return engagement are always very special for me and coming back to perform with an orchestra which I know and like very much, working with a conductor with whom we truly speak the same musical language is a great pleasure and a privilege. Working with Michael Stern has always been a special experience — he is a musician of incredible depth, artistic honesty and one of the most sensitive partners — a real inspiration!

And of course to make music in the spectacular Kauffman Center — an absolute joy!

What do you love about the Brahms Violin Concerto? Do you have a favorite part or movement? If so, which one(s) and why?
Brahms concerto is one of two or three perfect masterworks in the violin concerto repertoire, a real Mount Everest. The challenge is humongous, but the rewards — artistic, musical, emotional — are just as incredible. Every note in this piece is “gold,” and pointing at one part as my favorite is really impossible. But if I were to draw the attention of our audience to one of many special moments — listen to the very end of the violin cadenza the way the orchestra joins in — as close to heaven as we will ever get!!!

What was your path to becoming a professional violinist? Did you always know you were destined to make music your career?
I started my musical education at 7, and naturally, at that age we do not ask ourselves such questions. I don’t think I would be able to point at one day or a moment when I realized that I wanted to be a violinist. By the time I was 14 or 15, I had realized that I can not imagine doing anything else, I simply can’t live without it. In a way, playing the violin became who I am, what I am…

I had the most amazing teachers — Arkady Fomin, Dorothy DeLay, among others. I also was fortunate to work with Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman, and later to perform with some of the greatest conductors of our day. They helped shape my musical vision, gave me confidence and inspired me to continue on my path.

What advice do you have for young musicians hoping to improve their ear or performance?
Listen to yourself, listen to your colleges, friends, teachers! Listening is the greatest tool, the greatest way to learn and improve. Playing and studying chamber music in depth for me is single most important part of becoming an all-rounded musician.

What’s next for you after Kansas City?
Right after I perform in Kansas City, I continue to New Orleans to perform with the Louisiana Philharmonic and Carlos Miguel Prieto, a special performance with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York, followed by a European tour. Some important highlights this season are a recital in London’s Wigmore Hall, premiere of new violin concerto of Lera Auerbach at the Proms, a residency at Colorado Music Festival and a tour in Australia.


Concert Tickets:

To hear guest violinist perform Brahms Violin Concerto with the Kansas City Symphony under the baton of conductor Michael Stern, call (816) 471-0400 or select your seat online. The program also includes Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and John Adams’ The Chairman DancesFoxtrot for Orchestra. Tickets start at $25.

KC Symphony cello section talks Elgar’s iconic concerto

The Kansas City Symphony presents Brilliant Brits: Elgar & Vaughan Williams on Jan. 8-10 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. These concerts feature guest conductor Robert Spano and guest cellist Timotheos Petrin. Tickets start at $25. To purchase, select your seats here or call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400. 

We asked the Kansas City Symphony cello section to share their thoughts about this weekend’s featured piece: the Elgar Cello Concerto. Read on to see why they regard this as an important and beautiful work.

Alexander East, Kansas City Symphony Assistant Principal Cellist
Alexander East, Kansas City Symphony Assistant Principal Cellist

When I first got serious about the cello, my parents brought home a stack of LP recordings from the music school library. Included were classic recordings of all the major cello concerti with orchestra with all the major solo cellists. The Elgar Cello Concerto featuring Jacqueline du Pré caught my attention the most, with its robust tone and deep melancholy. It was a motivating experience!

Alexander East, Kansas City Symphony Assistant Principal Cellist

Lawrence Figg, Kansas City Symphony Cellist
Lawrence Figg, Kansas City Symphony Cellist

 

 

The Elgar is truly one of the great, emotionally exciting cello concertos. It is demanding physically and emotionally on both the soloist and the audience, which is another reason to experience it live. Knowing that Elgar considered this his “swansong” composition makes it that much more poignant!

