Sunday, July 30, 2017

KC VITAs 2017 Summer Series

I had the great privilege of meeting Jackson Thomas, Director and Founder of KC VITAs, last year for an interview in advance of their Summer Series performances. So here we are a year later, and KC VITAs is still going strong under Jackson's leadership. I checked in with him this week to see what he's been up to and to find out more about the 2017 Summer Series performances next weekend.

 I can’t believe it’s been a year since we’ve talked! Where does the time go?  But I am so happy that it’s just about time for the next KC VITAs Summer Series performances. What have you been up to during the past year when we spoke?

Thanks so much for speaking with me again, Tim! We’ve been incredibly busy trying to reach more people and become more present in the community. This past year, we held a December Gala event where we featured small ensemble and solo works by a couple of regional and international composers. We also have improved our submission process to streamline how composers can submit their works to us, as well as reach more composers. Since then, we have been going full steam on making this the best Summer Series yet!

Tell me about this year’s KC VITAs program.

We received 150 blind submissions of art song, small ensemble, and choral works by composers from all around the world. Ten were picked from that, five of which are world premieres and five are regional premieres. These compositions make up our most diverse program to date by far. We have two performances this year, one on Aug. 4th at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 7:00, and another on Aug. 6th at Country Club Christian Church at 3:00. We are continuing to follow our mission and offer these concerts for free!

Did this program come together easily or were there any challenges of note?

Because of the sheer amount of submissions we received, it was an even greater puzzle to finalize this year’s program. Each composition must be considered (sometimes several times) which, as you can imagine is incredibly time consuming. Then, when trying to pick from such high quality pieces and figure out the best way to make them work together, the final decisions are very hard to make. There could have been several programs made from the compositions that made it to the final round.

 If I’m not mistaken, all of the music is original, correct?

We do have a couple compositions this year that are based on preexisting music. One is based on chant, while the other is based on a hymn. The ending product, however, is incredibly original as the compositions have deconstructed and revitalized the original material into something totally new.

Will any of the composers be attending this year’s performances?

As many of the composers live quite a large distance away from Kansas City (several of whom live across the pond) the amount of composers able to attend this year is still unknown. We will be taping this year’s performances, though, and have been skyping in with composers to collaborate on bringing their piece to life.

How many new singers do you have this year? How many are returning from last year?

29 total, 18 are returning from previous years. Many of the returning members have been with us since the beginning.

What is the thought or reason for having two different venues for each performance? Why not have both at the same place?

We’d  like to have the opportunity to reach as many people in the city as possible. By offering locations downtown and one further south, we are hoping to provide a place convenient to reach from anywhere in the area. We also want to bring our music to the many wonderful venues that Kansas City has to offer. Although they each present their challenges, we are able to discover new things about each piece whenever we sing in a new space.

 Where did you have the recording session I saw posted on the Facebook Page?

We took a huge step for our organization this year and recorded all of our music beforehand. This way, we are able to provide composers with a much higher quality recording in addition to the live recording from our concerts. We were lucky enough to record at Swarthout Recital Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, KS and had a great experience!

 Tell us a bit about what was recorded and when it will be available?

We recorded our entire program and our CD will be available for purchase at both of our concerts! It’s been a busy few weeks, to say the least!Thanks so much for your help in promoting our concerts and organization as a whole! Just a reminder, KC VITAs is a 501(c)(3) organization and all donations made in support of our organization are tax-deductible and help to continue our mission to promote the continued creation and performance of contemporary-classical vocal music. We will be working on becoming even more present during the year in the time to come with many exciting ideas in the works!

Excellent. Thank you Jackson! I am really looking forward to the concert. And thank you for your commitment to bringing great music to our community!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Miles, Kronos and Monk

On a rainy Spring afternoon in 1984, I had a life altering musical experience. I was a music major in my first year of college at Indiana State University. I know I've explained in this journal many times that I am a violinist, but I should also remind you that I also play the bass and the guitar. During my Junior year of high school, I started playing the acoustic bass in the jazz band which coincided with my exploration of the jazz repertoire. During college, I continued to play jazz while pursuing my classical violin studies. Most of my playing consisted of small jazz ensembles at school and outside gigs with local musicians at coffee shops etc.
Anyway, music students have to listen (or "get to" listen to I should say) music as part of the curriculum, and the University maintained a listening lab with a pretty extensive library of albums (yes, vinyl albums). Students would go the the lab, show their student ID and check out a record to take to one of the listening stations that were lined up in a room with small desks with partitions. Each station had a set of headphones. You get the picture......
So on this Spring day, I was looking through the jazz collection and saw this record (See above). cool. I mean...WAY cool, this dude with the trumpet and shades. I will confess that in hindsight, I am embarrassed that I had no idea who this dude was. I had only really started listening to jazz the year before during my Senior year of high school. During my Junior year, I only played the sheet music that the band director chose for the jazz band, and what little jazz I heard at that time was big band jazz. I had not yet been exposed to bebop or any other jazz. And still at the time, 99% of my music listening was devoted to classical music.
So I take this record with the cool trumpet player on the cover and go to the listening stall at the end of the row which happens to be the one I like the most, and I cue up this album. For some reason, I am the only student in the listening lab at that moment.
I lower the arm and the stylus makes contact with the vinyl.
From the silence, a pop as the stylus finds the groove. Then I hear a piano playing A and G, followed by a saxophone playing a G, and then Miles on trumpet hitting a high D...muted and very close to the microphone. I had never heard anything like it. Sublime. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I listened to this track over and over. It took me to a place I had never been before. I stared at the cover and wondered who this musical wizard was.

Miles didn't write Round Midnight....Thelonious Monk did in 1938. Many artists have recorded it. I think Miles' 1957 recording is the best. The Miles Davis Quintet consisted of Red Garland on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums, Paul Chambers on bass and John Coltrane on tenor saxophone.
From that moment forward, I listened to every Miles Davis record I could get a hold of. A new world had been opened up to me and I enjoyed exploring it.
The following year, the Kronos Quartet came to the University to give a concert. Kronos is a string quartet that is best known for playing new and contemporary classical music. They were somewhat avant garde at the time and there was a big buzz surrounding their appearance on campus. I went to the concert and really enjoyed it. But it was their final number that stood out....Round Midnight.
I have written fairly often in this journal about the fusion of musical styles and genres...the crossing of musical lines and such. This recording by Kronos certainly falls into that discussion. A truly classical ensemble playing a jazz standard. I think it works very well. The voices of violins, viola and cello offer a wonderful tone and flavor to this tried and true melody.

P.S. As good as the Miles Davis album Round Midnight is, I did come to believe that the BEST Miles Davis album is in fact Kind of Blue from (1959). Check that out too.