A love fest of music: Festival Singers celebrate 20 years

Time flies when you’re spreading love. It has been 20 years since William Baker founded the Kansas City edition of the William Baker Festival Singers, and to celebrate the beginning of its 20th anniversary season, the group will present “Love Revealed” Nov. 5 at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral and Nov. 10 at Queen of the Holy Rosary Church in Overland Park.

It’s obvious that William Baker is driven by a love for music. He founded his original Festival Singers in Atlanta in 1985, and when he moved to Kansas City in 1998, he immediately created a Festival Singers here. He still maintained his Atlanta group by flying back and forth between cities almost every week. Baker still conducts the Summer Singers in Atlanta, but now Andrew Phillip Schmidt conducts the Atlanta group the rest of the year.

As Baker reflected on his 20-year history with the Kansas City Festival Singers, a theme began to emerge.

“I kept coming back to ideas about how much love has been shared by the Festival Singers in friendships, marriages, birth of new children, and emotional and spiritual connections,” Baker said. “I couldn’t come up with a better theme for this year than love. There’s so much anger, intolerance and rancor around us in the world, if we believe love conquers all, maybe this is what we should sing and proclaim.”

“Love Revealed” will begin with Samuel Barber’s stunning “Agnus Dei.” Set to the same gorgeous melody as the composer’s famous Adagio for Strings, it’s one of the most moving American works in the choral repertoire. There’s much more American music (a Baker specialty) on the program, including a selection of 19th century folk hymns.

“My great grandfather on my mother’s side is listed in a 19th century census as a ‘hog-farmer and singing school master,’ so my love for American folk hymns, commonly called ‘Sacred Harp,’ is in my blood,” Baker said. “This music is often maligned and misunderstood. I don’t think it should be sung in the harsh and crass manner so common to modern performance. The inherent loveliness of the tunes and open harmonies is haunting.”

Baker has also programmed the motet “Christus factus est” by 19th century German composer Anton Bruckner. The motet, which shows the influence of Richard Wagner, takes its text from the Mass for Maundy Thursday. Baker says he chose the motet because it describes Christ’s loving obedience.

In addition to the Festival Singers, Baker oversees the Institute for Healthy Singing and the Jane Sullivan Choral Resource Library and brings scholars to Kansas City, especially in the area of spirituals and gospel music. Baker is also planning to take his ensemble to China in 2019 or 2020.

“We can’t fix the globe, but we can do our part as passionately as possible,” he said. “I pray that we keep growing in artistic excellence and consistency and that we keep expanding in our diversity. I still have a way to go before retirement, and there is nothing that would draw me away from Kansas City. We’ll enjoy every minute of our 20th anniversary celebration, and then it’s back to work on the next 20 years.”

2 p.m. Nov. 5 at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St., and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church, 7023 W. 71st St., Overland Park. $5-$40. Tickets available at the door or at tinyurl.com/ydcms7dg. To learn more about the William Baker Festival Singers, visit festivalsingers.org.

Kansas City Symphony

Charles Bruffy has the music of Johannes Brahms in his bones. His recording of the composer’s choral music with the Kansas City Chorale is clear proof that he is a world-class Brahmsian. So when Robert Spano, conductor of the Atlanta Symphony, comes to town to conduct Brahms’ German Requiem with the Kansas City Symphony and the Symphony Chorus under Bruffy’s direction, you know you’re in for a monumental time.

The Symphony will perform Brahms’ choral masterpiece Nov. 3-5 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

In contrast to the weightiness of the Brahms, the first half of the concert will be devoted to the airy but no less profound music of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess” sets the tone of the concert with sweet sorrow, while Debussy’s impressionist two nocturnes for orchestra, “Nuages” (Clouds) and “Fêtes” (Festivals) paint musical pictures worthy of Claude Monet.

8 p.m. Nov. 3 and 4 and 2 p.m. Nov. 5. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$82. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.

Friends of Chamber Music

The Friends of Chamber Music will present Trio Solisti, which The New Yorker magazine calls “the most exciting trio in America,” in a recital Nov. 3 at the 1900 Building. The group — violinist Maria Bachmann, cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach and pianist Fabio Bidini — will perform music by Franz Joseph Haydn and Antonín Dvořák. A highlight of the program is Ernest Chausson’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 3.

Chausson’s music, although influenced by Richard Wagner and distinctly Romantic, also anticipates the music of the French impressionists like Claude Debussy and is not heard often enough in concert. The trio that Trio Solisti will perform is one of Chausson’s early works, written when the composer was still firmly in the Romantic camp and under the sway of Cesar Franck.

7:30 p.m. Nov. 3. 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods. $35. 816-561-9999 or chambermusic.org.



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