— Lawrence Figg, Kansas City Symphony Cellist 

 

Susie Yang, Kansas City Symphony Associate Principal Cellist
Susie Yang, Kansas City Symphony Associate Principal Cellist

The Elgar Concerto is very powerful and has probably affected young cellists all over the world. One of the most powerful recordings, in my opinion, is the Jacqueline du Pré recording/video. That is definitely the video I watched when I decided to really become serious about the cello. It was also one of the first pieces I performed with orchestra. It has a good score that shows the conversation between solo cellist and orchestra. The cello technique is utilized in all ways in this piece. It showcases lyricism, virtuosic technique, and it uses the wide range of the cello. It really brings the audience through all kinds of emotions … sorrow, passion, anger, playfulness, love … these are just a few of the feelings you can experience listening to this concerto.

Susie Yang, Kansas City Symphony Associate Principal Cellist (Richard Hill Chair)

Meredith McCook, Kansas City Symphony Cellist
Meredith McCook, Kansas City Symphony Cellist

The Elgar Cello Concerto is one of the concertos that many young cellists hear for the first time and feel really inspired by. I think the first time I heard Elgar was Jacqueline du Pré’s famous recording, which she is so well known for. The way that she identified with the concerto was very primal and truly unique in the way that she performed it with such natural passion. It really allows the cellist to “dig in” to many melodies and feel free to play with abandon and many different types of expression — from the crashing chords of the beginning to the second movement’s playful off-the-string spiccato to the beautifully tender moments of the third movement. It is definitely a “meat and potatoes” standard piece of the cello repertoire and is definitely not to be missed!”

— Meredith McCook, Kansas City Symphony Cellist

Aram Demirjian, Kansas City Symphony Associate Conductor
Aram Demirjian,  Kansas City Symphony Associate Conductor, David T. Beals III Chair

The Elgar Cello Concerto is a stark, impassioned, brooding and nostalgic expression of the deepest corners of both the soul of Elgar and the cellists that perform it. It alternates between being introverted and extroverted, virtuosic and lyrical, and it is one of the best showcases of all of the cello’s unique expressive capabilities. Like so much British music, it is a dignified but passionate expression of powerful emotion that refuses to remain silent.

While I can’t say whether it’s the “best” cello concerto, the Elgar truly is my favorite. I love playing it — it is incredibly well-written for the capabilities of the instrument, and while it is challenging, it is also incredibly satisfying to play. I’ve always felt a very personal sense of connection to the Elgar Cello Concerto because it was a “coming-of-age” piece for me. It was the first major romantic concerto I learned to play, I studied and practiced it fiendishly. As a brooding, moody teenager, I felt an instant connection with depth and rawness of the emotions contained within. It was the piece I was playing at the time in my life when I realized that music was more than just notes and sounds — that music had the capacity to transcend what human beings could express with words; that giving yourself fully to a piece of music was not only important but vital.

It is also particularly special to me because I have played it as a soloist with orchestra, as a cellist in the orchestra, and I have also conducted it. There are few pieces with which I have a stronger connection.

The Elgar Cello Concerto grabs hold of you and does not let go. And you won’t want it to.

— Aram Demirjian, Associate Conductor, David T. Beals III Chair


To hear the amazing Elgar Cello Concerto performed by Timotheos Petrin and the Kansas City Symphony under the direction of Robert Spano for the Jan. 8-10 concerts, select your seats online here or call (816) 471-0400. The program also includes Vaughan Williams’ “London Symphony” and Oliver Knussen’s The Way to Castle Yonder from Higglety, Pigglety Pop! Tickets start at just $25 with student tickets at $10.

 

FEATURE: The Great War, Music and the Arts

WWI soldiers at Peronne, France
WWI soldiers — Péronne, France

Editor’s note: The Kansas City Symphony presents Brilliant Brits: Elgar and Vaughan Williams on Jan. 8-10 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Since the music presented on these concerts has ties with WWI, the president and CEO of our local gem, the National World War I Museum and Memorial, has penned his thoughts on the historical connections with the art.

Dr. Matthew Naylor. LinkedIn.
Dr. Matthew Naylor. LinkedIn.

