A grand celebration for the Kansas City Symphony

Caroline Goulding
Kansas City Star

By Patrick Neas

The Kansas City Symphony hopes to make a splash at its official season debut in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

The Symphony will perform “The Fountains of Kansas City,” written for the occasion by the internationally acclaimed composer Chen Yi, along with other orchestral showpieces and a piano concerto by Beethoven featuring Emanuel Ax in a Grand Celebration! at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sept. 25.

For the Symphony’s concert in Helzberg Hall, artistic director Michael Stern has chosen a program with oomph, specifically designed to show off Yasuhisa Toyota’s acoustics and the quality of the Symphony’s performance.

The concert will begin with some pyrotechnics by Igor Stravinsky. “Fireworks” was written for the wedding of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s daughter and shows Stravinsky to be a brilliant orchestrator, even in one of his earliest works.

After the curtain-raiser, Emanuel Ax will take the stage for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “The Emperor.”

When asked why the concerto is called “The Emperor,” Ax said: “I think it’s just because it’s a majestic piece. It’s certainly the grandest of Beethoven’s concertos. His piano concertos became more expressive as he went along. Maybe it’s more original — although they’re all original — but this one is very stirring.”

In much of his music, Beethoven seemed to have one foot in the Classical Era and the other in the Romantic.

“I think Beethoven would consider everything he wrote ‘Classical,’ ” Ax said, “but if you’re talking about the feeling of the ‘Emperor,’ well, the second movement is a very romantic movement, not in the sense of the Romantic era, but in feeling it’s very intimate and personal.”

The second half of the program will feature the world premiere of Chen’s “The Fountains of Kansas City.” Inspired by Ottorino Respighi’s popular tone poem “The Fountains of Rome,” the Chinese-born Chen will pay tribute to her adopted hometown with a work that promises to be worthy of the City of Fountains. Speaking of Respighi, the concert will end with his blazing “Pines of Rome.”

Ax is excited to be the featured artist on the Symphony’s concert in Helzberg Hall. “It happens that I know a little bit about Moshe Safdie,” he said. “Any time you have a chance to open a hall designed by him, you jump at the opportunity. And I also know Toyota very well. Every hall he does seems to be wonderful. I’m no expert at acoustics, but his sound is amazing. Like Disney Hall in Los Angeles. That’s a magnificent hall.”

Although the Kauffman Center is going to revolutionize the concert-going experience, according to Ax, it’s just one more development in Kansas City’s history of supporting classical music.

“I’ve been coming to Kansas City since the ’70s, and the Symphony’s always been there and every mainstream classical musician has played there,” he said. “Kansas City is a wonderful town for music. I think it’s always been important. But it’s wonderful for the Symphony to have a new home. It will make the orchestra sound better and they’ll be able to work and play better, and that’s all to the good.”

The public is invited to attend a lecture by Emanuel Ax followed by a question-and-answer session at noon Saturday in Helzberg Hall. The event is free, but the Symphony requests reservations; go to www.kcsymphony .org. Tickets for the concerts are almost sold out. To find out about availability, call 816-471-0400.

Concert spotlights young violinist

Violinist Caroline Goulding, who just turned 19, has already had a remarkable career. In addition to winning an Avery Fisher Career Grant, she’s also been recorded by the prestigious Telarc label and is attending the New England Conservatory of Music.

The Harriman-Jewell series will present this prodigiously talented musician in a free Discovery concert at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St.

Goulding started playing the violin at 3  1/2 when her older brothers encouraged her parents to buy her an instrument.

“I had the choice of either the piano or violin,” Goulding said. “I just thought the violin looked more interesting, more like a guitar, so I went with that. I’ve loved playing the violin ever since, even though there’s a lot of work involved.”

For her Kansas City recital, Goulding will be accompanied by pianist Dina Vainstein. They’ll perform music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, George Enescu, Robert Schumann, Gabriel Fauré and Eugene Ysaye.

“I’m very excited about this concert,” Goulding said, “because I haven’t done any of these pieces before. I love Hungarian and Romanian music, so I knew I wanted to explore music by Enescu, who was Romanian. I’ll be playing his Violin Sonata No. 3, which he titled ‘In the Style of Romanian Folk Dances.’ There are lots of gypsy elements to it. Enescu has his own musical language.”

Goulding also will perform the Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Minor by Robert Schumann.

“It’s great, beautiful music,” Goulding said. “It’s a late work, and you can hear what he was going through at the end of his life.”

Schumann was mentally ill and eventually was committed.

“I feel like when you listen to this music, you can hear different characters, the different voices in his head,” Goulding said. “It’s hard to explain. There’s lyricism but it’s also schizophrenic. Perhaps I just like to imagine that for my own musing.”

There is also some French music on the program. Goulding will perform the Romance for Violin and Piano by Fauré.

“I heard Gil Shaham play it and I fell in love with it,” Goulding said. “It’s a beautiful 5-minute piece of music. Fauré wrote it at a ski resort, and it was a very popular piece and was played a lot in cafes. He dedicated it to a mademoiselle who was his crush at the time.”

Goulding will conclude her recital with a work by the 19th century violinist Ysaye, the “Caprice d’après l’etude en forme de Valse de Saint-Saens.”

“It’s very virtuosic with some great variations in it,” she said. “It’s a nice addition to the other works. I feel like I can find connections between all the pieces on the program. They tie together well. They don’t hate each other.”

To print free tickets, go to www.hjseries.org.