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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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.

Get to Know Guest Pianist Robert Levin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn
Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn

 

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

 

Get to Know Guest Conductor Bernard Labadie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn
Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn

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

Kansas City Symphony Chats with Organist Paul Jacobs

Photo of Paul Jacobs
Paul Jacobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Guest violinist Stefan Jackiw talks with the Kansas City Symphony

Stefan Jackiw
Stefan Jackiw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Get to Know Guest 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.