Friday, July 13, 2018

Haydn update, Classical walk-up, Reiner, and Mike Douglas.

Haydn Update: As of today, I have listened to Symphonies 1-24 of Franz Joseph Haydn. I am averaging about 3 per day, so I should reach #104 in early August. It's been a pleasure so far.No great revelations to share, but I find it very easy to get lost in the music and enjoy it thoroughly.

If you have been to a baseball game recently, at any level, you are probably familiar with "walk-up music." Prior to each at-bat, the batter has music played as he walks from the on-deck circle to the batter's box. This music somehow fits his personality or means something to him....I'm not really sure. Let me take a short side trip here...I am of the opinion that the fan experience at big-league ballparks has eroded due to the constant barrage of loud music, sound effects, lights and fireworks. I just want to sit and enjoy the game, keep score, have a beer and take in the game. I don't like being constantly prodded to "get loud" or "make some noise." Today's stadiums have incredible PA systems that they use at full volume, blasting rock-rap-country music before, during, and after the game...and the walk-up songs. But that's just me and I'm probably just an old-fogey by now.
Walk-up music is big business now too. MLB has a database of players' walk-up songs, and streaming sites like Spotify have walk-up music playlists.
Can classical music be used as walk-up music? Of course! I have not heard it personally, but I did read that a few years ago, Prince Fielder of the Detroit Tigers used a section of Mozart's Requiem as his walk-up song. Pretty cool. Other writers have taken a stab at picking classical walk-up music. Here are some of my suggestions.

1. Strauss. The opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra, better known as the music from 2001 A Space Odyssey. This is a pretty obvious is powerful, well known and inspirational. The basses enter at a low register, and played through these huge PA Systems, it might scare the opposing team and give the batter an edge.

2. Handel. The Hallelujah Chorus. If you go into the batter's box feeling like you are the Savior, this is the song for you.

3. Satie. Gymnopedie no. 1. A different approach here...going the opposite direction of getting fired up or hyped. This may lull the pitcher into a calm state that takes some heat off his fastball.

4. Gershwin. Clarinet intro to Rhapsody in Blue. Such an iconic sound...the long glissando of the clarinet is so edgy and ballsy. It has swagger. It has confidence.

5. Messiaen. Canteyodjaya (Piano). This may freak everyone out with its percussive dissonances. The batter may get one in the ear, but at least he would get on base.

6. Vivaldi. Juditha Triumphans-Arma, Caedes, Vindictae, Furores. A rousing call to arms...big drums and majestic trumpets. Should inspire any hitter to stretch a single into a double, or even steal home.

7. Mussorgsky. Pictures at an Exhibition-No. 6 Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle-the trumpet excerpt. This is a very high, shrill, staccato trumpet...very grating. It will get under the pitcher's skin and cause him to lose his cool. Take your base.The trumpet excerpt starts at 0:43.

8. Varese. Poeme Electronique. Another sure fire way to freak out the pitcher...and everyone in the stadium, including your own team. I would recommend laying down a bunt...chances are no one would react and you could circle the bases uncontested.

9. Bruckner. Symphony No. 8-4th movement-opening. Majestic, intense, powerful. One of the greatest symphonies of all time, the opening statement of the 4th mvt says "I am going to take you deep motherfucker."

10. Gregorian Chant-Liturgy of St. Anthony. "We knew not whether we were in Heaven or on Earth for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere on Earth." The quiet chanting of monks may be the greatest of all walk-up music. We would all benefit. I know I would.


Here's a funny quote from the great conductor, Fritz Reiner. "People say I hate musicians. That's not true. I only hate bad musicians." Reiner and the Chicago Symphony made over 100 recordings during his time in Chicago (1953-63). Engineers used one microphone and a 2-track Ampex tape machine housed in the basement control room of Orchestra Hall. These recordings sound fresh and vibrant to this day. Since it is July, I am selecting something from the Nutcracker to share with you.


