Mozart at the Max

Kansas City Symphony musicians perform classical chamber works for inmates in maximum security for the first time at Lansing Correctional Facility

Photo of Symphony musicians
Maria Crosby (cello), Stephanie Cathcart (violin), Sunho Kim (violin), and Philip Kramp (viola) pose for a photo before processing in. No cameras allowed in maximum security.

“What I feel can only be understood by someone who feels it with me.”

As cellist Maria Crosby introduced Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor to an audience of around 50 inmates gathered in the maximum-security wing of Lansing Correctional Facility, she read these words from a song the composer had written and on which his second string quartet was later based. One inmate raised his hand and asked her to repeat the line so that he could write it down.

Those words encapsulated the experience on April 21, when a quartet of Symphony string players visited the prison to share some chamber music — a highly personal format. As music filled the auditorium for an hour that evening, the orchestra members and Lansing inmates felt their common humanity.

The visit was part of the Symphony’s Community Connections program that makes it possible for Symphony musicians to share their talents throughout the community in nearly 150 free concerts and events annually. Several previous concerts at the prison have involved more than 20 Symphony musicians in all; however, this was the first program in the maximum-security wing.

Crosby joined Assistant Concertmaster Sunho Kim, violinist Stephanie Cathcart, and violist Philip Kramp for a program that also included Janáček’s String Quartet No. 1 “Kreutzer Sonata” as well as Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C Minor.

A brief question and answer session followed the performance, and several inmates continued to chat with the musicians as they packed up their instruments. Questions ranged from “How much time do you spend preparing a piece?” to “I’m getting out in the fall. What are all the kinds of concerts that you do?”

Before the evening ended, it was announced that a different quartet of musicians would be visiting Lansing to give a concert on Tuesday, May 9. The inmates could look forward to another opportunity to share a moving musical experience with the talented members of the Kansas City Symphony.


If you would like to learn more or make a gift to support the Symphony’s community programs, please contact the Kansas City Symphony’s Manager of Individual Giving, Dan Malanowski, at dmalanowski@kcsymphony.org or (816) 218-2637. You also may donate online here.

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From the Desk of Michael Stern

DEAR FRIENDS,

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HELZBERG HALL, AND LITERALLY DECADES
of absence from the Kansas City Symphony’s programs, we present a towering 20th-century magnum opus (May 5-7). It is an understatement to categorize Britten’s searing masterpiece, War Requiem, as large-scale. Despite two discrete orchestras, a large chorus, a separate children’s chorus and three powerful soloists, for me, the overwhelming impact of this magnificent music comes from much more than its sheer size. Nine powerfully beautiful poems by Wilfred Owens, an English poet and soldier who perished just days before the armistice ending World War I, are interspersed with the traditional liturgical Latin text of the Requiem Mass.

Britten was commissioned to write this work to rededicate Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during World War II, but this work speaks to us on many levels. A lifelong pacifist, Britten reacted personally to the bloodshed of his times with a prayer for peace that is an indictment of war and violence itself, making the Requiem into a statement for all humanity. On the score’s first page, Britten quotes Owens: “The Poetry is in the pity… /All a poet can do today is warn.” Now, more than ever, this music is essential. With our brilliant soloists Christine Brewer, Anthony Dean Griffey and Stephen Powell, I am thrilled that we can share this music together.

Then too soon, our season ends in June with two outstanding concerts. Returning to play two Mozart piano concerti is my longtime friend and great artist Emanuel Ax (June 2-4). The merriment of Manny’s insights into Mozart create a perfect foil to Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel.

Rachmaninoff’s luxurious Second Symphony closes our finale concerts (June 16-18) where we also welcome two wonderful artists. Dynamic violinist Philippe Quint returns to our stage with Barber’s glorious Violin Concerto. Narong Prangcharoen, a brilliantly gifted young composer with University of Missouri-Kansas City roots, opens the program with his colorful and driving Phenomenon. It is an honor to bring this music to Kansas City. Music is alive and well here, and we are grateful to you all for this season — and for the future.