By Dr. Matthew Naylor, President and CEO of the National World War I Museum and Memorial

From the vantage point of history — 100 years later — there is consensus: the Great War changed everything. The conflict from 1914-1918 resulted in more than 37 million casualties, and millions of men, women and children were killed or injured and suffered from its after effects. Empires were lost. National boundaries were reshaped. Economies were devastated.

The enduring impact of the Great War continues to be felt today and wields substantial influence on the lives of men and women throughout the world. In examining this tumultuous period — when, for the first time, participants from every inhabited continent engaged in a war — we see a tremendous effect on culture still resonating today. Expressions of feeling and memory through the arts are one of the most significant avenues for making the events of a century ago meaningful for today’s audiences.

Violinist Jascha Heifetz fled the Russian revolution and performed for the first time at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 27, 1917. Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos debuted in Vienna on Oct. 4, 1916. Led by Nick LaRocca, the Dixieland Jass Band recorded “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” and “Indiana in New York City” in May 1917. A few months before the most calamitous event the world had ever seen ended, Igor Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat premiered in Switzerland in September 1918 and was influenced greatly by the horrors of the Great War.

Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale (L’histoire du Soldat)
Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale (L’histoire du Soldat)

Despite this terrible conflict holding a firm grasp on humanity for more than four incredibly long years, the world responded overwhelmingly with strong indications that culture — music, literature, film, art, etc. — was more essential than ever.

That’s why members of the U.S. 439th Motor Supply Train steadfastly ensured that wherever they traversed during the course of the war, their 60-pound portable phonograph went with them. It’s why an American soldier etched “B. Deming” on his banjo and carried it with him while serving with the 432nd Aero Squadron.

Liberty Memorial at the National World War I Musuem and Memorial. Photo credit: Yuefeng D
Liberty Memorial at the National World War I Musuem and Memorial. Photo credit: Yuefeng D

You can see these exceptional artifacts on exhibit at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. Because of the effect of culture — both on the war itself and its legacy following the armistice — the Museum features dedicated quiet rooms where people can listen to music of the era and hear poetry and prose written during or about the Great War.

The Museum houses the most comprehensive collection of World War I objects and documents in the world, and it isn’t located in Washington, D.C., or New York or Los Angeles. No, it’s in the heartland, where it belongs, right here in Kansas City.

As the international spotlight shines on Kansas City during the Great War centennial, organizations throughout the community are embracing its cultural significance. The Kansas City Symphony’s 2014-15 Classical Series “Soundtrack for a New Time” featured selections composed in the years leading up to the Great War. The Museum and the Symphony collaborated on a special program in June 2015 that featured Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. “Brilliant Brits: Elgar & Vaughan Williams” continues the Kansas City Symphony’s commemorative programming. Vaughan Williams’ “London” Symphony captures the zeitgeist that preceded the war, and Elgar’s Cello Concerto speaks of the sadness and anguish, felt in England, and the world, following its conclusion.

Additionally, more than a dozen other arts-related organizations in the region already have featured or will provide World War I-related programming in the future. At the Museum, we recently closed the largest exhibition of Australian war art ever shown outside the country. Currently, The Second Battlefield: Nurses in the First World War examines the role of nurses through the lens of French works of art. Of course, the Museum also houses the Pantheon de la Guerre. You can explore what happened to the world’s largest painting through March 27 in our special exhibition Rearranging History: Daniel MacMorris and the Pantheon de la Guerre.

A century ago, the war raged on, with more horrors to follow as the U.S. and other countries joined the fight in the latter half of the conflict. We listen to the music composed before, during and following the Great War with a perspective neither the composers nor the audiences had, but with the same understanding conveyed by the emotions expressed. As Aldous Huxley said, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”


Ticket information

Kansas City Symphony presents Brilliant Brits
Kansas City Symphony presents Brilliant Brits

The Kansas City Symphony presents Brilliant Brits: Elgar & Vaughan Williams on Jan. 8-10 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The concerts feature guest conductor Robert Spano and guest cellist Timotheos Petrin. Tickets start at $25. To purchase, select your seats here or call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The box office is also available to take phone orders on concert weekends from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. The ticketing window is also open two hours prior to concert start times on Saturdays and Sundays of concert weekends.

To learn more about the Kansas City Symphony, visit kcsymphony.org. For more information about the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, please visit theworldwar.org.

Get to Know Guest Cellist Timotheos Petrin

Timotheos Petrin. Photo: Ryan Brandenberg Photography
Timotheos Petrin. Photo: Ryan Brandenberg Photography

Editor’s Note: Cellist Timotheos Petrin joins the Kansas City Symphony to perform Elgar’s hauntingly beautiful and poignant Cello Concerto on the Jan. 8-10 concerts under the direction of guest conductor Robert Spano. Learn more about tickets here.

Tell us about yourself. When did you start playing the cello?

I was very lucky to be born into a musical family. Both of my parents are piano performers and professors. My brother is a very accomplished violinist. In other words, I have always been involved with music — since day one. You can hear music every day at our house. First, I started playing the piano at the age of 6. One day my mother thought that it would be a great idea for me to start playing the cello. She said, “This way we can play music together, violin-cello-piano.” Consequently, I started my cello lessons at the age of 7, but I didn’t want to quit the piano. I irresistibly loved both instruments. I was a double-major for some years.

Why do you enjoy performing the Elgar Cello Concerto?

The Elgar Cello Concerto is definitely one of the brightest jewels in our cello repertoire. I have to say, every time I play this concert I feel overwhelmed by the weight of history that this piece transmits. It is Elgar’s last masterpiece, therefore I look at it as a last testimony; Elgar’s last play on which he depicts his difficult and tragic life through the velvet sounds of the cello. This presents the darkest times in the history of a great, noble nation. Performing this concerto is always a great task.

What are you most looking forward to during your time with the Kansas City Symphony?

I’m very much looking forward to be playing for people. It is always exciting to reach out to new audiences. Also I’ve heard great things about the quality of the orchestra and the magnificent concert hall. I can’t wait!

Since you’ll be in KC for several days, is there anything in particular that you plan to do outside of the concert hall?

Well of course, I’ll definitely explore the city, but only as much as my schedule permits. I also need to stay rested. It is important.

When you’re not playing cello, what else do you like to do?

When I don’t play music, I paint. I’ve been painting all my life, since I was a little boy. I recently finished some large works. Oil painting is my second passion.

What’s next for you in terms of performances, school, etc?

Well, I’m still a student at the Curtis Institute. I have one more year to complete. I’m having some exciting performances coming up there. Also I’m having some solo and chamber music performances with the Astral Artists. Then during the summer, I’ll be having appearances in America and Europe, back and forth. A musician’s life is always on the road.


Concert Tickets

To hear guest cellist Timotheos Petrin perform Elgar’s Cello Concerto with the Kansas City Symphony under the baton of conductor Robert Spano on the Jan. 8-10 concerts, visit the Symphony ticketing page here or call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets start at $25. During concert weekends, the Symphony Box Office is also available to take phone orders from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays as well as two hours prior to curtain time on Saturdays and Sundays.

Hear Timotheos Petrin’s gorgeous tone

Listen to his performance of a Fauré cello sonata to experience his beautiful tone and impressive technique.

Get to Know Christmas Festival Guest Pianist Rich Ridenour

Special guest and featured pianist Rich Ridenour performs with the Kansas City Symphony for the Christmas Festival concerts on Dec. 17-20 and Dec. 22. Ticket information here.

Pianist Rich Ridenour, Photo by Bassel Jadaa

Tell us about yourself. When did you start playing the piano?

When I was 8. I was forced into it by Mother. Geez. I was not a model student at first. But when I discovered girls were impressed I played piano, I started to practice more.

What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming performances with the Kansas City Symphony?

Connecting again with the wonderful audience and orchestra. I had a great time playing as Jennifer Holiday’s warm-up act two years ago. The Kansas City Symphony rocks.