On November 9, 1976, Mike Douglas had 3 guests on his show; Kenny Rogers, Jimmy "JJ" Walker, and Frank Zappa. Talk about an eclectic group! During his segment with Frank Zappa, Mike Douglas asked him what kind of music he liked to listen to when he wanted to relax. He also posed the same question to his other guests.

Zappa: When I want to relax a lot, I'll listen to classical music.

Douglas: What specifically?

Zappa: Well, the stuff that puts me into the most dreamlike state would be something like Anton Webern-string quartets or maybe I'll listen to Elliot Carter's string quartets.

Douglas (to Kenny Rogers): What do you listen to? You love music and you were really tuned into Frank a moment ago...

Rogers: The thing is, I really enjoy all kinds of music. You really have to have at least some...not necessarily understanding...but some relationship to all types of music. But I, like Frank, listen to classical music. Bach just does it for me.

Douglas: What about you Jimmy?

Walker: If I'm working, there are two things I listen to which is going to sound Segovia and then there's the rock thing. The main rock thing I listen to is James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.

Three very different men, yet they all share a love for classical music. That's cool.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Iron Horse, A Haydn Mission, and Jethro Tull

Yesterday (July 4th) was the 79th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's famous speech ("Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth".) He was leaving the game due to the onset of a disease (ALS) that would later be known by his very name. He benched himself on May 2, 1939 when it became apparent that something was wrong. Up to that point, he had played in 2130 consecutive games...a record that stood for 56 years. (It was broken by Cal Ripken 1995.)
Gehrig was given the diagnosis of ALS in June and the team scheduled a Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day for July 4, 1939. He passed away June 4, 1941.
I am always fascinated by the intersection of classical music with people and places throughout history that intrigue me. Along with classical music and history, I also love baseball. Wouldn't it be cool if Gustav Mahler had gone to a baseball game during his time in New York (1907-1911)? I have not found anything to suggest that he actually did...I will keep looking....but I did find a citation about Lou Gehrig going to classical music concerts! According to an article in the New Yorker Magazine, Gehrig was a regular at concerts of the NBC Radio Symphony conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Not only was Gehrig one of the greatest players in history, he also appreciated classical music.


I am embarking on another listening mission. If you recall, last month I listened to Mozart's 41 symphonies in ascending and then descending order. Now I will attempt to listen to Franz Joseph Haydn's symphonies, all 104 of them, in ascending order. I am on number 8 as I write this. This will take me the better part of July and August. I doubt I will turn around and listen to them in descending order....we shall see. I am not sure how many of his symphonies I have heard, but I know it is not even close to being all of them. I wonder how many other people in the world can say they have accomplished this? Not too many...but here is one guy who did:

I like the band Jethro Tull, but admittedly I have a pretty limited knowledge of their catalog. I stumbled on what is one of their best known albums this week...yes, I am very late to the's called Stand Up from 1969. The song I heard that grabbed my attention is called Reasons for Waiting. In addition to flute and organ (these are instruments more often heard in the classical world) at 2:25 a very nice string section joins in. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Mozart in reverse, KC Symphony, Berlioz, the Musician, and Bach in new ways

I finished my Mozart listening project. After listening to his symphonies in order, 1-41, I decided to listen to them in descending order 41-1. Why? No real reason. But it was a fun listening exercise. As much music as I listen to, there were many Mozart's symphonies I had never heard before. Some points to share....many of his symphonies are very short...7-10 minutes in length. We all know Mozart was a genius, but it struck me that even though many of his symphonies were written when he was a child (he was eight when he wrote his first symphony) they are still very good. It really is incredible what he accomplished at an age when most of us were still eating boogers. Certainly by the time he was composing his final three symphonies, he was in his prime as a composer and operating at a much higher creative level. I would say Symphonies 24 and 29 stood out for me as the most enjoyable. I'm still not a Mozart expert, but I feel like I accomplished something pretty cool. Mozart behaved in deplorable ways during his short life. It is hard to reconcile his disgusting behaviors with the incomparable music he composed, but I am not trying to. I am content just to appreciate the beauty of his music.