MICHAEL STERN | Music Director, Kansas City Symphony


To secure seats, visit kcsymphony.org or call (816) 471-0400.

GUEST VIDEOS: Soprano Christine Brewer & Tenor Anthony Dean Griffey

Britten's War Requiem

Join us for a moving and powerful concert event like no other. An extraordinary statement of peace that still resonates today, Britten’s War Requiem is a towering 20th century masterpiece. The Kansas City Symphony, Symphony Chorus, and special guests will perform this epic work on May 5-7 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Hear from a couple of our special guests:

Guest Soprano Christine Brewer:

Guest tenor Anthony Dean Griffey:

To secure your seats, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays, or select seats at kcsymphony.org.

Get to Know Guest Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers

Anne Akiko Meyers. Photo credit: ​Nico Nordström

Guest violinist Anne Akiko Meyers will perform the Ravel’s Tzigane and the late Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Fantasia (world premiere) on March 24-26 with the Kansas City Symphony. The program also includes Sibelius’ Second and Nielsen’s Overture to Maskarade. Tickets from $25. Call (816) 471-0400 or select seats online.

Tell us about two works — the Ravel and Rautavaara — you will be playing with the Symphony this month.

I have been a lifelong fan of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s and asked him to write Fantasia in 2015. He leapt at the opportunity to write what turned out to be his last composition for violin and orchestra and later that year, sent me the beautifully haunting work. He invited me to perform Fantasia at his studio in Helsinki in December 2015. It was a profoundly moving experience with the composer sitting his living room, which overlooks the Finnish harbor. After I performed, he commented that he wanted no edits or revisions and he was super pleased with the beautiful composition he composed! I couldn’t agree more. Sadly, Rautavaara passed away last year. I am honored to premiere it with Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony.

Ravel’s Tzigane is a gypsy virtuoso showpiece, and it is a perfect complement to the Fantasia. The Tzigane begins with a monster cadenza that challenges every violinist. The piece is a huge crowd pleaser.

Are you looking forward to performing in Helzberg Hall with Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony? This will be your debut with the Kansas City Symphony, correct?

I met with Michael Stern’s father, the legendary violinist, Isaac Stern, to test out violins at Carnegie Hall and met with him on tour in Japan. I am really looking forward to collaborating with Michael, hearing and premiering this beautiful new work together in Kansas City!

While this is the world premiere of Rautavaara’s Fantasia, you have recorded the work already. What was that experience like? Is it your most recent recording project?

I recorded the work with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Kristjan Järvi. I found the experience incredibly moving and believe the Rautavaara will be considered one of this composer’s masterpieces.

What advice do you give aspiring musicians?

Get out and play as much as you can! Create performance opportunities by performing in hospitals, churches, synagogues, retirement homes, etc. Sharing and communicating to audiences through your music is what it is all about. 

What are your sources of motivation and inspiration?

Everything around me. Family, life, food, music, nature, paintings, history.

We’ve noticed you have some unique publicity photos of you and your violin among huge trees. Did you have to hike prior to this photo shoot? How did you decide on that particular setting?

That was a very wet, rainy day outside of Austin, Texas, and the photographer raved about the area. There was a giant tree that looked like a heart was part of it. I had to be extra careful not to fall with the slick conditions and wait for dry patches of sky to take the violin out. 

Photo credit: MOLINA VISUALS

Do you have any pre-concert rituals before you step out on to the stage?

I like to rest in the afternoon after working out and gorging myself on a big carb lunch. A Skype chat with my family, nutrition bars and bananas help me immensely before hitting the stage.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Free time? I have a 4- and 6-year-old at home.

What are upcoming highlights of your remaining 2016-17 season? Do you have summer festival commitments or other concerts?

I will be headlining a Beethoven festival in Japan, performing the Bernstein Serenade in Nashville and performing recitals in New York and Washington D.C., among other performances.

This summer, I will be premiering the Samuel Jones violin concerto at the Eastern Music Festival in South Carolina, performing the Mendelssohn Concerto at Bowdoin (a festival I attended as a student) and performing Ravel’s Tzigane with Keith Lockhart at the Brevard Festival. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I look forward to sharing the Rautavaara and Ravel with audiences in Kansas City!


