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.
Editor’s note: Guest violinist Bella Hristova performs David Ludwig’s Violin Concerto (written expressly for her) with the Kansas City Symphony for the April 8-10 concerts in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. On the same program hear Ives’ Symphony No. 3, “The Camp Meeting,” Debussy’s Ibéria and Gershwin’s An American in Paris. Tickets start at $25. Select your seat online here or call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400.
1. Tell us about yourselves. How did you become professional musicians? Bella: I was born in Bulgaria and started playing the violin when I was 6. I started with the violin because my mother wanted me to. My father was a composer and my mom played piano and was a choral conductor. I was very drawn to the piano as a young child, but it was her dream for me to play violin. Now of course, it’s become my dream and I love playing the violin — but I also love listening to piano music.
David: I grew up in a very musical family, but kept my own life as a musician pretty private until after I began on my own career path. I started getting commissions and making a life as a professional composer in my mid-twenties.
When I was 6, I wanted to be a steam roller, but quickly realized that wasn’t possible. So after that, I tried lessons on as many instruments as I could, settling on a few … but all along I was interested in writing — second to composing was playwriting. I’ve come to think that being a composer is like the merging of being a playwright and musician.
2. How did this commission come about, and what is the intent for the piece? David: This commission is the result of a long conversation between Bella and me, Jaime Laredo, and Alan Jordan. Alan had the idea for the concerto with the Vermont Symphony (Alan is executive director with the Delaware Symphony now). Jaime is the music director of the VSO and they became the lead commissioner. Jaime has been an incredible mentor and friend to both Bella and me, and the thought was that the violin concerto would celebrate our marriage in some way. The commission became a consortium of eight orchestras total with additional support from New Music USA.
With a consortium, everybody wins — the composer and soloist get to have the piece played multiple times, and orchestras each get to premiere a new work regionally for a more feasible buy-in than if they were the sole commissioner. We love this because it means we can share this piece with audiences and have it played by terrific groups like the Kansas City Symphony.
3. Can you describe the movements? (From the program notes) The piece is about the ritual of marriage, and it imagines the before, during, and after a traditional wedding ceremony.
The first movement “Dances” begins with a loud crash–a jarring but transformative start to something new that transitions into a waltz-like music soon after. All told there are four dances in the first movement, connected by a cadenza and concluded by a Rachenitsa in its traditional irregular meter. The second movement “Ceremony” follows the progression of the wedding ritual. A slow unraveling processional is woven throughout the fabric of this movement, ending in musical rings created by the rise and fall of the violin against solo instruments in the orchestra. The third movement “The Festival” is my version of a Krivo Horo or “Crooked Dance” that captures the way people attempt to walk home after a great party. The music is celebratory to the end, reflecting the coming together of a community inspired by two people promised to preserve each other’s wellbeing for the rest of their lives.
4. For Bella, what do you love most about this concerto? Bella: It’s difficult to pick a favorite part of something this meaningful — and David has hidden little gems throughout the piece, such as our initials at the end of the second movement. Perhaps the most personal quote and one of my favorite things about it is that he quotes about 10 measures from my father’s violin concerto in the Ceremony movement. My dad passed away when I was very young and I never got to know him — and this way David found a way that my dad could be in some way involved in our wedding!
5. For David, what do you love most about your work? David: That my beautiful and extraordinarily talented wife is premiering it! I have been thinking about this piece since we started together nearly six years ago.
6. Will this be your first time in Kansas City, and first time performing with the Kansas City Symphony? Bella: Yes, it’s my first time in Kansas City and first time performing with the Symphony. I have many friends in the orchestra and have known Maestro Stern for quite a few years now, so I’m thrilled for us to come together for a very exciting week of music making!
David: Also my first time on both counts. And ditto/agreed on the rest. We have many good friends in that orchestra, and we’ve both known and admired Michael Stern for a long time. Also, I’m going to need to try the barbecue as soon as possible.
7. When you’re not making music, what other activities or pastimes do you enjoy? Bella: I love spending time with our two cats, Uni and Schmoopy, watching TV, playing video games and solving jigsaw puzzles.