Sunday was the final concert of the 2017-18 season for the Kansas City Symphony. I had great anticipation for this concert, partly because it was the close of a great season, but also for the program itself. I had made up my mind just to go and enjoy the music...I was not going to take notes or write about it. But afterwards, I knew I needed to say something because there was so much going on. First, the music. We were treated to Leonard Bernstein's The Age of Anxiety featuring pianist Ran Dank. I had never heard this piece, and I intentionally didn't listen to it prior to the concert. I wanted my first impression to come from this performance. I'd say this worked out very well. I loved the piece and will certainly listen to it again in the weeks to come. Dank plays beautifully, and his encore, a shimmering cover of George Gershwin's Embraceable You put a smile on everyone's face. The other work on the program was the one and only Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. This is a piece I know very well (I wrote about it last year) and will probably never get tired of hearing. It is a seminal work. I love this quote from Charles Gounod about Berlioz; "His Symphonie Fantastique (an episode in the life of an artist) was a veritable event in music, the importance of which was testified to alike by the fanatical admiration of some, and the violent opposition of others. However open to discussion such a work might be, it reveals, so far as the youth who produced it is concerned, faculties of invention absolutely superior, and the powerful poetic sentiment which is met with all his works. Berlioz introduced into the musical world very many important effects and orchestral combinations unknown before his time, of which several illustrious composers have made use; he revolutionized the domain of instrumentation, and in this subject, at least, he may be said to have founded a "school."
The KCS was on their game today. Maestro Stern needed no score, and the musicians gave a performance that felt incredibly energetic...almost frenetic at times, yet never in jeopardy of crashing...or so it seemed. It was breathtaking. I've gotta say, the French Horns sounded incredible...they are developing a unique sound reminiscent of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in it's heyday, which is not small praise, and staking a claim as our best section (IMO).
It is a time of change for this, my favorite orchestra in the world. Our concertmaster Noah Geller is leaving to join the Seattle Symphony. I wish him well. Violinists Justine Lamb-Budge and Philip Marten are also leaving. And three long-time members of this ensemble are retiring; Marita Abner (bassoon), Steven Seward (tuba) and Kenneth Lawrence (Oboe-English Horn). But take heart Kansas not worry. There is no shortage of very talented and hungry musicians in the world. My buddy Yoichi Udagawa, a conductor himself in the Boston area, tells me this all the time. And he reassured me that we will have no problem finding new musicians to fill these vacancies. And once they are here, Maestro Stern, Frank Byrne, Executive Director, and the other musicians will bring them into this musical family and create new magic for all of us to enjoy. Kansas City is not a minor league affiliate for Seattle, Pittsburgh, New York etc....We are a big league team, and even if other orchestras can afford to pay more than KC, we have reached the plateau of excellence with these other orchestras as a musical force.
I am a musician. I think, eat and breath music. I play music. I did not make it to the level of the Kansas City Symphony, but I am still a musician. I appreciate musicians and what they have to go through to make a living. Maestro Stern's respect, admiration and love for his musicians is undeniable. He took time to acknowledge, hug, and cheer for his team on Sunday afternoon. Well done sir. If I were at your baton, I would follow you to the edge.

A great story about musicians, told by another great conductor who loves musicians... Zubin Mehta. He was a student of the great conductor, Bruno Walter. According to Mehta, "He (Walter) wanted so much to record this symphony (the Mahler 9th) that he accepted all the conditions of Columbia Records. I don't know about financial conditions, maybe he did it for nothing. But they had 12 first violins and 4 basses. In other words, Columbia Records told him "we will do it...of course it will never if you want to do it, we will do it for you, but we cannot afford more musicians. Not only that... these musicians were all members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic... they also didn't know the Mahler 9th, so they were sight reading (prima vista) and recording at the same time. They were good musicians and he was very patient with them. When you read the reviews of this recording later, "this is the definitive (performance)...and nobody can play it like that"...they were sight reading." Freakin' amazing. Gives me goosebumps.

