Stile Antico's concert of sacred music of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries closed the Friends of Chamber Music's 2013–14 season. The British ensemble's vibrant sound and youthful energy injected new life into these old works.
By Tom Marks, KCMetropolis.comThe Friends of Chamber Music concluded its 2012–13 Early Music Series and concert season on Friday night at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, presenting the British choral ensemble, Stile Antico. The concert, “Treasures of the Renaissance,” was comprised primarily of sacred music of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Stile Antico’s vibrant sound and youthful energy injected new life into these old works, refreshing them in the twenty-first century for Kansas City’s appreciative audience members.
The ensemble opened with Nicolas Gombert’s Magnificat primi toni.
The group’s synchronicity was apparent in this selection. Singing without a conductor, this small choir of twelve voices maintained consistent eye contact, leading each other and maintaining uniformity as an ensemble. Within the Magnificat
, the choir delivered the piece’s varying sections with differing, appropriate moods—most noticeably at the dramatic increase in volume and intensity during the concluding “Gloria Patri.”
Speaking after the opening selection, tenor Andrew Griffiths (who spoke on the ensemble’s behalf throughout the concert), said that their program repertoire was “interesting and varied.” I was initially skeptical about the statement, as much of the program consisted of sacred Latin motets composed approximately within a century of one another. Shortly into the concert, however, Stile Antico demonstrated the diversity of their repertoire, thanks in part to their capable voices, interpretative choices, and attention to each individual piece’s text.
Next fall brings the 38th season of the Friends of Chamber Music, and its lineup of award-winning artists, just announced, will span more than seven centuries of music.
BY LIBBY HANSSEN, Kansas City Star
Expert pianists always play a big role throughout the Friends’ series, and the 2013-14 season will be no exception. Keyboard artists hailing from four countries will play on the Folly Theater stage. Returning masters include Russian Vladimir Feltsman and American Garrick Ohlsson (a Kansas City favorite), with first-time performances by Brazilian-born Arnaldo Cohen and Benjamin Grosvenor, the 20-year-old British talent who is earning enormous critical success (and who studied with Cohen).
The Pacifica Quartet first performed for this series more than 20 years ago and has since garnered an international reputation, numerous awards and prestigious residencies. The Star described its 2005 appearance as “memorable for the ensemble’s refined sonority, superlative technical command and sophisticated musicianship.”
Pianist Jonathan Biss, along with the Elias Quartet and three wind players, performed works of Mozart, Janáček, and Schumann for The Friends of Chamber Music on Saturday afternoon. Though the works were for chamber ensemble, their scope was that of full concerti.By Lee Hartman, KCMetropolis.com
Saturday afternoon’s concert by Jonathan Biss and the Elias Quartet for the Friends of Chamber Music was a mixture of success and schlock. Less than 24 hours after performing a more intimate concert of the same composers’ works, here the Folly audience got to witness more rambunctious offerings.
Biss and Elias opened with Mozart’s sanctioned quartet version of his Concerto No. 13 in C major, K. 415. Biss’s touch and understanding of Mozart’s music is wonderful. His playing is clear and precise with wonderful articulations and sense of line. The Elias Quartet was not a good match. They struggled stylistically with Mozart’s delicateness and played coldly throughout. First violinist Sara Bitlloch seemed especially out-of-sorts with a too-strident tone and many unwanted sound artifacts, like uncharacteristic portamenti and scratches. The final moments of the closing Allegro were delightful, though, as the music dissipated into the ether.
American pianist Jonathan Biss gets more relaxed, more interesting and more musical every time he appears in Kansas City. Friday night at the Folly Theater was no exception.
By John Heuertz, Kansas City Star
Biss appeared in a Friends of Chamber Music concert with the Elias Quartet, a splendid English group of four string voices speaking with one mind, as part of Biss’ 2013 Schumann Project in five cities, three countries and two continents.
Even though there are only two of them, Mozart’s piano quartets defined the genre. These quartets are far beyond Mozart’s instrument quartets written in Paris in the late 1770s.
The sweet, sunny 1786 quartet in E-flat opened Friday’s program, and Biss and the quartet had fun playing it. It featured beautifully executed piano-violin dialogue and startling harmonies, the latter thanks to the Elias’ squeaky-clean inner voicing.
Pianist Jonathan Biss tempered a highly emotional performance with a quiet and introverted stage presence Friday night at the Folly Theater, directing all his energies to the keyboard with no superfluous asides.
BY Libby Hanssen, Special to The Star
He is touring “Schumann: Under the Influence,” a project three years in the making that examines the works and influence of Robert Schumann, as well as that of his predecessors.
Friday night’s concert, presented by Friends of Chamber Music, featured the second solo piano recital program for this project, a wide-reaching endeavor that includes chamber ensemble collaborations. This concert also included works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Leos Janacek.
Biss proved himself a master of the miniature. Most of the evening’s pieces, except the Mozart selections, were published as cycles or in volumes, with each of the movements ranging in length from one to five minutes. Yet each portion had its own distinct sound world and was succinctly, if sometimes turbulently, emotive.
