Monday, February 26, 2018

Sunday afternoon at the Kansas City Symphony

I missed the previous concert of the Kansas City Symphony I was scheduled to attend last month when they played the Mahler 7th Symphony....I had the flu! So I was eager to get back to Helzberg Hall yesterday to hear the KCS under the direction of guest conductor, David Zinman. The program for this concert was the Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront by Leonard Bernstein, Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Concerto no.2 in G minor, and Robert Schumann's Symphony no.2.
First of all, the sun returned to Kansas City today. After a week of terrible weather, the sun emerged, the sky was blue and it warmed up to the 50's this afternoon. So my spirits were already high when my mom and I drove to the concert. We arrived early and had a nice glass of wine while we talked and watched others's always fun to people watch.
I was anticipating the Schumann most of all. I keep a CD box set of his 4 symphonies in my car at all favorite is this one:
I have probably listened to all four symphonies at least 10 times over the past year. The second is my favorite, and I was looking forward to this piece the most.
But first, we were treated to On the Waterfront. This season, the KCS is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birth. I, of course, made the mistake of thinking we were going to hear On the Town...a piece he wrote in 1943 for Jerome Robbins' ballet Fancy Free, which led to the Hollywood musical On the Town in 1949. Oooops....but no worries. On the Town is a wonderful work that stands on it's own as a symphonic work. The french horn of Alberto Suarez is the first sound we hear...and the seventeenth note...a deliciously jazzy B-natural, sets the tone for this uniquely American sound. The orchestration calls for double timpani...reminds me of the Doobie Brothers (they used two drummers) and a saxophone. The result is a very rich texture of mood and light. The trumpets were particularly brilliant as Bernstein always gives them lots of room in the mix. And then the drums pound in from a distant pianissimo to a thunderous boom. It reminds me of the beginning of the Arma, caedes, vindictae, furores from Vivaldi's Juditha Triumphans. Maybe that's a stretch,,,but so be it! it was very cool.
Prokofiev wrote his second violin concerto in 1935. I confess, I did not know this work. And as a violinist, it pains me to admit it! The soloist this weekend was Stephen Waarts. He is a very tall, thin young man, with a great tussle of hair. Did I mention he is young? My son Jack is only three months younger than Mr. Waarts which is very humbling. His list of accomplishments is very impressive and his tone and technique on stage today was wonderful. Maestro Zinman and Mr. Waarts formed a unique contrast...Zinman is in his early 80's, so there was 60 years of time separating them. But they were clearly connected and on the same wavelength for the Prokofiev. And I sensed that the orchestra was perfectly dialed in to this musical dialogue. Waarts, Zinman, and the orchestra all seemed to be throwing glances and subtle smiles to each other throughout. And I know why....this is a fantastic concerto...simply wonderful. As I write this, I can't get it out pf my head. Especially the second movement (Andante assai) Let me tell you this. If you know his Classical Symphony from 1918...and everybody probably does...the second movement (Larghetto) employs the same technique of a pulsating opening followed by a soaring melodic line. Fascinating. So I came for the Schumann, but I went home with Prokofiev in my head! The orchestra and soloist were in balance, Waarts' tone was superb, and the individual sections of the orchestra played brilliantly. One more note about Prokofiev...dont forget that he gave a recital in Kansas City in 1926! I wrote about that here:
That's not to say the Schumann was not impressive, because it surely was. Maestro Zinman has had a fantastic career and is a preeminent conductor and teacher. I agree with Maestro Stern...I can't believe this is his first appearance in Kansas City. And for a man in his eighties, he looks to be in excellent health. And impressively, he did not use a score for the Schumann, and he was right on track with each cue and "knit-one, pearl-two" needed to connect all of the phrases that jump from section to section. The third movement (adagio espressivo) is my favorite music of anything by Schumann. It is so gutwrentchingly beautiful and passionate. Longing, yearning, resolution, resignation...I hear all of this. The basses have a tremendous presence is this work...a very powerful, ascending-chromatic passage in the third movement from these six gentlemen was a highlight for sure.
Every section had a chance to shine today...and they all did so brilliantly. Flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, brass, percussion and strings....yep, top notch musicianship from the KCS.
And as you may know, I am fascinated by connections. Leonard Bernstein did an interview in 1953 about the Schumann Symphony no. 2. Of course they never met, but this is a great way to hear how Bernstein feels about one of the greatest composers of all time.

When I got home, I listened to each of these works again and have been thinking a lot about them. To me, this says "great programming!" And its only February...plenty of great music to come this season at the Kansas City Symphony! Don't miss any of it!

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