Cheryl and I went to see Oceans 8 Sunday evening. The other "Oceans" movies have been fun, so this seemed like a safe bet. Sure enough, I thought it was a lot of fun. But what grabbed me most was one particular tune in the soundtrack....Bach. His Fugue in D minor. Mixed into a very eclectic soundtrack was this 300+ year-old standard with electric bass, drums, and organ. WOW! I was hooked and when we got home I checked YouTube and found it. Daniel Pemberton wrote the soundtrack for Oceans 8. And this is credited to J.S. Bach. Check it out:

But not so fast Daniel Pemberton....and I am willing to reserve judgment should someone be able to offer up proof....but a comment made in this video refers to an progressive English rock band called Egg who also did version of the Fugue in D Minor in 1970. I looked it up, and sure enough....

Hmmmm...I'd say it's a no-doubter...Egg came first and Mr. Pemberton has some explaining to do and a credit to acknowledge. I searched Google and YouTube for any interview or comment from Pemberton to see if he gives credit to Egg for this Bach cover-masterpiece. So far, no luck.
But I love BOTH arrangements. It is Bach after all.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Flint Hills tell their own story.

Cheryl and I went to the Symphony in the Flint Hills yesterday, out in the middle of the Flint Hills in southern Kansas. It is a special place. If you have not been there, I suggest you place it on your bucket list. I have traveled throughout the plains of Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana pretty extensively. I see the beauty of these grasslands that others see as "nothing". The Symphony in the Flint Hills organization started a tradition in event celebrating this special land with symphonic music. The Kansas City Symphony, playing everything from Smetana, to Copland to John Williams to Paul Simon sounded marvelous. Out here in the wide open land, classical music brings everyone together for a sunset performance that celebrates the Flint Hills. Special guest Aoife O'Donovan joined the Symphony. She has a great voice and her music was incredible. Her first song was Magic Hour, and it has been stuck in my head all weekend. Her rendition of Paul Simon's song American Tune was also spellbinding, as was the orchestral accompaniment composed by Colin Jacobsen.
Other works of note on the program were two movie themes (The Cowboys and The Patriot) by the incomparable John Williams, who seems to know how the music of America should and has always sounded. Similarly, what would an event such as this be without some Aaron Copland right? For this performance we were treated to the first and second movements of The Red Pony. (Rodeo would also have fit in perfectly.)
But I was not completely at ease today. This celebration of the Flint Hills centered on the settlers who came to this land...who worked hard to make a living here. Visitors could take a wagon ride just like the pioneers did, walk the prairie, and watch a cattle drive. Some mention was made of how the farmers...or sod-busters... ruined the land by plowing under the native grasses...which is true. (I suggest you read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Eagan.) The iconic music of Copland and Williams expresses the toughness, the "can do" spirit and eternal optimism embodied by the frontier settlers. But that did not sit well with me today. Please understand, I LOVE their is history I am wrestling with. No mention was made today of the "others" ...the Native Peoples who lived here and explored the Flint Hills long before the white man made it his manifest destiny.
The music of Max Richter, composed for the 2017 film Hostiles, better expresses how I felt.

This film shows the West in 1892...the "Indians" had all but been subdued by this time. The music for this film is nothing like Copland or Williams. It tells a different story...sadness, exhaustion, numbness.
Francisco Coronado traveled though the grasslands of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas in 1541. He didn't find gold or the city of Cibola. Later, Stephen Long, explorer and surveyor for the US Army, (Long's Peak in Colorado was named for him) labeled the grasslands the "Great Desert", unfit for settlement or cultivation. But they came none-the-less, hunted the buffalo to near extinction, forced the Indians onto reservations and plowed under hundreds of millions of acres of grasslands. This is not a happy story, and Max Richter's score captures a sense of this struggle.
I stared out at the land all afternoon and evening. I thought about the history of this place and I felt a mixture of joy and sadness. I was enjoying a wonderful day with my wife, listening to great music, looking at incredible views....but the true history of the grasslands was not discussed today, and that didn't sit well with me.
The other constant on this day was the wind. It blew non-stop as it usually does out here.The huge sound system did a great job keeping the music above the roar of the wind. But still, the wind found it's way into the microphones and it too was projected in the mix through the speakers. This was OK with me....the wind somehow seemed to lift my spirits The voices of the past are in the wind. The voices of the past are also echoed in the grass. Maybe that sounds corny, but so be it. I felt the same way visiting Little Big Horn in Montana...the wind and the grass tell the true story.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Franck, Mozart in order, Wedding ring, A traffic stop

