Kansas City Symphony, under the direction of Associate Conductor Aram Demirjian, presented its next to last concert of the 2014 Uncorked series on April 17 to a capacity audience at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Helzberg Hall and featured the signature piece, An American in Paris, by American composer George Gershwin.
Demirjian took the stage, greeted the audience, introduced the evening and prepared the audience for the hour long concert that featured the Gershwin piece along with compositions by Offenbach, Bizet, and Debussy.
The show began with Overture to La Vie Parisienne, by Offenback/Wolff and got the evening off to a light opening. The piece is described by KCS as “Bouncy and jaunty, conveying an air of enthusiasm and vitality."
“Premiered in 1866, Offenbach’s music for La Vie Parisienne is as light and frothy as the plot of the operetta. Barons, a baroness, a Brazilian millionaire, copious amounts of champagne, intrigue, a masked ball, risqué humor, and gentle satire all lead up to the requisite happy ending” the KCS program stated.
Next, Suite No. 1 from L’Arlesienne by Bizet followed in the same mode with music known and heard before.
According to the program, “Bizet only took about six weeks to write incidental music for L’Arlesienne, a melodramatic play by Alphonse Daudet about a young peasant Frederi’s love for a girl from Arles in Provence, France. Shortly after the production, he rescored some of the music for full orchestra resulting in this suite. While the play ran for just 21 performances, the music has become an enduring favorite with audiences the world over.”
The third of the five pieces included for the evening concert, Nocturnes by Debussy, gave Demirjian the opportunity to reach out to the audience and teach them the pentatonic scale. To instruct, Demirjian asked the audience to sing a note he vocalized. Then the gave the next note for audience participation. As he jumped left and right to signal the notes he wanted the audience to sing, audience members sang the corresponding notes. Demirjian bounced like a ping-pong ball as he had the audience singing along as he bounced.
He explained that the pentatonic scale was ancient and went back centuries. Demirjian said most would recognize the sound from the Gregorian Chants as a good reflection of the pentatonic scale. He said it came from the Far East and that Debussy was one of the first Western composers to write with its influence. The audience followed the lead of the conductor, sang along, laughed, and then applauded his teaching of the scale.
After that, the beautiful music of Nocturnes II. Fetes (Festivals) filled the concert hall. According to the program, the piece is “vibrant swirls of sound, flashed of instrumental colors eddying about.”
“Fetes gives us the vibrating, dancing rhythm of the atmosphere with sudden flashes of light. There is also the episode of the procession (a dazzling fantastic version), which passes through the festival scene and becomes merged in it. But the background remains resistantly the same: the festival with its blending of music and luminous dust participating in the cosmic rhythm,” according to program notes.
Another Debussy classic piece, more known than possibly others, Clair de lune provided a gentle and tranquil mood for the audience to enjoy. Demirjian said before the piece that it was one of his favorites and that he had developed a deep enjoyment of the piece through the movie, Oceans Eleven because the piece is featured at the climax of the movie. He directed the piece with flair.
“Clair de lune was originally titled Premenade Sentimentale, part of the Debussy’s Suite bergamasque for piano. First composed around 1890 and significantly revised before publication in 1905, the suite has been orchestrated by many composers but never more beautifully than by Lucian Cailliet,” KCS said.
The final piece, Gershwin’s An American in Paris tied all the pieces together as a modern adaptation of a day in the life of a visitor in Paris. The sounds of jazz bands, taxi horns, street performers and more come to mind as the piece plays.
“This piece describes an American visit to the gay and beautiful city of Paris. We see him sauntering down the Champs-Elysees, walking stick in hand, tilted straw hat, drinking in the sites, and other things as well. We see the effect of the French wine, which makes him homesick for America. And that’s where the blue begins. I mean the blues begin. He finally emerges from his stupor to realize once again that he is in the gay city of Paree, listening to taxi horns, the noise of the boulevards, and the music of the can-can, and thinking, ‘Home is swell.’ But after all, this is Paris so let’s go,” George Gershwin said from, a 1934 radio interview, provided by KCS’ program note.
The final "Classics Uncorked: Women of Notes(s)" is Thursday, May 15 at 7p.m. at The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The concert celebrates female composers, characters and historical figures who have inspired great music. According the KCS, the concert includes Beethoven’s Overture to Leonore and selections from Bizet’s Carmen and more.
The entirety of the concert is: Rossini Overture to L'Italiana in Algeri (German edition); Unsuk Chin Prelude to Scene V from Alice in Wonderland (Mad Tea Party); Chamiinade Concertino in D Major for Flute and Orchestra, op. 107; Bizet/Hoffman Suite No. 1 from Carmen I. Prélude, Ia. Aragonaise; Bizet/Hoffman Suite No. 2 from Carmen III. Habañera; Bizet/Hoffman Suite No. 1 from Carmen V. Les Toréadors; Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 3, op. 72b.
All tickets are $25 each for the Classics Uncorked series and includes a glass of champagne following the concert. The Classics Uncorked series for the 2014-15 season has not been announced yet, but those who are interested should check back this summer on kcsymphony.org or call the Symphony box office at (816) 471-0400 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays.