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.

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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.

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.

KC Symphony cello section talks Elgar’s iconic concerto

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

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

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

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

Alexander East, Kansas City Symphony Assistant Principal Cellist

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

 

 

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

— Lawrence Figg, Kansas City Symphony Cellist 

 

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

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

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

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

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

— Meredith McCook, Kansas City Symphony Cellist

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

FEATURE: The Great War, Music and the Arts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ticket information

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

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

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

SPECIAL FEATURE: ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeBy: Butch Rigby, Screenland Founder

This year’s Screenland at the Symphony Halloween concert features John Barrymore — patriarch of one of the great American film-acting dynasties — as the protagonist in the silent-film adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The story itself is one of great intrigue. Dr. Jekyll, criticized for his dispassionate manner, becomes fascinated with the idea of two personalities residing within one person. He then embarks on a “scientific” journey not only to discover this other side of himself, but to give it a life of its own in the form of an alter ego, Mr. Hyde. Unfortunately, this extreme “evil twin” becomes dominant, leading inevitably to the good Dr. Jekyll’s demise.Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde still

While many have attempted to bring this famous character to life on screen over the years, it was Barrymore who most genuinely captured the grotesque spirit of Stevenson’s character. And although he adapted to “talking pictures” quite well, Barrymore always will be remembered for his work in silent films and especially the performance you will see tonight.

John Barrymore was the son of actors and the brother of Lionel Barrymore, who many will recognize as “Mr. Potter” in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  His sister, Ethel Barrymore, was considered one of the finest actresses of her time, and he was the grandfather of modern cinema star, Drew Barrymore. Barrymore was often referred to as “The Great Profile” due to his handsome features and incredible popularity. His life — and death — are the stuff of Hollywood legend. It is rumored that after his passing at the age of 60, Barrymore’s buddies Errol Flynn and director Raoul Walsh commandeered his corpse and had a final drink with him at Flynn’s home before his funeral.

Regardless of whether you believe the legend, tonight, we have a rare opportunity to watch a true master of the silent-film era on the big screen. The music, courtesy of Dorothy Papadakos and the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, will make it once in a lifetime.


To purchase tickets to the Thursday, Oct. 29 Screenland at the Symphony: “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” performance featuring organist Dorothy Papadakos, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select your seat online.

A little history on ‘Fantasia’

By Butch Rigby, founder of Screenland Theatres

Editor’s note: The Kansas City Symphony presents Screenland at the Symphony: Disney Fantasia Live in Concert on May 15-17, 2015. Learn more.

Walt Disney released “Fantasia,” his third feature-length cartoon, in 1940. As with previous projects, innovation played a key part in the life of the film. Disney originally intended to release the iconic Sorcerer’s Apprentice as a “Silly Symphony” short, but when costs ran so high that it could never recoup its investment, he decided to build an entire feature film around the short subject  — and “Fantasia” was born. The full-length film contained eight separate vignettes, each featuring a piece of classical music. Disney first approached prominent conductor Leopold Stokowski about the project at a Hollywood restaurant, and the conductor quickly embraced the idea. Stokowski’s enthusiasm for the concept ultimately led him to work on the film for free, and the Philadelphia Orchestra performed the music for seven of the eight segments on this first-ever stereo movie soundtrack.

Disney's Fantasia

Though recognized as a masterpiece today, “Fantasia,” which was released in a road show traveling 13 cities, faced financial challenges from the beginning. Early reviews were mixed, the war in Europe had cut off the profitable European market, and Disney had to set up each theatre with a special $85,000 “Fantasound” system. Film production and distribution company RKO Pictures allowed Disney to handle this project on his own for the most part, calling it a “longhair film.” Despite great runs, it struggled to be profitable. After years of editing, restoration, remastering and re-releases, the film finally made a “profit” when it returned to theatres in December 1969. Since then, it has achieved both critical and financial success while becoming a beloved classic for generations of audiences.

Fantasia

Walt Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, first suggested the idea of a sequel to the original film in 1974. He finally pitched it to Disney Chairman Michael Eisner 10 years later, and production for “Fantasia 2000” began in 1990. A long period of what was then groundbreaking animation using computer animation laid over traditional hand-drawn cells resulted in a 1999/2000 IMAX exclusive release.

The film actually reuses The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the original, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor James Levine providing an updated symphonic background. The film has received generally positive critical review.

Walt Disney felt sound in movies was so incredibly important that he blazed a trail with the first stereophonic motion picture ever made. Yet, we will respectfully do him one better — with a live soundtrack. Feast your eyes and ears on Disney’s Fantasia Live in Concert as the Kansas City Symphony makes this an experience you will never forget…


Disney Fantasia Live in Concert

The Kansas City Symphony presents Disney Fantasia Live in Concert for three concert experiences on May 15-17, 2015, in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Tickets start at $35, with youth tickets from $25. To purchase, call the Kansas City Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online.

 

Inextinguishable Art

Text by Michael Stern, music director

Editor’s note: The Kansas City Symphony performs Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, “Inextinguishable” on the May 1-3 concerts. Learn more.

Composer Carl Nielsen
Composer Carl Nielsen

Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4 conveys the horrors of war, and simultaneously, the incredible power of music as a reflection of the enduring human spirit.

In our season highlighting the decade and a half that culminated in the outbreak of the First World War, it would have been unthinkable to exclude composer Carl Nielsen.

Art is always a mirror of the world at large. However, the modernism that defined the seismic shift into the 20th century in all the arts, especially music, remains unparalleled in variety and creativity. Even a partial list of composers from the time is a who’s who of genius: Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Sibelius, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, de Falla, Vaughan Williams, Elgar — the list goes on, and without doubt, Nielsen holds his rightful place in that impressive company.

Specifically this season, there is a more compelling argument for the inclusion of Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, “The Inextinguishable.” While not heard nearly as ubiquitously as some of its contemporaries, Nielsen’s “Inextinguishable” is a true masterpiece, and an extraordinarily bracing, unsettling, riveting, and ultimately, thrillingly beautiful creation.

Written between 1914 and 1916, in the bloody first years of the terrible war, the piece is a reflection of a world blown up, and at the same time, fervent evidence of the power of music. At the outset of the first movement, the ignition of an elemental power sets the stage for the entire symphony — it is a wakeup call to an endangered humanity. The inherent compositional logic of the entire work is clear: the climactic “glorioso” at the end of the first section of the opening movement returns at the end of that same movement, and then again, thrillingly, at the very end of the entire symphony. But beyond the logical composition structure, Nielsen is not interested in making the messy or painful elements of that era’s human experience cohere into an easy and serene whole. There is conflict, friction and unease throughout the four interlinked movements. We witness the gunshot-like viola passages in the middle of the second movement, the desperate scream from the violins at the opening of the third, and in one of the most dramatic compositional strokes, the duel between the two timpani in the last movement.

And yet at the end, the triumph of the human spirit is gloriously intact, and along with it, the life-affirming power of music. In the context of the horror of the Great War, this music is extraordinarily moving, as Nielsen describes it:

The symphony evokes the most primal sources of life … Music can do just this, it is its most profound quality, its true domain … because, by simply being itself, it has performed its task. For it is life, whereas the other arts only represent and paraphrase life. Life is indomitable and inextinguishable … music is life, and like it inextinguishable.


Conductor Michael Stern leads the Symphony
Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg

Conductor Michael Stern leads the Kansas City Symphony in Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, “Inextinguishable” on the May 1-3 concerts. Tickets start at $25. The program also includes R. Strauss’ Don Juan and W.A. Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 featuring Steven Lin, a finalist in the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Learn more and select your seats online.