An Evening of Rodrigo and Prokofiev at Helzberg Hall
After dinner at Pierpont’s in Union Station, we made our way over to the symphony hall, arriving a few minutes before the orchestra took the stage. Tonight is a big departure from our usual Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Particularly of interest to us were the second and third groups on the program. The second was Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra, which was performed by Jiyeon Kim, a guitar virtuoso.
We ended up with a special surprise because Kim’s mother had flown to Kansas City all the way from South Korea, so Jiyeon came out and did an encore, playing a song she used to perform as a child, which she dedicated to her mom. I wish I knew the name of the piece but it escapes me because she didn’t have a microphone when she announced it. Her technical mastery was awe-inspiring. I don’t think I’ve ever been fortunate enough to observe that sort of control on a guitar.
If you’ve never heard this particular concerto, it’s like something out of the Wild West. It’s magical in a way few other musical pieces are. My personal favorite is the second movement, when you have this lonely, haunting melody being exchanged between the guitar and the oboe. Here is a recording I found on YouTube from the United Kingdom.
Skip to 6:50 to hear the second movement. It immediately changes the spirit of a room and transports you to a different place.
The third group was Prokofiev’s Selections from Romeo and Juliet. Though, let’s be fair – it’s really all about the Montagues and Capulets / Dance of the Knights. I sometimes hear it blasting from Aaron’s office. It makes his work seem very dramatic. If I were on the design team for Civilization VI, I’d make it Russia’s war music as you begin marching troops across the battlefield. If you’ve never heard it, here is a video of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada performing the work.
It was originally commissioned for a ballet before multiple companies broke the contract because they deemed it too intimidating. Turn up your speakers, put on a ushanka, and prepare to lay waste to your enemies.
Maybe that explains Russia’s current failings. When that march begins at 1:10, you can’t help but want to invade something. If all of your composers are turning out music like this, it’s only a matter of time before you join arms with your fellow comrades and march across the frozen wasteland to spread the glory of Mother Russia.
This is especially true when you are surrounded by statues like “The Motherland Calls” … look how enormous it is compared to the people at her feet. I don’t know about you, but it makes me want to start a Cold War, maybe build a couple of thermonuclear submarines, and threaten the total annihilation of all who dare to question the superiority of my people. I mean, that’s normal, right? I’m not sure how I’ll get over my dislike for almost all non-burned off alcohol outside of cooking, because I think injecting vodka into your veins is a prerequisite for brotherhood. I’ll do my best. The music demands it of me. Sacrifices must be made.
Seriously, though, every time we return to this place, whether for the opera or the symphony (the two halls share an atrium), I’m impressed by what Moshe Safdie, the architect, achieved. There simply isn’t a bad seat in the house (every seat is designed to be a maximum of 100 feet from the stage). Every ticket is great. The rows are arranged so it is practically impossible to have your view obstructed. The acoustics are fantastic. The glass walls that overlook Kansas City always cause me to stop and appreciate the landscape. The best part? No tax dollars were used to construct this. It was conceived, paid for, and constructed by a specially setup 501(c)3 non-profit that enjoyed a huge backing from the Kauffman and Heltzberg families, the latter of which sold their chain of diamond and jewelry stores to Berkshire Hathaway a couple of decades ago, providing them the windfall to do things like this.
Actually, a picture won’t suffice. I know I have a video of it on my camera somewhere. Give me a minute, I’ll upload it to YouTube so you get an idea of the scale of the interior …
There. It’s short, but put it on 1080p HD and make it full screen. See what I mean? It’s one of the best designed, functional, well-thought out buildings I’ve ever seen. The red carpeted side (you can see the reflection on the ceiling of the spiral walkways) is the opera, while the blue carpeted side is the symphony.
If you’re interested in the architecture, here is a tour of the place … it’s the largest enclosed glass and cable structure in the world, the lobby is larger than a football field. It’s magnificent. I love when things are done perfectly with quality being the single most important factor.