Sunday, January 18, 2015

Date night at the Kansas City Symphony

I made it clear when I started writing this blog that I am not a critic....I am not going to write reviews. That still stands. But I am going to share some thoughts and reflections about my experiences as they relate to classical music. If it comes across as a "review" be it. But it's not my intention. (And frankly, one of the reasons I would be a terrible critic is I love the music too much to be objective, and every review would be a good one).
So Cheryl and I went to see the Kansas City Symphony last evening at Helzberg Hall. My mom has season tickets, and she is very generous to share them with me. In addition to awesome seats, we also have valet parking, which is totally worth the additional cost. We rolled up to the Hall at 6:30 pm, dropped the car off, and walked across Broadway to Los Tules for some great food and a cold cerveza. (location location location). It's nice to get the car parked, walk to dinner and only be a few hundred feet away from the Hall so we don't have to worry about being late. We made it back to the Hall and in our seats with plenty of time to spare.
The program this evening started with Mozart's Symphony no 35, the "Haffner" (The Haffner's were a family in Salzburg: Sigmund Haffner Sr. was mayor of Salzburg. His son, Sigmund Jr. commissioned this work of Mozart). This symphony is loaded with great melodies...Cheryl was familiar with some of them. Next was a newly commissioned work by Andre Previn; the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra. This work featured cellist Sharon Robinson and violinist Jamie Laredo. Lastly, After intermission, we heard the first symphony of Johannes Brahms. Back to this in a bit.
Throughout the evening, I made notes of my thoughts and observations.
Number one. The KC Symphony is truly a world-class ensemble and organization. We tend to use sports franchises to distinguish or denote "major league" status for a city. I would make the case that the better gauge of "major league" status for a city is it's symphony orchestra. I have seen just about every major orchestra of the world (yes, I am bragging here): Berlin, Vienna, Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, the Gawandhaus of Leipzig, Munich, Dresden, Orchestre de Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Boston, St. Louis, and Chicago....I can honestly and emphatically say that the Kansas City Symphony belongs on this is THAT good. First-class. World-class. Big League. The musicianship is first rate, at every position. Maestro Stern has a clear and focused vision...long term...strategic....musically sophisticated....warm and reassuring, yet edgy enough to challenge you and push you into new musical territories. And he seems like a very nice guy. His rapport with the audience is relaxed, friendly and engaging. He comes across as very down to earth and accessible. Before the concert, he and the Executive Director of the Symphony, Frank Byrne, came to the stage to speak to the audience. They had a wonderful interplay between each other, and the audience. It was humorous, and very real. They thanked the audience for their support of the symphony...and it felt so genuine. Mr. Stern made a great comment about how those of us in the hall this evening know what a great thing we have with this organization and in this city.....and we need to share it with those who have not yet discovered what a treasure it truly is.
A great symphony orchestra does indeed transcend the walls of the hall. It becomes embedded in the community. It teaches, inspires, uplifts, cheers, consoles, unties, and most importantly, it makes you feel like it is YOURS....OURS. It is part of what makes Kansas City GREAT....just like our BBQ, the Royals and the Chiefs, the Nelson, the Plaza, the Speedway, the Jazz and Negro Leagues Baseball museums, and any other component of our community that means something special to you. Seeing all of the musicians and Mr. Stern wearing Royals jerseys and playing the National Anthem this past October at the World Series was amazing, and illustrates just what I am trying to say.
Back to seems clear to me that the musicians and Mr. Stern have a true connection. The vibe I get is one of respect and admiration...both ways. There seems to be sincere appreciation there.
So back to last night. It looked like a full house to me. And the audience LOOKS like you Kansas City. It's not the stereo-typical classical music crowd.....old and stuffy. (sorry to offend anyone who is old and stuffy). The audience is very diverse in age...I feel like I saw just as many "young people" <30, as I did >60. It was really cool. Jeans and suits. Argyle and leather. It's all there.
So back to the music. I have written before about Helzberg Hall. The acoustics are WORLD-CLASS. The Mozart came instantly to life and filled the hall with such beauty as I can't even describe. Perhaps the biggest revelation I had this evening came while I was looking around at the audience during the Mozart. Here is a group of 1600 people who came together to listen to music that was composed 235 years ago! Astonishing really. And it sounded so alive. It sounded so fresh. It sounded contemporary. That is the true gift of this music...this classical music that so few people really listen to in their daily lives. It is timeless. The Brahms First is perhaps my favorite of his four symphonies. In the program, several of the musicians are featured in a short 4 question interview. David Gamble, a french horn player, was asked if he has a favorite composition he likes to play or listen to. He answered "any of the four Brahms symphonies. Playing or listening, they always put me in a great mood". I couldn't say it any better. And the performance this evening of the First was breathtaking! I think I had a smile on my face all the way home.
This is YOUR Symphony Orchestra KC. It makes us all World-Class. It's playing in one of the greatest concert halls in the world. And it's right your city. Don't miss it.

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