Get to Know Guest Pianist Martin Helmchen

We’re thrilled you’re joining the Kansas City Symphony and Maestro Johannes Debus for the June 1-3 concerts. Will this be your first time playing with the Kansas City Symphony in Helzberg Hall?

Yes, it will be my first time, even my first time in Kansas, so I’m extremely excited!

Tell us about performing Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto. What’s preparation like for you? Since you’re constantly performing in new spaces on different instruments, what types of adjustments do you make upon arrival of a new place?

This adjusting process is one of the big challenges in a pianist’s life. Because it is about a new place, new acoustics and an unknown piano all at once. It’s about getting an intuitive feel for an instrument and a space within a short period of time. Sometimes on a tour, [I have] just a 20 minutes of practice time in the hall. The “Emperor” Concerto, though, is in that context relatively easy, as it works very well on very different types of instruments. Beethoven anyway always dreamt of (and wrote for!) instruments he didn’t have at the time.

When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? Did you only play piano?

I knew that after about one year of getting piano lessons, when I was 7 or 8. There was nothing more exciting and rewarding right from the start. But there was always so much to work on and to explore, I never seriously thought about learning another instrument. Still, I find the way that a piano works quite mysterious and challenging — actually it can only play softer or louder, you cannot shape a single note, so many things that make singing or a melody instrument fascinating (like the breath, etc.) you have to create “artificially.”

What advice do you give to aspiring pianists?

Follow the route that you find artistically valuable and that you feel drawn to, not what you think people would want to hear, or expect you to play like. Never stop learning and developing your own personal voice in all commitment and dedication to the composer’s intent and the miracle of their works. And do improvise! I regret that I never really did that…

When you’re not practicing or performing, what do you like to do in your leisure time?

Family time, gardening work, sports cars, Theology, soccer.


To purchase tickets to hear Beethoven’s “Emperor” and Wagner’s Ring concerts on June 1-3 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City, please contact the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays or select seats online.

Advertisements

Get to Know Guest Conductor Johannes Debus

Johannes DebusyMaestro Debus leads the Kansas City Symphony for the June 1-3 concerts. The program features selections from Wagner’s Ring cycle and Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto featuring Martin Helmchen. Tickets from $25. Learn more.

We’re looking forward to the June 1-3 concerts! Tell us about the program. Why did you choose to pair the Beethoven “Emperor” with selections from Wagner’s Ring?

The starting point for the program was the “Emperor” concerto, arguably one of the greatest, most sublime, august, grand, complete and almost supernatural creations in that genre. Somehow I felt a “Ring Without Words” would be a perfect match. Wagner seems to continue with Beethoven’s key signature ideas. In a different way, we encounter in the Ring as well the sublime, august, grand, heroic and supernatural. To Beethoven’s dimension of universality and the absolute, Wagner adds his ideas of transcendence and redemption.

Have you conducted the Kansas City Symphony before? Will this be your first time in Helzberg Hall?

Since I have always heard such amazing things about Helzberg Hall and its “home team,” I’m very much looking forward to making my debut with the Kansas City Symphony in its celebrated concert hall. This will also mark my very first visit to Kansas City. BTW: Congrats on being designated by the UNESCO as a “City of Music.” Speaks for itself!

When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? Did you always want to be a conductor?

The fascination of being a conductor, the fascination of somehow sculpting and defining the manifold waves of sound an orchestra builds, the idea of bringing all those incredible masterpieces encoded in music scores to life and bringing the various voices in it together — I guess I must have been in my early teens when this seed of a passionate dream started to grow. There was a magnetic force of attraction towards this profession.

What advice do you give to aspiring students?

You live and learn.

After Kansas City, what’s next in your schedule? What are upcoming highlights for you?

Right after Kansas City, I will be at Scotiafest in Halifax celebrating Philip Glass. Then off to the Bregenz Festival where we are going to bring Berthold Goldschmidt’s masterpiece Beatrice Cenci on stage. My personal highlight of this summer, however, will be the launch of a new festival in Prince Edward County end of August.


To purchase tickets to BEETHOVEN’S “EMPEROR” and WAGNER’S RING on June 1-3, 2018 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, please call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online.