David: I guess I don’t have a lot of hobbies, but I love teaching and working with people and communities while on residencies. I spend a fair amount of time reading articles about music, science, and movies online — and probably too much time on Twitter and Facebook.
(The cats do keep us busy, but I’ll remind my wife that we have a pact not to bring them up when under 10 minutes of an interview or 500 words…)
8. What do you hope audiences take away from the performances? David: For me, I want the concerto to share its message of partnership, empathy, and communion. But even before the message is the experience — I want the audience to be engaged in and moved by the music from the opening crash of the piece to the fast ending scales. And between soloist, orchestra, and conductor — to extend the playwright analogy — I have incredible actors and a great director to make it happen.
Bella: I am so excited to share this very personal and special work with the audiences of Kansas City. I hope they will see this great new concerto coming to life right in front of them.
9. Anything else you’d like to add? David: I can’t wait!
Bella: Ditto! Also, barbecue!!!
To secure your tickets to hear guest violinist Bella Hristova perform David Ludwig’s Violin Concerto (written expressly for her) with the Kansas City Symphony for the April 8-10 concerts in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, visit the ticket page here or call the Symphony Box Office between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tickets start at $25. Also on the program is Ives’ Symphony No. 3, “The Camp Meeting,” Debussy’s Ibéria and Gershwin’s An American in Paris.
Guest violinist Vadim Gluzman appears as soloist with the Kansas City Symphony Feb. 5-7 to perform Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Visit the concert listing page for more information on programming and tickets.
What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming performances with the Kansas City Symphony in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts? Return engagement are always very special for me and coming back to perform with an orchestra which I know and like very much, working with a conductor with whom we truly speak the same musical language is a great pleasure and a privilege. Working with Michael Stern has always been a special experience — he is a musician of incredible depth, artistic honesty and one of the most sensitive partners — a real inspiration!
And of course to make music in the spectacular Kauffman Center — an absolute joy!
What do you love about the Brahms Violin Concerto? Do you have a favorite part or movement? If so, which one(s) and why? Brahms concerto is one of two or three perfect masterworks in the violin concerto repertoire, a real Mount Everest. The challenge is humongous, but the rewards — artistic, musical, emotional — are just as incredible. Every note in this piece is “gold,” and pointing at one part as my favorite is really impossible. But if I were to draw the attention of our audience to one of many special moments — listen to the very end of the violin cadenza the way the orchestra joins in — as close to heaven as we will ever get!!!
What was your path to becoming a professional violinist? Did you always know you were destined to make music your career? I started my musical education at 7, and naturally, at that age we do not ask ourselves such questions. I don’t think I would be able to point at one day or a moment when I realized that I wanted to be a violinist. By the time I was 14 or 15, I had realized that I can not imagine doing anything else, I simply can’t live without it. In a way, playing the violin became who I am, what I am…
I had the most amazing teachers — Arkady Fomin, Dorothy DeLay, among others. I also was fortunate to work with Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman, and later to perform with some of the greatest conductors of our day. They helped shape my musical vision, gave me confidence and inspired me to continue on my path.
What advice do you have for young musicians hoping to improve their ear or performance? Listen to yourself, listen to your colleges, friends, teachers! Listening is the greatest tool, the greatest way to learn and improve. Playing and studying chamber music in depth for me is single most important part of becoming an all-rounded musician.
What’s next for you after Kansas City? Right after I perform in Kansas City, I continue to New Orleans to perform with the Louisiana Philharmonic and Carlos Miguel Prieto, a special performance with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York, followed by a European tour. Some important highlights this season are a recital in London’s Wigmore Hall, premiere of new violin concerto of Lera Auerbach at the Proms, a residency at Colorado Music Festival and a tour in Australia.
To hear guest violinist perform Brahms Violin Concerto with the Kansas City Symphony under the baton of conductor Michael Stern, call (816) 471-0400 or select your seat online. The program also includes Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and John Adams’ The Chairman Dances — Foxtrot for Orchestra. Tickets start at $25.