Almost ironically the first three or four definitions of the word “evolution” fit the journey of the Kansas City Chorale from its inception 30 years ago to its current place in Kansas City’s arts community to its hopeful and growing future.
• One set of prescribed movements
• A process of change in a certain direction
• The process of working out or developing
• The historical development of a biological group
Patrons and friends of the Kansas City Chorale have offered their opinions for the early March concerts. “If you sing what people want to hear, they’ll come see you.” Artistic Director and Conductor Charles Bruffy will conduct the Chorale’s most beloved repertoire. Also on the program to celebrate Franz Liszt’s 200th birthday and the start of the Paschal season, Via Crucis, one of Liszt’s most daring and original compositions. The shows are March 4, March 6 and March 13. (See page 73 for locations.)
The Chorale will also take the stage at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Helzberg Hall May 12. The concert will focus on Russian composer Georgy Vasilyevich Sviridov, who lived from 1915 to 1998. The Chorale also plans to record again with the Phoenix Chorale.
“The excitement to perform in Helzberg Hall is palpable,” he says. Bruffy also serves as the Kansas City Symphony chorus director so he is very familiar with the sound at Helzberg Hall. “I have confidence in the room and in the singers. Obviously the acoustics are going to behave differently with 24 singers versus an orchestra, but we really are accustomed to that. The joy will be a chance to challenge the hall with the pianissimo of 24 singers. The room will sing with us. It will be fun to play within the space.
Executive Director Don Loncasty has been with the Kansas City Chorale since 2000. He calls Bruffy a leader and a leader who knows how to influence people. “No one can work in a vacuum. It’s 30 years worth of putting out good work to an audience.”
Toward the beginning of the Chorale’s start in Kansas City, Bruffy managed all the rehearsals and assisted the Director John Goldsmith, who flew in for performances. “We have always been a unique group. It’s a professional choir that has been paid from the first year. The other group I conduct, the Phoenix Chorale, has been around for 53 years.” »»
“Thirty years is a milestone. It’s a rich history that includes wonderful singers who have been part of this journey. Then you add the board members and friends. There are so many who have helped us get where we are today.” Bruffy has served as the conductor and artistic director for 25 years. During the early years, Bruffy says, he neglected those thank-yous and he is hoping to make up for some of those accolades. “It’s gratifying to have been awarded the respect of my colleagues and patrons. If the creation of an art is paralleled to traveling on a trip, you get to a certain point and with the choral art, that point is the possibility of uniting intonation, blend, dynamics, sincerity and genuineness for a concert or recording. So when you get to here, thinking it might be the place where we try to live in, it’s really the place where the challenge begins anew. When the goal becomes the starting place, people aim to improve their skills and depth, not only as a musician, but also as a person.”
The Kansas City Chorale has recorded compact discs for Nimbus Records and Chandos, two British labels. “That wasn’t the goal. Even the Grammy nominations and wins weren’t the goal. The idea was to create as refined an art as we possibly could.” Recordings have included American Christmas carols, Brahms, Shakespeare, hymns to the Virgin Mary and a collection of American choral music.
Emotion, integrity and a love of music still inspires Bruffy, 25 years into his run as director. “When people hear us sing, they need to feel something. We singers are historians, poets, interpreters, actors, dancers and magicians. When we draw on all of those tools, music comes in balance. It’s a blast to consider all these things and bring in the depth and vulnerability to the music. In a sense, we invite the audience to become vulnerable and open to join in the experimental sound,” he says. “As an American conductor and choir, we are responsible to expose listeners, either through CDs or our concerts, we share a variety of cultures and eras, but every moment needs to be immediate and fresh.”
With the Phoenix Chorale, Bruffy has performed works of contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo. The Kansas City Chorale has performed works of American contemporary composer Rene Clausen. “Even when the choirs and I have a chance to collaborate with the composers, a curious thing happens. The piece finds it own timing, tempo, dynamic and shape. A piece often migrates until it finds its identity.”
Loncasty says he expects the next 30 years to be even more creative. “Our audiences and future audiences expect us to be innovative. We will enhance our international reputation with tours and more recordings. We want to reflect even more of the cultural fabric of the city.” Bruffy says he plans to take the experience and wisdom of what has been gained in the past 30 years and build on that. “We aim for continued artistic freedom. For me personally, I plan to continue to explore the possibilities in sound and in communicating sensations to our listeners.”
In partnership with KCPT, The Local Show will present its art segment on the Kansas City Chorale March 29. l