 

Get to Know Guest Violinist Augustin Hadelich

Augustin Hadelich
Augustin Hadelich

Hadelich performs with the Kansas City Symphony led by Michael Stern for the June 15-17 concerts — Mendelssohn’s “Italian” and Haydn. For tickets, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online. 

We’re happy to have you back, Augustin! You were last with us in 2015 to perform Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Are you looking forward to performing again with the orchestra in Helzberg Hall?

I am really looking forward to returning to Kansas City! I love the collaboration with Michael [Stern] and the orchestra, and the hall was wonderful as well. This time we’ll do very different repertoire, which I think is ideally suited for such a great concert hall. In a way, the hall is like a second instrument that adds its sound and resonance to the sound of my violin. When that “second instrument” so beautifully complements the sounds of my violin, it’s a joy to play in it. 

You’re performing Haydn’s First Violin Concerto and Thomas Adès’ Violin Concerto, “Concentric Paths.” Can you tell us a little about each piece? You’ll also be playing your own cadenza for the Haydn, correct? How long have you been working on that?

The Haydn Concerto in C Major has been a favorite of mine for many years. It is a delightful piece, which is often neglected in favor of Mozart’s concertos. As is typical of Haydn, the music is witty with many surprises, and the form quite unpredictable. The slow movement is sweet serenade played over plucking strings — half love song, half prayer. It almost feels like time is standing still.

At the time the piece was written, it was the tradition that the violinist would compose or improvise a cadenza, reflecting on the themes of the movement or showing off on the violin. During the 19th century composers trusted violinists less and less to write tasteful cadenzas, and increasingly wrote the cadenzas themselves. About 10 years ago, I decided to write my own cadenzas for the Haydn, and had a lot of fun doing so! I will be playing my own cadenzas for these concerts.

I believe that “Concentric Paths,” the violin concerto by Thomas Adès, is the most important addition to the violin repertoire since Ligeti’s concerto appeared in 1992. Concentric Paths is cast in three contrasting movements: the first movement, “Rings,” is very fast and colorful, a kaleidoscope full of circular, irregularly pulsating patterns. The profoundly emotional second movement, “Paths,” is a passacaglia, (an homage to Bach’s Chaconne). The sequences advance like concentric circles, each note pushing on the next, constantly increasing the tension until it finally reaches an almost unbearable intensity. Eventually, a release occurs: the circles start descending the other way, each note a poignant resolution from the previous one. Every time I perform this piece, the music is stuck in my head for weeks.

“Rounds,” the groovy final movement, is lighter in spirit. It makes me think of cavemen dancing around a fire! Eventually the circles become faster and faster until the music leaves orbit, or crashes back down to earth, depending on how you look at it.

The entire concerto is extremely difficult for everyone involved. Adès asks the soloist to go to the extremes of what is possible on the instrument, often playing incredibly high pitches on the instrument. At the same time, his amazing orchestration explores the lowest registers. There are moments that sound like a chasm is opening up! 

You’ve performed all over the globe. What have been some of your highlights to date? What’s next for you after Kansas City?

After Kansas City, I will actually have a short holiday, which I will spend in Italy visiting my family, before an exciting summer season starts. This summer, I’ll be performing in Mexico, in Aspen and Vail, Colorado, at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and on a tour across New Zealand with the New Zealand Symphony!

I’ve lived in New York City since 2004, so performing at Carnegie Hall and at Lincoln Center is always a special highlight. Also, playing my debuts at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Wigmore Hall in London were moments I will always remember. 

Who are your favorite composers of all time, and why?

I find it impossible to pick a favorite — that would be an injustice to the others that I also love. I am totally focused on what I am playing at the moment, so if you ask me this question in June 2018, the answer will be Haydn and Thomas Adès! I greatly enjoy the variety of playing so many works by composers so different from each other! If I had to pick only one composer whose complete works I could take on a desert island, I would have to go with Beethoven — not only because of his violin music, but also his piano and string quartet writing.  

When not making music, what do you like to do? Is there anything you want to do in KC while you’re here visiting beyond the rehearsals and concerts?