My favorite music at the moment are the three Chorals (for organ) by Cesar Franck: Choral 1 in E major, Choral 2 in B minor, and Choral 3 in A minor.. He started writing these in late 1889. During this period, in July 1890, he was injured in a traffic accident in Paris that left him with a head injury from which he did not fully recover. He died on November 9, 1890 of pleurisy. But he managed to complete the Chorals. These three pieces are really a musical odyssey...a journey... that encompass just about every sound an organ can make. I am not an organ expert by any means, but having grown up attending a church with a big organ and a great organist (Charles Barnett at the First United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas) my love of the organ and it's repertoire go back to my childhood. In modern terms, the Chorals are like a huge, theatrical rock show. They are both big and small...soft and loud, and everything in between. Franck may have invented the power chords that Pete Townshend or Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page applied to the electric guitar seventy years later. If you listen to all three in succession, you will be breathless and limp upon their conclusion. And Franck had an epic beard as well.

Mozart. A few years ago I listened to Mozart's symphonies 1-41 in sequential order. It was an "ear opening" exercise. I am sure I had not heard at least half of his symphonies up to that point. Most of time, 21, 25, 39-41 are the ones that are played. So I heard them all and felt good about myself! I decided to do it again this year, and last month I listened to 1-41 on order took me about two weeks. This time, the collective, symphonic Mozart lodged itself in my brain. I went much deeper than I had in 2012. I wanted last week I decided to listen to them in descending order. I'm on 26 now. I will report back on what I learn when I get to number 1.

Wedding Ring. Several years ago, I think it was in 2011, I broke the ring finger on my left had...I was trying to catch a football that my son Jack threw to me. I did not open my hands enough and the ball hit square on the tip of my finger and bent it back, breaking it. It swelling up immediatelyand made it impossible for me to remove my wedding was trapped... and my finger began to turn black. The doctor had to cut it off...the ring, not my finger! The swelling went down and my finger healed. But my wedding ring was toast. A few weeks later, after my finger had healed, I wanted to get a new ring. In was early June, and I was at a conference for work in Orlando. Cheryl and I had agreed that we would get a new wedding ring for me in July when we had our anniversary. I was in the Orlando airport killing time and I saw some rings at a kiosk in the atrium. They were value priced at $19 and one ring caught my eye:
Seven years later, I am still wearing this ring. I love its musical notation.It "fits" me.

Traffic stop. I was recently driving home from Texas (I was coming home from a work trip). It was late at night and it I had already been a long drive. I was tired and my back was bothering me. I did my best to stretch my back and legs while I was driving to try and get comfortable. I was also trying to stay awake. So I'm the middle of Oklahoma and I see flashing lights in my rear-view mirror. I was pretty shocked by this. I had the cruise control set exactly to the speed limit, so I was sure I had not been speeding. My heart was beating faster now. The officer approached from the passenger side. I rolled down the window and was greeted with a blinding light from his flashlight. "Good evening you know why I pulled you over?" I said "good evening", and "no I don't." "I've been following you and noticed you have been drifting into the other lane several times." I told him I was tired and that my back hurt...I was trying to stretch it to get comfortable. "Where are you headed?" he asked. I told him I was on the way home from work in Texas. He peered around in the car with his light and asked for my license and insurance card and went back to his car to check me out. I have never been pulled over on the highway in my life. I was not speeding, impaired or running from the law. I was very nervous even though I knew I had not done anything wrong. And I'm all alone in the middle of nowhere on an Oklahoma state highway...not one car had passed since I had pulled over. The mind can do funny things when you are tired and nervous. After a few minutes, he came back to my car and handed me my license and insurance card. "Here you go sir. I am not going to give you a ticket or anything. I just want you to make it home safely. Please be careful." I was so relieved of course...and I thanked him with relief and appreciation. We went our separate ways and I began to reflect on what had happened. This man was sent to me to keep me safe. I was probably on the verge of falling asleep at the wheel. This traffic stop woke me up. He was a guardian angel. I have no doubt about it. 
So here we have a white man, pulled over by a black police officer. I have black friends who have told me stories about being pulled over by white police officers for no apparent reason other than being black..and hassled and harassed. They live with this fear. I have no such fear of the police. And after this, I began to wonder what would my traffic stop have been like had I been black and the officer white...late at night on a remote Oklahoma road? The officer who pulled me over was kind, and professional. He did not ask me to get out of the car to take a sobriety test, or subject me to any inquiry beyond his first questions. Would this have been the case if a black person veering into the other lane was pulled over by a white officer? I wish I could answer this "yes" with confidence...but I can't.
 I also wish I had had the presence of mind to ask the officer for his name so I could share it with you. He really was an angel sent to keep me safe.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Tonal organization, Great Chords and I'm back.

