Stirring Up Excitement

American pianist Garrick Ohlsson plays during rehearsal of Special Concert on the 200th Anniversary of Fryderyk Chopin?s Birth at Warsaw PhilharmonicAs founder of The Friends of Chamber Music, Cynthia Siebert plans the organization’s season, much like preparing a multi-course meal that is mixed with decadent flavors. She has burgeoning artists whose fledgling careers are taking shape on the world stage to veterans whose deftness at their musical craft is second to none.

The Friends of Chamber Music’s mission statement is a combination of seven ideals including: nurturing and refreshing the soul and mind; binding the community together with shared values; stimulating the public imagination; engaging the audience in conversations; and upholding the highest artistic standards of excellence and elegance, truthfulness and authenticity.

Throughout the years, The Friends has developed and grown to comprise three series: The International Chamber Music Series, The Master Pianists Series, and The Early Music Series. The Master Pianists Series is considered by many in the industry to be one of the nation’s leading series of its kind, and The Friends serves as the region’s primary presenter of early music. In addition to concert presentations, The Friends has presented more than 1200 performances through its Music Connection program, and more than 100 performances with Rob Kapilow. And now they have added the Music Alliance Series with University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance.

The second half of the season starts up in late January with the Horszowski Trio. The trio of Jesse Mills, Raman Ramakrishnan, and Rieko Aizawa formed the trio in 2011. Aizawa was the last pupil of the legendary pianist, Mieczysław Horszowski (1892-1993), at the Curtis Institute. The Trio takes inspiration from Horszowski’s musicianship, integrity, and humanity. Like Horszowski, the Trio presents repertoire spanning the traditional and the contemporary. On Jan. 23, the trio will be performing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s White Recital Hall. They will also work with Conservatory students in various master classes. They will play trios composed by Faure, Wuorinen and Schumann. The concert is a partnership with The Friends of Chamber Music and the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance.

On Jan. 31, pianist Garrick Ohlsson returns to the master pianist series. He rose to fame as the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition winner and is regarded as one of the world’s leading exponents of the music of Frédéric Chopin. He will perform Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major, The Fountain of the Aqua Paola by Griffes and Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor.

While Siebert gets excited about all the acts she brings to Kansas City, there is a sort of double treat with the FORTE film offering Feb. 4 as part of film series at The Tivoli and the related performance of the Venice Baroque Orchestra with Philippe Jaroussky on Valentine’s Day. This concert is a partnership with the Performing Arts Series at JCCC and will be at the Carlsen Center. The 1994 film Farinelli explores the rise of castrato Carol Broschi (known as Farinelli) who was one of the most famous opera singers of the 1700s. The Italian film features the soprano Ewa Malas-Godlewska and countertenor Derek Lee Ragin. The film series has been around for a few years, Siebert says. “We have such a good friend in Jerry Harrington of the Tivoli. By pairing films and concerts, we find that we can give an audience the taste of a composer and some of the history. It whets people’s appetites and encourages them to attend the concert and then learn more on their own time.”

Singer Jaroussky, born and raised in France, studied piano and violin at the Paris Conservatory, but he soon found fame as a countertenor, having studied with soprano Nicole Fallen. His current recording, paired with renowned soprano Cecilia Bartoli, is of Farinelli’s arias composed by Nicola Porpora. “Handel wanted Farinelli in his operas so the history of these composers is wickedly fun to learn. If a male child showed vocal promise, they could be stars, Siebert says. Castrati were often from poor and desperate families, and were inadvertently administered lethal doses of opium or some other narcotic, or were killed by overlong compression of the carotid artery in the neck (intended to render them unconscious during the castration procedure.)

“So, clearly classical music has a rich history. It is full of stories and sensuous music,” she says. “It was written and performed by men of bone, blood and marrow. There is courage in the music. If people get to see and hear these attributes when they come to a program, all the better. I heard Philippe Jaroussky for the first time about six years ago. The flexibility and range of his voice is so beautiful. His voice is lyrical and crystalline.”

Siebert says she makes decisions based on many factors. Certain groups or acts tour infrequently. Others such as chamber orchestras are harder to plug into a schedule, she says. “I am also not one to program prodigies. I believe these young musicians have to gain maturity. As an example, I first heard pianist Ben Grosvenor when he was 14 years old. He’s 21 now. His concerts and recordings have seasoned him.”

Another Music Alliance concert is the modern percussion group So Percussion Feb. 5. “Percussion instruments are often relegated to the back of the orchestra. At one time, they led people into battle, inspiring them to fight. It’s how we assign roles and So Percussion is determined to change that. I am excited to bring them here. I really believe people will be surprised as this quartet as they create many of their own instruments. It’s a learning opportunity not only for the students at UMKC, but for the audience.”

The Friends of Chamber Music marks their 38th anniversary with this season. Siebert says she has learned and still has more to learn about presenting concerts. She relies on many local experts to help her. Dr. William Everett, a retired professor from the Conservatory provides many of the pre-concert talks. “He helps an audience relate to the music better. He makes the music, the composers and the musicians that much more accessible. I don’t want classical music to stay in an ivory tower and neither does Bill. However, neither of us wants to present watered-down information.”

Siebert, because she lives in the city, gets to hear from audience members. “I get to hear what people enjoy. A police officer attended one of the master pianist series concerts and played for two hours when he returned home. He found some inspiration. We all bring our personal knowledge to what we hear and see. Our excellent program notes help in providing the mix of history and insight. And while we look back, we continue to plan. As a matter of fact I am working on the programming for our 40th anniversary season too.”

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