Many people don’t realize how little of my time is spent playing my instrument, and how much is traveling, writing, thinking up programs and booking flights. The playing is the fun part!

When I am home in New York, I often get together with friends and play board games!


Tickets for Mendelssohn’s “Italian” and Haydn start at only $25. Purchase online or by calling the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Remembering Leonard Bernstein

By Michael Stern, music director

Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 years old on August 25, 2018. As we launch into his centenary, we devote these varied programs to celebrating his legacy, and it is right and fitting, and should come as no surprise to anyone. No musician before him, and none since, has loomed quite as large on the musical landscape. No one has had such a multifaceted impact, mostly because no one has been so multitalented. No musician ever stood for music, for the arts, and for the social impact of what music and musicians might accomplish more than he did. Now, more than ever, I think about that, and him.

Leonard Bernstein

Lenny — as he exhorted everyone to call him — identified himself as a composer, though he was in fact so much more. It’s impossible, in considering the totality of what he was, to separate his private musical muse from his onstage personality as a performer or his social profile as a public figure. His legacy as a composer, however, is undeniable. The synergy of his imagination and talent collided spectacularly with the energy and possibility of America as she emerged from World War II. Ambition, daring, enormous hard work and a refusal to be straightjacketed by the conventions of the past defined the post-war climate in our country, and these are all hallmarks of his music. Lenny threw open the gates to allow American music to express itself in a completely new way. There had been authentically American composers who made their mark, of course, from Ives, Griffes and all of Tin Pan Alley, including Gershwin, to his own contemporaries. Lenny intimately knew and understood their music, and chief among them was his mentor Aaron Copland. However, in his synthesis of popular music, jazz, Jewish folk and sacred music as well as his deep understanding of the language of Western Art music from Baroque to its most modern iterations, Lenny was unique.

In trying to represent his eclectic legacy, I chose works to celebrate his many facets as a musician. Aside from unassailable masterpieces such as West Side Story and Serenade for Violin and Orchestra, we hear his easy gift as a vocal composer in some of his songs from Arias and Barcarolles and Songfest as well as his Broadway classics. The ambitious and extraordinarily creative leap of faith in his gigantic theater piece Mass is given haunting expression for cello and orchestra in his arrangement of Three Meditations. His love of piano and jazz is exuberantly on display in The Age of Anxiety. He even got it right in Hollywood. While never having written for a movie before, with no prior knowledge or experience, his score for “On the Waterfront” is a model of how integral music can be to the unfolding narrative on the screen. Yet the music also stands on its own as a work of extraordinary power and beauty.

For all American musicians, Lenny was much more than a composer. As a pianist, educator, TV personality, and above all, conductor, Lenny was the face of American music for almost half a century. For me, growing up in New York, his tenure at the Philharmonic and his celebrated Young People’s Concerts were my hometown fare. His personality was hypnotizing to me, even as a child. A lifelong friend and professional colleague of my father, Lenny and his wife Felicia were close with both of my parents. We lived across the hall from Phyllis Newman and Adolph Green, Lenny’s closest childhood friend with whom he collaborated for On the Town and many other works, and our three families mingled together easily.

Michael and Shira
Michael Stern, age 4, at the New York Philharmonic in 1963 with his older sister, Shira.

Lenny also guided me during my time at Harvard University and the Curtis Institute of Music. I remember to this day the hours Lenny spent talking to me on the phone and in person when I was writing my undergraduate senior thesis about Copland, Gershwin and Marc Blitzstein, sharing his unique insights on these people he knew well. But, as a conducting student, I realized how much of a hero he was to me. Lenny’s music-making was larger than life, whether you agreed with every musical choice or not. Well before he invited me as one of three young conductors to appear with him on a program at the New York Philharmonic, I sat in the orchestra at Curtis with him on the podium. It was then I realized that, more than anyone I had ever witnessed, Lenny could instantly transmit to the players in front of him much more than how to play together and in balance. Playing for him, you knew clearly where and when to play, but much more importantly, why. To me, there has never been anything, or anyone, quite like that.

I miss him more than ever.

