Kansas City Symphony musicians perform classical chamber works for inmates in maximum security for the first time at Lansing Correctional Facility
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (816) 218-2637. You also may donate online here.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HELZBERG HALL, AND LITERALLY DECADES
of absence from the Kansas City Symphony’s programs, we present a towering 20th-century magnum opus (May 5-7). It is an understatement to categorize Britten’s searing masterpiece, War Requiem, as large-scale. Despite two discrete orchestras, a large chorus, a separate children’s chorus and three powerful soloists, for me, the overwhelming impact of this magnificent music comes from much more than its sheer size. Nine powerfully beautiful poems by Wilfred Owens, an English poet and soldier who perished just days before the armistice ending World War I, are interspersed with the traditional liturgical Latin text of the Requiem Mass.
Britten was commissioned to write this work to rededicate Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during World War II, but this work speaks to us on many levels. A lifelong pacifist, Britten reacted personally to the bloodshed of his times with a prayer for peace that is an indictment of war and violence itself, making the Requiem into a statement for all humanity. On the score’s first page, Britten quotes Owens: “The Poetry is in the pity… /All a poet can do today is warn.” Now, more than ever, this music is essential. With our brilliant soloists Christine Brewer, Anthony Dean Griffey and Stephen Powell, I am thrilled that we can share this music together.
Then too soon, our season ends in June with two outstanding concerts. Returning to play two Mozart piano concerti is my longtime friend and great artist Emanuel Ax (June 2-4). The merriment of Manny’s insights into Mozart create a perfect foil to Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel.
Rachmaninoff’s luxurious Second Symphony closes our finale concerts (June 16-18) where we also welcome two wonderful artists. Dynamic violinist Philippe Quint returns to our stage with Barber’s glorious Violin Concerto. Narong Prangcharoen, a brilliantly gifted young composer with University of Missouri-Kansas City roots, opens the program with his colorful and driving Phenomenon. It is an honor to bring this music to Kansas City. Music is alive and well here, and we are grateful to you all for this season — and for the future.
MICHAEL STERN | Music Director, Kansas City Symphony
To secure seats, visit kcsymphony.org or call (816) 471-0400.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Editor’s note: Guest pianist Benjamin Grosvenor performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 with the Kansas City Symphony for the April 1-3 concerts in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Mahler’s First Symphony is also on the program. Tickets start at $25. Select your seat online here or call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400.
What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming performances with the Kansas City Symphony?
I’m looking forward to playing the Mozart concerto with your wonderful orchestra. It’s a glorious piece, beautifully lyrical and full of elegance and charm.
Do you have a favorite part or moment in the Mozart piece?
The slow movement is incredibly serene and beautiful, but there is a particularly touching and intimate moment where the violins and wind join the piano for a restatement of the opening theme.
Will this be your first time playing in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts? Is this your first time in Kansas City?
This will be my first time at Helzberg Hall, but not in Kansas City, as I gave a recital with the Friends of Chamber Music in April 2014. However I wasn’t there for very long then, so I hope to walk and explore the city a little more this time.
What’s up next for you? Where do you travel to after Kansas City?
Immediately after I am going to Washington D.C. to play the same piece there, and I’m playing it also in Naples, Florida before going back to England.
To secure your tickets to hear guest pianist Benjamin Grosvenor perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 with the Kansas City Symphony for the April 1-3 concerts in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, visit the ticket page here or call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Tickets start at $25. Mahler’s First Symphony is also on the program.
Guest conductor David Zinman is unable to lead the Kansas City Symphony for its next Classical Series concerts occurring Nov. 20-22. Instead, guest conductor Yoav Talmi will direct the Kansas City Symphony for the same three orchestral masterworks: Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Mozart’s Symphony No. 33 and Brahms’ Serenade No. 1.
Maestro Talmi has led a distinguished career across the globe, conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, the Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, as well as orchestras in St. Petersburg, Oslo, Stockholm and many others. In the United States, Talmi has conducted orchestras in Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and more. He previously conducted the Kansas City Symphony once before in 1987. More information on Maestro Talmi is available here.
Born in Israel, Talmi earned degrees from the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv and the Juilliard School of Music in New York. He holds an honorary doctorate from the Laval University (Quebec, Canada). He has been the recipient of many honors, including the Frank Pelleg Prize of the Israeli Cultural Ministry. In 2009, he was named Officer of the National Order of Quebec — the most prestigious honor in French Canada.
To order tickets to the BEETHOVEN, MOZART and BRAHMS concert, please call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays or select your seat online here. Tickets start at $25.
Editor’s Note: Steven Lin, finalist in the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, appears as soloist with the Kansas City Symphony on May 1-3 to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20. Visit the concert listing page for more information on programming and tickets.
1.) Tell us about yourself. When did you start playing piano? When did you decide to pursue music as your career?
My parents first took me to keyboard group classes in Taipei when I was 6. I was not so interested in those classes. My mom couldn’t get me to do my homework, so she ended up doing all the work for me before each class. Naturally, she thought music wasn’t for me, so we stopped going there after few months. When I was 7 years old, my mom’s friend introduced us to my first private teacher. She was much more passionate about music than I was and wanted me to audition for Juilliard Pre-College division after studying with her for three years. Throughout my time in Pre-College, I was never into music that much. I played many kinds of sports and loved to go out and play pick-up games with other kids. My passion for music didn’t come until three or four years ago. I’ve been fortunate because I was always affiliated with music although the love for it came rather late. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now if I didn’t have the education growing up.
2.) Will this be your first time to play in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts? Are you looking forward to working with the Kansas City Symphony as well as Curtis alum and conductor Michael Stern?
This will be my first time playing in Helzberg Hall. I’ve heard so many great things about the concert hall and the Symphony from my colleagues! I’m certainly very excited and thankful for this opportunity. It is a privilege to be working with Curtis alum and conductor Michael Stern since I’m also currently at Curtis.
3.) What do you enjoy about Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20? Do you have a favorite part, and if so, what is it and why?
It’s hard for me to pick out a favorite part of this sublime concerto. I think one can overlook how special the entrance of the piano solo is in the first movement. After this unbelievable dark and dramatic orchestral part, the piano enters with the most intimate single melodic line in the right hand. For me, it is like a child crying and yearning for something. The atmosphere is dark and intimate, yet very pure. With Mozart, it is often ambiguous about what kind of feeling, character, atmosphere or emotion he is going for. Somehow for me, when he writes in major key, it is not always the happiest feeling. And of course, vice versa.
Guest pianist Steven Lin joins Kansas City Symphony and conductor Michael Stern to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 for three concerts in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Lin’s performance is sponsored by the Almy Legacy Fund. The Symphony also will play Richard Strauss’ Don Juan as well as Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, “Inextinguishable.” The Friday and Saturday (May 1-2) concerts start at 8 p.m. and the Sunday (May 3) concert begins at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $25. For tickets and to learn more, contact the Kansas City Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or select seats online. To learn more about Steven Lin, visit his website.