Classical horizons

The Kansas City Chamber Orchestra was joined by students from the Park University's International Center for Music at Helzberg Hall this past weekend for a program of nineteenth-century concertos by young artists with outstanding approaches to the repertoire.

I admit: seeing a program of popular works by only nineteenth-century European composers does not often thrill me. This weekend, however, the performances of such works by the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra and students from the Park University International Center for Music entertained me to a surprising level. The concert took place at Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and featured familiar concertos performed by students from the Park ICM in addition to some who sat in with the supporting ensemble.

The program opened with Beethoven’s Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43, a two-act ballet composed in 1801 that featured the overture followed by an introduction, fifteen numbers, and a finale. Dissonant chords at the beginning and subsequent introduction entered with a warm sound that continued throughout entire evening. The tempo of the Allegro felt controlled if slightly reserved overall. Seated extremely close to the stage for this performance, I felt that there were some timbres that were missed in the winds, however some high woodwind flourishes did float over the ensemble, and the final edge in the trumpets was more than I would have expected for a Beethoven overture, but pleasing nonetheless.

Born in Uzbekistan, cellist Mansur Kadirov began studies at the Park ICM in 2010. For this program, he performed Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33. With a premiere in 1877, this work demonstrates the various cultural influences around Moscow in the 1870s, including an earlier French sytle called rococo. The theme certainly fits this style: delightful, graceful, and anything but grandiose. Kadirov was exciting in his performance, and even as he relinquished thematic material to the Orchestra, his calm stage presence still commanded my focus. The ensemble did not match his energy in some call-and-response sections, lacking the spirit of the music at times. Some of Kadirov’s lyrical moments created a suspended stillness in the audience, yielding once to a break in the music due to applause before a faster variation began. While the slower sections were beautiful, his technical playing was no joke. Overall, this was a wonderful performance of a charming work.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64, is one of the most recognizable concertos for the instrument, especially for anyone who took an undergraduate music history course. The performance by Igor Khukhua, however, was perhaps the most straightforward I’ve ever heard. Originally from Russia, Khukhua chose to move to Kansas City and study at the Park ICM in 2016. Though structured in a traditional sonata form, the first movement foregoes the standard orchestral introduction and allows the soloist to begin playing a passionate theme that is often an earworm for this listener. There was little futzing with the music for Khukhua, who played through the lines with a directness that made me listen closer and wonder if he possibly had somewhere urgent to be after the piece. This approach might have taken the Orchestra by some surprise, especially with the introduction to the secondary theme; Steven McDonald, Director of Orchestral Activities at the Park ICM, and conductor for the first two concertos of the evening, attempted to pull the woodwinds along in this moment, although they seemed to fall back into the standard, more emotive playing of this romantic section. Khukhua made the Andante feel more like a nostalgic aria than the second movement of a violin concerto, and was nimble throughout the more technical passages without making them sound harsh. The final movement allowed the Orchestra to fill the hall with a larger sound than previously in the evening, and Khukhua maintained great control throughout the bouncy lines and lengthy runs that make up this exciting conclusion.

Kenny Broberg has made a great name for himself in Kansas City as a student at the Park ICM, and around the world as the winner of the silver medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2017. For this program, he performed Beethoven’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5, “Emperor,” which premiered in 1811 and demonstrates the composer’s masterful knowledge of writing for the piano and full orchestra. The Orchestra, led by Bruce Sorrell, Music Director of the KCCO and conductor of the Beethoven works on this program, began with incredible sound in the opening chords separated by flashy runs in the piano. Broberg was brilliant in this performance, particularly with his ability to transition between delicate playing and a harsher quality of sound, sometimes within the same line of music. His soft playing in the Adagio was incredible, and he made great, interesting phrases of repeated passages while the Orchestra played the thematic material. In the final movement, his trills and tremolos never felt static, and the timing between the soloist and the timpani was well done before the final flourish that sent the audience into fit of reactive and well-deserved ovation.

The program presented this weekend by the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra not only provided another chance to hear some popular concertos, but also displayed some young, local artists with exceptional talent that will certainly go forth and continue to make the city proud.

Kansas City Chamber Orchestra and Park University International Center for Music
New Spring Horizons
Friday, April 27, 2018
Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
1601 Broadway Blvd., Kansas City, MO
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Cover photo: Kenny Broberg