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.
Maestro 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
To 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.
George 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.
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.
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!
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.
Paul Jacobsis 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.
Dorothy Papdakos is known for her silent film programs. The Kansas City Symphony is presenting the 1929 silent film classic “Phantom of the Opera” starring Lon Chaney. Papadakos will improvise at the console of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. while the film is shown giant screen in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets from $25. Select your seat here or call the Box Office at (816) 471-0400.
Tell us about yourself. When did you start performing the organ for silent film classics? I learned how to improvise for silent films while I was Cathedral Organist at NYC’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine from the legendary theater organist Lee Erwin who played silent films there every Halloween. I sat up at the organ watching him, taking it all in at the master’s feet. By then, Lee was in his 90s! One year he didn’t feel well and at the last minute they threw me on! I had two days to compose musical cues for a double feature of “Phantom of the Opera” in front of 3,500 people. I was terrified — my improvisations were “liturgical,” and I’d never improvised in the harmonic language of a silent film. But I dove in … Lee coached me over the phone on how to write good musical cues for my characters … 30 minutes into the first performance something inside me broke free, and I’d never felt freer in my improvising or at the organ. It’s an incredible feeling I still get in every silent film performance. Each show is utterly new and different. I never get bored!
How do you prepare? Do you watch the film many times?
Improv is best when it’s fresh and I’m on the edge of my seat, so I rarely preview a film once I’ve learned it. When we do screen check, I get to see some scenes, but I prefer seeing it fresh each time. I do study the scene breakdown and cue sheet on the plane flying to a gig, but my biggest preparation is registering a venue’s organ — choosing sound combinations to match the scenes and setting my pistons (the organ’s computer memory).
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? Helzberg Hall’s magnificent 5,548 pipe Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ is a genuine masterpiece! I LOVE playing this instrument because it goes wherever I need it to musically in any moment of a film — from loud and spooky to sparkling and charming — it has lots of what we organists call “toys and heavy artillery” on board! Getting acquainted occurs over hours of listening to each stop and combining sounds. Every film is different, so each year the sound combinations are different.
What part of “Phantom of the Opera” is your favorite and why?
I love the scenes where Carlotta brings down the chandelier, when the Phantom takes Christine on his gondola into his lair, the Masked Ball and when the inspector and Raoul search for Christine in the dungeons under the Opera House and get trapped. Universal’s 1929 re-issue of the 1925 original feature was brilliantly edited by the film’s star, Lon Chaney, down to 92 minutes and the action never stops. These scenes in particular are emotionally charged and the audience and I are right in there with the characters. I think this is why this film is so popular — together we all go on an exciting emotional ride of humor, suspense and romance with a profound subtext about “the outsider cast from society” are what makes this film so enduring and such a satisfying experience.
Since this film is presenting near Halloween, do you have any Halloween traditions? What do you find spooky?
My annual Halloween Horror Tour has become my Halloween tradition! In fact, I’ve become a Halloween tradition in many places … Dorothy coming to town with her costumes and creepy friends Nosferatu, the Phantom, Quasimodo, Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde. For me, spooky is a delayed or cancelled flight on tour! I love graveyards, full moons and pumpkins … though I’m pretty sure I never want to run into Nosferatu. THAT’S scaaaary.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
This Christmas my new Young Adult (11-14) sci-fi adventure book “The Kingdom of Winter” is being released! It’s book No. 1 of the “Kingdoms of the Seasons” quartet, and it’s already getting lots of great attention. It’s nature’s four seasons like you’ve never experienced them! Also in development, I have a terrific new TV drama series, “The Golden Door,” about Ellis Island’s incredible team who managed the largest migration in human history of 12 million immigrants. And, on top of it all, my fun musical “Bacchus” is also in development!
If you have any free moments while visiting Kansas City, is there anything particular you plan to do outside of the concert hall?
I have dear friends who live in the area, and we always get together for a lovely meal. I love Kansas City’s jazz history since jazz is how I learned to play the piano and improvise. Maybe I can catch a set somewhere!
After KC, where are you headed next? What are other highlights for your 16/17 season? From here I go to St. John’s Cathedral in Denver to play “Nosferatu,” then to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco for a double feature of “Nosferatu” (two in one night!). Both venues have spectacular, huge organs and acoustics, much like Helzberg Hall, so I feel very lucky to get to perform in all these wondrous buildings. Two really special treats coming up for me are performing “Phantom of the Opera” in Singapore in 2017 and a tour of “Phantom of the Opera” in Japan (TBD), which means translating the film for the first time ever into Japanese! Won’t that be cool to see!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to perform “Phantom of the Opera” in Helzberg Hall! I can’t wait to be with you all again and see your costumes — as I discovered the last two seasons with “Nosferatu” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Kansas City loves their horror movies and ROCKS!
Don’t miss “Phantom of the Opera” with Dorothy Papadakos at the console of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. while the film is shown giant screen in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets from $25. Select your seat here or call the Box Office at (816) 471-0400.