Kansas City Symphony Classical Series
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL: SIBELIUS’ SECOND

Friday and Saturday, March 24-25 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 26 at 2 p.m.
Helzberg Hall | Kauffman Center

Michael Stern, conductor
Anne Akiko Meyers, violin

NIELSEN Overture to Maskarade
RAUTAVAARA Violin Concerto (world premiere)
RAVEL Tzigane
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 2

At a time when Finland was under Russian domination, Sibelius’ Second Symphony was viewed as a message of hope. Today, the fiercely dramatic and ultimately triumphant work is one of Sibelius’ most-loved compositions. The sparkling overture to Danish composer Nielsen’s opera, Maskarade, sets the stage for a tale of romance and mistaken identity. American virtuoso Anne Akiko Meyers stars in not one, but two works for violin and orchestra — the world premiere of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s posthumous violin concerto and Ravel’s Tzigane, inspired by vibrant Gypsy music.

Student tickets are available for this concert. Please call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 to purchase.

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Read the Program Notes:

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Get to Know Guest Pianist Wei Luo

Wei Luo
Wei Luo

Pianist Wei Luo performs Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with the Kansas City Symphony on Feb. 17-19 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The program also includes Hindemith’s jazzy Ragtime, up-and-coming composer David Hertzberg’s for none shall gaze upon the Father and live as well as Beethoven’s jubilant Eighth Symphony. Tickets start at $25. To secure your seats, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online here.

Tell us about yourself. When did you start playing the piano and when did you know you want to pursue piano performance as a career?

I am a girl from China who just turned 18, and I have played the piano for about 13 years. I started playing piano when I was 5, and not kidding, I wanted to be professional pianist when I first started. Now, I am honored to study with Mr. Graffman and Mr. McDonald at Curtis, and I am also a high school senior.

What can audiences expect to hear when you perform Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto? Do you have a favorite moment or moments? If so, which ones and why?

I basically love the entire concerto, but my favorite part would be the lyrical passages. They are very special among the brilliant and sparkling passages. I would like to audiences to hear the dissonance in the harmonies with the poetic lines, and the excited rhythms and brilliant passages — especially in the fast movements. The contrasts of characters in the music (introverted and extroverted) are very interesting as well.

If you had to pick, who is your favorite composer and why?

Beethoven. The great depths, passions and reasons in his pieces are so challenging. They always require my complete devotion to study and think about how they work together. And there are so many “nutrients” that I get from his works when I delve into them. The more you think about it, the more you get from his music.

This will be your debut with the Kansas City Symphony. Are you excited to perform in Helzberg Hall?

Yes! I am extremely looking forward to playing in the wonderful hall, and the most important of all, it’s like a dream come true for me to work with Maestro Michael Stern! I am so honored and grateful for this wonderful opportunity.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Hmm, when I was 10 years old at Shanghai Conservatory Middle School, during my piano final test, I forgot to pull up my dress’ zipper on the right side (facing the audience)… The judges laughed, and I felt beyond embarrassed … but fortunately, it didn’t affect my grade and I still got 1st!

When you’re not making music or preparing for a concert, what do you like to do in your free time?

I like to stay at home resting, working out, watching shows and baking cakes and pies! Going to museums and concerts are fun too.

Is there anything in particular you want to do or see outside of the concert hall when you’re visiting Kansas City?

I’ve heard that the museums in Kansas City are great, and I should go visit after concerts.

What other upcoming concerts are you looking forward to in the near future?

Among my coming recitals, I very much look forward to giving a solo recital in San Francisco at the Herbst Theatre in early April. In May and July, I’ll play in the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, where I am extremely honored to play with violinist Daniel Hope and clarinetist Todd Levy.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Again, thanks so much for your support, and I will always treasure my experiences in Kansas City! Hope you enjoy the wonderful piece by Prokofiev.


Feb. 17-19To secure tickets to hear Wei Luo perform this weekend (Feb. 17-19) with the Kansas City Symphony, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats here.