It's been awhile since I have written anything. Been for the Boston Marathon, working...etc..etc...But I have not been taking a break from listening to music. If anything, I have probably been listening to more music than usual. But the hectic pace of life has taken a toll on my writing...or so I told myself. But on one of the many dark and cold evenings by myself out on the road running I came to realize that my lack of writing isn't due to a lack of time. That's just an excuse. Rather, it's a lack of confidence and commitment.Over thinking. Second-guessing. Laziness. Creative fatigue.
I started writing this blog in February of 2014...over four years ago now. Writing is a great passion of mine...especially writing about classical music. But I reached a point early this year when I started to wonder if what I am doing here really matters. Ideas for topics to write about seemed harder to come by. I started to question whether I wanted to continue writing.
I strayed from the central tenant I established for myself on day one...this is for ME. Who is my audience? I am. I drifted away from this realization. I certainly want you and others to read what I write. But I have to write for ME so that YOU will connect to what I have to share. I strayed away from this understanding and I developed a creative paralysis...wondering what to write and for whom?
All of this hit me the other day while I was listening to a piece of music I first heard sometime in the 1970's and have always loved...the Serenade for Strings in C Major by Tchaikovsky. It was at the beginning of the third movement marked Larghetto elegiaco that I had a moment of clarity that restored my sense of purpose. It is a simple phrase...four voices. Just quarter notes and eighth notes. Simple...elegant. Perfect. It was composed in 1880 along with another famous work, the 1812 Overture. PIT said in a letter, "I have written two long works very rapidly: A Festival Overture for the Exhibition, and a Serenade in four movements for string orchestra. The overture will be very noisy. I wrote it without much warmth of enthusiasm; therefore it has no great artistic value. The Serenade, on the contrary, I wrote from an inward impulse; I felt it, and venture to hope that this work is not without artistic qualities."
The entire Serenade is great...all four movements. But the third movement stands out to me as the most special. The opening chord is voiced as such; D (basses and cellos) G (violas) B (violas) E (first violins). From there the upper strings ascend and the lower strings descend. What's going on here, musically speaking?  To get the answer, I asked my friend and musical theory expert, Dr. Reynold Simpson from the School of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He took a look at the score and and issued this analysis of the introduction of the third movement: "The short answer is that the chord is a ii7 chord in the third inversion (the seventh of the chord is in the bass.) But the passage is a bit deceptive because there's not a cadence to the tonic (D major) until the end of the 5th phrase. So the ear tries to hear it as a minor v7of A minor, then later as the minor iv of B minor. It is only after the fifth cadence that the strong cadence to D major clears up the tonal organization of this movement's opening."
Thank you Dr. Simpson.
It is a beautiful phrase, and despite the theoretical complexity, to the ear, it is simple and beautiful.
So I am back, and ready to write and share my thoughts with you because I am reminded that I am really talking to myself.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Date Night at the KC Symphony 3.24.18

