Steven Winn examines the resurgence of orchestral music in Kansas City.
“You hear the trembling of the world,” Kansas City Symphony music director Michael Stern promised the packed-house crowd at Helzberg Hall. He was telling the audience what to expect in the premonitory opening moments of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” which the orchestra was about to perform.
When it came, the trembling was a fearsome thing, shimmering and glowering in the strings. Over the next 100 minutes, Stern led his mighty forces (a huge orchestra, choir, two soloists) deeper into the darkness, through patches of pearly bright light and on to a resplendent finish. The hard-working horns shone especially brilliantly, onstage and off, throughout.
For a first-time visitor to this splendid 1600-seat hall, one of two performance spaces in the eye-popping new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, it was impossible not to reflect on what a resurrection, what a rising from the dead, this Super Bowl Sunday afternoon concert represented.
Thirty years ago, in 1982, the city saw its troubled orchestra, the Kansas City Philharmonic, throw in the towel and disband. A group of civic leaders moved quickly to create a successor, the Kansas City Symphony, which performed at the old Lyric Theatre and also played regular concerts at three suburban venues. It was a challenging arrangement. Attracting audiences to the acoustically compromised 3000-seat Lyric in a moribund downtown posed one problem; traveling around to the far-flung suburbs was another. Something had to change.
And so, in a carefully plotted strategy, it did. (more…)