Get to Know Guest Conductor Ludovic Morlot

Ludovic MorlotSeattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot appears as guest conductor of the Kansas City Symphony this weekend, Jan. 20-22 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The program includes Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring guest pianist George Li, as well as Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6. Tickets start at $25. To secure your seats, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online here.

Can you tell us about the program that now includes Beethoven’s “Pastoral”?
This is a program of great Romantic nature, from the gorgeous melodies and harmonies of Chopin to Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, which is all about feelings. Beethoven’s genius is to create in us a journey of emotions as we awake feelings that we associate with situations and landscapes that we have been exposed to in the past. This brings back nostalgic memories, moments of tenderness and smiles, but also dark and fearful thoughts. The Symphony invites us to explore the widest range of emotions within us and to connect them with our own experiences.

Have you conducted the Kansas City Symphony in Helzberg Hall before, or will this be your first time?
This is my debut with the Kansas City Symphony, and my first visit to Kansas City.

When did you first start studying music? When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? Did you always want to become a conductor or did you have plans to become a professional violinist?
I started playing violin at age 6 and was quite fond of ensemble playing from an early age. Orchestra, chamber music, new music ensembles. This is what led me to contemplate conducting as I would always study the scores to understand the role I played with the violin part. My love for architecture also made me curious about analyzing musical scores and understanding the form of a piece of music.

I believe the real moment I realized I wanted to be a professional musician came around the age of 12 when I started attending more and more concert and opera performances.

What advice do you give to aspiring music students?
Be exposed to as many different mentors and ideas as possible in order to find your own voice. Then, believe in that voice and spread your musical stories with great passion.

After Kansas City, what’s next in your schedule? What are other upcoming highlights for you this season — both guest conducting and with Seattle Symphony?
I will fly back to Seattle to perform Ives’ New England Holidays Symphony alongside Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with Emanuel Ax, as well as continuing a recording project of the music of George Perle. Then, I travel to Paris for concerts with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

There are many highlights coming up: Ravel’s opera L’Enfant et les sortilèges, Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony, Ligeti’s Requiem, as well as concerts in Minnesota, Helsinki and Istanbul.

When you’re not traveling, preparing for upcoming concerts or the like, do you have pastimes you enjoy in your down time?
I love playing tennis and boating, and there’s almost always a book in my hands. And of course, spending time with my family.

Anything else you’d like to add?
It’s a pleasure and privilege to be sharing music with the Kansas City Symphony this week! I’m very curious to get to know the city.


Ludovic MorlotGuest conductor Ludovic Morlot leads the Kansas City Symphony in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (featuring guest pianist George Li) and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral” this weekend, Jan. 20-22. To secure tickets, contact the Symphony Box Office weekdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online here.

 

 

 

 

Get to Know Guest Pianist George Li

George LiGeorge Li performs as soloist alongside the Kansas City Symphony in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (Jan. 20-22). To secure tickets, contact the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or visit kcsymphony.org. Also on the program, led by guest conductor Ludovic Morlot, is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral.”

Tell us about yourself. When did you start playing the piano? When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?

I have lived all my life in Massachusetts, so I guess I’m a Boston boy through and through! My parents originated from China, so I was raised in a hybrid of sorts from American and Chinese culture. I started playing the piano when I was 4 and a half, and my passion for music was ignited before that, partly because I was exposed to classical music a lot. Neither of my parents play an instrument, but I had grown used to my sister practicing the piano, and in addition, my mom would take us to concerts in Boston, and turn on the classical music radio station before going to bed.

I started wanting to become a professional musician after I played a concert with orchestra, performing Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. Somehow, I felt differently playing on stage that day, as if I had entered a different world. After the performance, many people came up to me to say how affected they were by my playing. I had no idea music could be so powerful, and from then on, I wanted to continue making music for people.  

You’ll be performing Chopin’s First Piano Concerto with the Kansas City Symphony. What do you love about the work?