I'll start at the end. The climactic, epic, final movement of Respighi's, The Pines of Rome. The drums started pounding out their marching cadence. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. I looked to my right and saw a, two trombones...and two musicians with music stands. They were taking their position next to Cheryl and me by our seats in the upper balcony. "You'd better sit back" whispered one of them. And soon enough they we blasting along with the entire orchestra on the stage, the giant organ in Helzberg Hall,  additional trumpets in the balcony across from us, and more horns behind the stage. My friend Stuart had come to the Friday evening performance. He had never heard the Pines of Rome. He described feeling goosebumps and tears welling up by this music. I know exactly how he feels. I think everyone in Helzberg Hall had goosebumps and tears of joy in their eyes this weekend.
Composer Chris Rogerson was on hand this evening for the world premier of his new work, It Became Dark. He and Maestro Stern spoke to the audience before playing it...describing it as "an emotional journey as night falls and sleep beckons." This work was full of energy, floating sounds, melodies, and quietness. I was stunned by its brilliance. Really an incredible work. And if that was not enough, knowing that Yo-Yo Ma was going to be a part of this concert, he took it upon himself to write a piece for cello and orchestra for an encore after Mr. Ma played the Haydn Cello Concerto no. 2. How often does that happen?!? Perfect timing and another beautiful composition.
So yes, Yo-Yo Ma was performing with the Kansas City Symphony this weekend. I feel like he has been around long as I can remember. And he pretty much has. He played for President Kennedy when he was only seven years old and has not looked back. Interestingly enough, on tonight's program, Mr. Ma and the orchestra also played Leonard Bernstein's Three Meditations for Cello and Orchestra. It was Leonard Bernstein who introduced Yo-Yo Ma and his sister that evening in 1962 for his performance for President Kennedy. "Now here's a cultural image for you to ponder. as you listen. A seven-year-old Chinese cellist playing old French music for his new American compatriots." He's done it all, and he's still doing it! I am lucky to have seen him before. His smile, his grace, his enthusiasm..and that oh my. The Haydn Concerto was a was so full of life and energy...FUN! Mr. Ma looked to be having a great time, eagerly exchanging glances and smiles with his fellow musicians and Maestro Stern. The ensemble for a Haydn Concerto is much smaller than what is used for the Pines of Rome of course. The sound was bright and balanced while Mr. Ma danced in, out, over and through their accompaniment. But as wonderful as the Haydn Concerto was, Bernstein's Three Meditations was simply stunning. For me, it stood out as perhaps the highlight of the evening. The cello seemed to be asking questions...crying out....riding a rhythmic wave of longing. And the Second was beautiful. 
What happened next was even more incredible. After the last note of the piece sounded and was slowly dying out, Ma segued into the Bach Cello Suite no 1 in G. I don't think anyone knew he was going to do this. If there ever was an encore you'd want to hear a cellist play....this would be IT. And if there is a cellist alive today you'd want to hear play it, it would be Yo-Yo Ma. And there he was....surrounded by what the KC Symphony's Executive Director, Mr. Frank Byrne, described as the "Elite 80" (basketball reference)...80 of his best friends on stage...surrounded by all of us in the audience sitting in sheer stunned delight...he's leaning WAY back in his chair, eyes closed, playing music he's played hundreds if not thousands of times, but with an energy and tenderness of his first time. Patiently he lets it build and then he launches into that famous, ascending climb to the high G that sends you to the stratosphere. When it was over I think we were all exhausted and limp. It looked like Maestro Stern wiped tears from his eyes too.

And THEN we had the Pines of Rome!
There may not be a bigger or better "Showstopper" in all of classical music. It's impossible not to love it. Gorgeous melodies, instruments on and off stage, chirping birds and a huge ending. Principal Trumpet (Julian Kaplan) was awesome from off stage in the second movement with his solo. Principal clarinet Raymond Santos likewise was remarkable, as too were all of the principal woodwinds. And while I'm at it, the strings, brass and percussion were all amazing.
This orchestra...OUR orchestra, continues to demonstrate what I have been saying for several years now; they are WORLD class. Period. What an amazing concert experience this was, and the season still has much more to come!