Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sergei Prokofiev in Kansas City

On this day, January 22, in 1965, I was born! On this day in 1926, Sergei Prokofiev performed in Kansas City.
As I continue to look back at famous composers who actually came to Kansas City, none perhaps are as "big" as Sergei Prokofiev. I first heard "Peter and the Wolf" as a young child, and was thoroughly hooked by the wonderful story and even more wonderful melodies. Right around that same time in my life, my dad, who had already started taking me to record stores (see the very first entry of this blog) took me to a concert in Chicago. I was six years-old. It featured the Suite to Prokofiev's ballet, "Romeo and Juliet". I had no idea what to expect,....and WHAM ...the first 15 or 16 measures are so loud and scared me to death. But then the familiar melody kicks in and the rest of the suite is exceptional. Fast forward about 10 years to May of 1981. My dad and I went to see the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. They played Prokofiev's First Symphony in D major...his "Classical" symphony. To this day, I remember this as one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. The second movement of this piece is so light and exquisite...and they absolutely soared. Philadelphia was always known for it's lush string section, and they showed me why.
While researching the travels of notable composers in the early 20th Century, I learned early on that Prokofiev emigrated to the US in 1918 and spent a great deal of time living and composing here. I later found a citation in a book that referenced his performance in Kansas City. It was vague and did not indicate what year he was here or any other details. I eventually found a book that listed his KC appearance as January 22, 1926. (my birthday!) So I went to the KC Public Library and pulled the microfiche of the KC Times and Star for January 1926. I spent an hour looking for the review, but to no avail. I was really bummed. So later I sent an e-mail to the Prokofiev archives at Columbia University in NYC. The curator of the performing arts collection (Jennifer Lee) responded within 24 hours. She had found the program and 2 newspaper clippings from his KC recital. It had been January 22, 1926. But for some reason I had not been able to find the review in the paper.
So here is what she found: (you will probably have to zoom in)
The interview on the right gives more detail about the logistics of the event. This recital was in the ballroom of the Kansas City Club at 918 Baltimore. Prokofiev's wife, Lina Llubera, a soprano, sang.
My grandparents were members of this club back in the day, and I can remember going there for special dinners on a few occasions. I had no idea that Prokofiev himself had ever been there.
Prokofiev toured the US again in 1930 but did not stop in Kansas City. He moved back to the Soviet Union in 1936. He died in 1953.

Here is a link to the second movement of his First Symphony:

And here is the "March" from his Opera "The Love for Three Oranges"op.33. As you can see above, Prokofiev played this at his KC recital. It's a very familiar melody.

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