The piece is indeed very dear to me, as I’m sure it is for everyone else as well! There is of course the element of the many beautiful arching and singing melodies, but for me, I love the piece especially because of its depth. It shows that Chopin is much more than a composer who creates beautifully sweet and soothing melodies; granted, he does this with ease, but there is also the passionate, stormy and tragic side to him. There is so much nuance and finesse to his music, and hopefully I’ll be able to show that this weekend!

Beyond Chopin, who are your other favorite composers and why?

This is a tough question for me, because I try to form a solid relationship with every composer that I play and every piece that I’m working on. Very often, I learn to love the piece and the composer that I play, but I feel a stronger bond with composers like Beethoven, Schumann and Rachmaninoff — all geniuses in their own right.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to read, and am a sports fanatic! The first sport I felt passionate about was — and still is — baseball, and now my interest in sports has grown to soccer, football and basketball as well. I only play soccer nowadays, and just in small groups to avoid any injuries.

What are other highlights of your 2016-17 season?

I played with Maestro Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic at the opening gala, and also made my orchestral debut in the Berlin Philharmonie, both of which were really exciting. Coming up, I will make my debuts with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra.

Where are you headed next after Kansas City?

I will go to Barcelona next to play Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Mariinsky Orchestra and Maestro Gergiev.


George Li
George Li

To hear George Li perform Chopin’s First Piano Concerto with the Kansas City Symphony on the Jan. 20-22 concerts, select seats online or call the Symphony Box Office between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays at (816) 471-0400.

Kansas City Symphony Announces Guest Conductor, Repertoire Change for Jan. 20-22 Concerts

Ludovic Morlot. Photo credit Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.
Ludovic Morlot. Photo credit Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot to replace guest conductor Asher Fisch and the Symphony will perform Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony in place of Brahms and Wagner

Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot will step in for guest conductor Asher Fisch for the Kansas City Symphony’s upcoming Classical Series concerts on Jan. 20-22. Additionally, the new program is:

CHOPIN Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring pianist George Li
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral”

Morlot has served as music mirector at the Seattle Symphony since 2011, and he is a frequent guest conductor as top orchestras around the world. Trained as a violinist, Morlot studied conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London and then at the Royal College of Music as recipient of the Norman del Mar Conducting Fellowship. He chairs the orchestra conducting studies at the University of Washington School of Music in Seattle.

Tickets for “Chopin with Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’” start at $25 and are available from kcsymphony.org or by calling the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400.

 

Kansas City Symphony Welcomes New Development Director

Alex Shapiro. Photo credit Eric Williams.
Alex Shapiro. Photo by Eric Williams.

Kansas City Symphony is proud to welcome a new Director of Development, Alex Shapiro, to the Symphony administrative staff.

Shapiro, who started on December 5, will be responsible for overseeing the fundraising efforts for the Kansas City Symphony, which includes raising more than $8 million annually.

“I am very excited to be joining the Kansas City Symphony,” Shapiro says. “It is such an honor to collaborate with the Symphony’s outstanding musicians, staff and dedicated volunteers. The warm reception from so many people here in Kansas City has helped me feel truly welcome.”

Shapiro has worked at non-profits for more than 25 years. Previously, he served as Director of Institutional Advancement at the Institute of American Indian Arts, a 4-year arts college, in Santa Fe, N.M. During his four years at the Institute, he led the effort to create new major donor and planned giving programs, and to increase scholarship support by more than 40 percent. He has held a number of important jobs with other arts organizations, including Executive Director of Santa Fe Pro Musica and Director of Development for the Museum of Performance + Design in San Francisco. Additionally, he was Director of Development for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Shapiro has a passion for classical music and played French horn in his youth.

DEADLINE Jan. 25: Young Artist Competition Applications Due

Young Artist Competition Finalists 2016Calling all young artists! The Kansas City Symphony is hosting its annual Woman’s City Club Charitable Foundation Young Artist Competition beginning on Saturday, February 4. Any Kansas or Missouri resident between the ages of 13-18 is eligible. A completed application and $20 application fee must be received by Wednesday, January 25 at 5 p.m. Nearly $2,000 and the opportunity to perform with the Kansas City Symphony will be awarded.

Learn more here.