Leonard Bernstein b&w


Upcoming Kansas City Symphony concerts featuring the music of Leonard Bernstein:

A Century of Bernstein: BEETHOVEN’S “EROICA” with BERNSTEIN’S SERENADE
Friday and Saturday, February 2-3, 2018 at 8 p.m. | Sunday, February 4, 2018 at 2 p.m.

Free Symphony Happy Hour: BERNSTEIN and BEYOND
Wednesday, February 7 at 6 p.m.

A Century of Bernstein: BERNSTEIN, PROKOFIEV and SCHUMANN
Friday and Saturday, February 23-24, 2018 at 8 p.m. | Sunday, February 25, 2018 at 2 p.m.

A Century of Bernstein: JOYCE DiDONATO SINGS BERNSTEIN and BERLIOZ
Friday and Saturday, March 16-17, 2018 at 8 p.m. | Sunday, March 18, 2018 at 2 p.m.

A Century of Bernstein: YO-YO MA, PINES OF ROME and BERNSTEIN
Friday and Saturday, March 23-24, 2018 at 8 p.m. | Sunday, March 25, 2018 at 2 p.m.

A Century of Bernstein: BEETHOVEN, TCHAIKOVSKY & BERNSTEIN
Friday and Saturday, April 13-14, 2018 at 8 p.m. | Sunday, April 15, 2018 at 2 p.m.

A Century of Bernstein: SEASON FINALE FANTASTIQUE with BERNSTEIN
Friday and Saturday, June 22-23, 2018 at 8 p.m. | Sunday, June 24, 2018 at 2 p.m.

To purchase tickets, click on the links above for concert details or call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.

Kansas City Symphony 2017-18 Star-Studded Season features Yo-Yo Ma, Joyce DiDonato, many more

Kansas City Symphony 2017-18 SeasonFrom iconic stars to timeless music, there’s never been a better time to be a season subscriber to the Kansas City Symphony. Subscribe today for access to the best seats at the best prices. The season begins in September and runs through June 2018.

Kansas City Symphony Classical Series2017-18 CLASSICAL SERIES
Fourteen concert weekends: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; or 2 p.m. Sundays. Purchase Bravo Series (7 concerts), Ovation Series (7 concerts) or Masterwork Series (all 14 concerts). Led by Music Director Michael Stern or guest conductors. 

2017-18 SYMPHONY POP SERIES
Four concert weekends: 8 p.m. Fridays or Saturdays. Led by David T. Beals III Associate Conductor Jason Seber. 

2017-18 SYMPHONY FAMILY SERIES
Four concert weekends: 2 p.m. Sundays. Perfect for children ages 4-13. Includes full-length version of the Symphony’s Christmas Festival. Each child subscription is only $10 with the purchase of an adult subscription. 

SPECIAL CONCERTS
Subscribers have the option to add on these holiday and specials concerts when purchasing a 2017-18 subscriptions. *Single tickets to some concerts on sale now. 

  • Screenland at the Symphony: Star Trek Into Darkness Live (Sept. 8 and 10)*
  • Brian Stokes Mitchell with the Kansas City Symphony (Oct. 7)*
  • Screenland at the Symphony: Nosferatu (Oct. 31)*
  • Queen’s Greatest Hits with the Kansas City Symphony (Nov. 18)*
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets™ in Concert (Feb. 15-18, 2018)
  • The Music of Prince with the Kansas City Symphony (March 10, 2018)
  • Audra McDonald with the Kansas City Symphony (May 5, 2018)

*Indicates single tickets on sale now. 

HOLIDAY CONCERTS

  • Canadian Brass: Christmastime is Here! (Dec. 1)
  • Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 8-10)
  • Christmas Festival (Dec. 15-19)
  • Disney in Concert: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (Dec. 22-23) 

The Symphony will announce other 2017-18 concerts and events, such as Classics Uncorked Series and the FREE Happy Hour Series concerts in July. 

Single tickets on sale Monday, July 24 at 10 a.m. 

To learn more about becoming a Kansas City Symphony subscriber or to purchase single tickets to select concerts now, visit kcsymphony.org or call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400.

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.

Become a subscriber today! Subscribe Now

Listen to the Symphony podcast:

Read the Program Notes:

 photo Program-notes_zpsidifdq63.png

 

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 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.