Do you have a favorite piece that is part of the upcoming concerts? If so, which one and why?

Not fair. This is like selecting a favorite child. The variety of moods will be special. I do relate to Charlie Brown Christmas in many ways. Some days I am Charlie Brown.

Since you’ll be in Kansas City for several days, is there anything in particular that you plan to do?

Shop. Will Worlds of Fun be open? Definitely the Boulevard Brewing Company (after show).

The Christmas Festival concerts are a big hit with families and children. Do you have any advice for young musicians?

Find the joy in music and play music you relate to. I did not find any joy in music at first (as I mentioned earlier…), so some students need to give some time to try it on. Whether you are on stage or in your home music is a huge lift to the soul.

Do you have any favorite holiday traditions you observe?

I ring bells for Rotary. I still hear ringing from last year.

What’s up next for you? Where do you travel to after Kansas City?

After Kansas City, I travel back to Sarasota to pick up my wife and within 24 hours we will be in cold Michigan with my family. Then, I play with the Greensboro Symphony for New Year’s Eve with my son Brandon who played trumpet with Canadian brass for seven years.

Concert Tickets:

To hear guest pianist Rich Ridenour perform with the Kansas City Symphony, Symphony Chorus, Allegro Choirs of Kansas City and Rezound! Handbell Ensemble for the Christmas Festival concerts, please call (816) 471-0400 or select your seat online. Tickets start at $30 for adults and $15 for children.

Kansas City Symphony's Christmas Festival

Get to Know Guest Pianist Alessio Bax

Alessio Bax performs with the Kansas City Symphony Nov. 27-29

Editor’s Note: Guest pianist Alessio Bax  appears as soloist with the Kansas City Symphony on Nov. 27-29 to perform Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Visit the concert listing page for more information on programming and tickets.

Tell us about yourself. When did you start playing the piano?

I was 7 years old when my parents bought me a little electric toy keyboard as a gift. That’s how it all started.

What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming performances with the Kansas City Symphony?

I have played a recital for the Harriman-Jewell series in Kansas City a few years ago and have such great memories of it and of Kansas City audiences. I have known of the orchestra and its great reputation for a while now, and of course of the stunning Helzberg Hall. It’s all very exciting.

Will this be your first time playing in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts?

Yes!

Do you have a favorite part or moment in the Falla work? If so, which part (or parts) and why?

So many. It is a very special and unique work. It is full of Spanish and Andalusian sounds, and I dare say flavors and fragrances as well. It’s powerfully evocative and emotionally charged but always restrained at the same time. It’s thrilling to play. Its emotional range is so vast. From sweet and intimate to forceful rhythms to eerie melodies: it has it all!

Since you’ll be in Kansas City for several days, is there anything in particular you plan to do beyond prepping and performing at the concerts?

Food is my other passion. I love to cook but also to explore local restaurants, markets etc. On my last visit to Kansas City I met food writer and photographer Bonjwing Lee (Ulterior Epicure) and we became good friends. He has re-centered his life around food, so we quickly connected. Luckily he will be in town that week and hopefully we will hit a few spots together!

Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?

Go to live performance as much as possible, and play for your friends every time you have a chance. Also, do lots of chamber music. You can really learn invaluable lessons from these three things.

What’s up next for you? Where do you travel to after Kansas City?

It’s been a pretty crazy recently with two separate trips to South America, and performances in the States, from solo recitals to different concerti and chamber music performances, in between. After Kansas City, I will take my last trip of the year. It’s an Asian tour with the wonderful concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Daishin Kashimoto.

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

I am very excited to come back to Kansas City and meet a wonderful new orchestra in your gorgeous hall. I am especially proud to bring to you a favorite work of mine, Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, as this is quite rare to see in programs nowadays. I am also extremely happy to reunite with Maestro Carlos Miguel Prieto, after few years. Hope to see you there!


Concert Tickets:
To hear guest pianist Alessio Bax perform Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain with the Kansas City Symphony under the baton of guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, call (816) 471-0400 or select your seat online. Tickets start at $25.