Pianist Jonathan Biss has been performing a series of concerts called “Schumann Under the Influence” in some of the world’s great music capitals, places like San Francisco, London, Hamburg, Amsterdam and, thanks to Cynthia Siebert and the Friends of Chamber Music, Kansas City.
by Patrick Neas, The Kansas City Star (excerpt from the article "Grammy-winning Kansas City Choral will take a victory lap")
He performed the first recital of the series in November, and March 8 he’ll return to the Folly Theater to play the second. He has programmed not only the music of Robert Schumann, but also works by Leoš Janáèek and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that Biss thinks shed light on the music of Schumann.
Biss will open his recital with the “Fantasiestücke” Op. 12 by Schumann.
“It simply means fantasy pieces,” Biss said. “So much of Schumann’s piano music uses the word fantasy in one way or another. Kreisleriana is subtitled ‘Fantasy for piano,’ and there’s his Fantasy in C, one of his great piano works.
“The idea of fantasy was very important to Schumann in general. I think he was not at his most comfortable in the traditional forms, like the sonata or symphony.
“He felt that freedom was the most important prerequisite for writing great music. So that’s the significance of the title. They are snapshots, eight character pieces which present an image or idea and are over almost as quickly as they begin.”
Hats off to the Friends of Chamber Music for bringing one of the most acclaimed pianists of his generation to the Folly Theater for his first-ever performance in Kansas City. This Friday night, as part of the Friends’ series, Alexander Melnikov will perform music by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Prokofiev.
BY PATRICK NEAS
Special to the Star
Melnikov, who is also a pilot, likes to take to the sky when he isn’t in the concert hall. Asked if there was any connection between flying and music, Melnikov replied “In one word, yes. Simply yes.” For his Kansas City debut, Melnikov has chosen a program that soars with virtuosity.
“What I tried to do is make a well-balanced, harmonized program,” he said. “I’m not usually fond of mainstream piano recitals, but since nobody knows me in Kansas City, I wanted to play music that shows my different sides.
“I’ve heard very good things about the Friends of Chamber Music, and I understand it’s one of the top series in the United States, with a knowledgeable and cultivated audience, so I am sure they will be familiar with all of these pieces.”
Louis Lortie’s fascinating program of piano transcriptions offered the Friends of Chamber Music’s audience a glimpse of grandiose opera in an intimate setting.
By Lee Hartman, KCMetropolis.com
Take opera’s most overwrought composer—Richard Wagner—and filter his music through the showman’s lens of Hugo Wolf, Josef Rubinstein, and Franz Liszt, whose music in some circles may also be considered gilded to the extreme. Surprisingly instead of a wash of chordophonic clamoring, Wagner is reimagined, clarified, invigorated, fresh—even for the twenty-first century.
Such was the impetus behind Canadian pianist Louis Lortie’s Friday night recital for the Friends of Chamber Music at the Folly Theater. Robert Schumann’s Papillons
was not out of place in this setting because throughout the piece, the composer conjures many musical characters. Through the waltzes and polonaises, Lortie’s face was that of a character actor expressing humorous motives, dour phrases, wistful rhythms, and merry harmonies. His face complemented his fine playing. Though some pacing at the later cadences seemed awkward, the overall reading was splendid.
All-male quartet New York Polyphony brought a beautiful program of sacred and secular music to the equally beautiful Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception through the Friends of Chamber Music.
By Karen Hauge, KCMetropolis
The first half of New York Polyphony’s concert for the Friends of Chamber Music on Tuesday evening began with Dufay’sConditor alme siderum
, which alternates between unison declamation of the plainsong and the close harmonies of Dufay’s own devising. Led by Craig Phillips’s rich, clear bass, the group immediately impressed with their excellent balance, diction, and individualism that allowed interwoven lines to create a resonant whole.
After the opening piece, the remainder of the first half was structured like the Mass Ordinary, with occasional doubling of certain movements to highlight the differences in sacred composition from the late 13th century to the modern era. A reimagining of the traditional Kyrie
chant by English composer Andrew Smith began the Mass cycle, and the juxtaposition of the unmeasured chant in the countertenor against the regular rhythm and harmonies of the group demonstrated Smith’s thorough knowledge of sacred part-writing while still incorporating unexpected harmonic shifts that set this work apart from the much earlier music on the program.
New York Polyphony quartet presents music from the Middle Ages to today.
BY LIBBY HANSSEN Special to The Star
The warm blend and sumptuous tone of New York Polyphony was the perfect antidote to the chill December air on Tuesday night. During the concert, “I Sing the Birth,” the capacity crowd in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception received a lovely selection of Mass settings and holiday carols that spanned from the Middle Ages to contemporary arrangements.
The all-male quartet, presented by the Friends of Chamber Music, includes Christopher Dylan Herbert (baritone), Craig Phillips (bass), Geoffrey Williams (countertenor) and Steven Caldicott Wilson (tenor).
Their use of the cathedral’s space was impeccable. They needed no amplification for the a capella sonorities to resonate, every entrance beautifully placed and cadence well balanced.