Soloists Highlight KC Civic’s Strengths (KC Metropolis Review)

By Jordan Buchholtz
Wed, Oct 14, 2015

The Kansas City Civic Orchestra gave a pleasant and enjoyable concert last Saturday evening. Opening with Sibelius’s Finlandia, the ensemble continued with Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp, and ended the concert with the mighty Brahms Symphony No. 2. Two soloists were presented for the Mozart concerto: harpist Rachel Brandwein, who was the winner of the 2014 Mu Phi Epsilon International Solo Competition, and Hannah Porter Occeña. Both of them were terrific assets to the orchestra and led the concerto with elegance and style.

Finlandia was a successful grandiose beginning. The brass section had a gratifyingly strong and bold sound in the opening. The hymn tunes were starkly defined. It took some time for the orchestra to settle, but after the first few bars, the music had a nice flow.

Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major, K. 299 was the highlight of the program.The sounds from soloists Brandwein and Occeña were always beautiful and fluid throughout, and each had their own moments to shine. Orchestras often have trouble staying quiet enough to hear a solo harp or flute, but the KC Civic Orchestra did not have this issue. The first movement had a bouncy and joyous character despite the slight pitch issues in the violins in the beginning. The second movement was slower and more serene while the soloists kept the music moving. The last movement returned to the exuberant character of the first movement. Overall, this concerto is not necessarily a thrilling piece, but Mozart’s style of writing portrayed gracefulness, which Brandwein and Occeña successfully mastered. The ensemble received a standing ovation and the audience was serenaded by a solo harp piece composed by Brandwein called Lost Melody for an encore.

The second half of the program was Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major. The first movement calls for a grand and majestic character, which did not fully come across in the orchestra. Instead, this movement was more calm and phlegmatic. The violins had pitch issues throughout this movement in the running scalar passages that went up to the high register. The second movement began with a wonderful melody by the celli, which set a warm and comforting mood. This movement was more riveting than the first; the orchestra had more excitement as the shifts in harmony became exaggerated. The best moments were when the music switched into the minor mode and when the ensemble’s sound increased to a loud dynamic. The orchestra definitely found the “graceful” tempo marking in the third movement. The momentum in the last movement picked up as the beginning tempo was faster and each instrument section had more notes to play. This wonderful energy was lost in the middle section when the ensemble was quieter, but the momentum returned toward the end. The last section was spirited and glorious, enough for someone to shout “Yeah!” between the final two chords!
Kansas City Civic Orchestra
The Breadth of Brahms
Saturday, October 10, 2015
Atonement Lutheran Church
9948 Metcalf Ave, Overland Park, KS

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There Is Beauty in Sadness (KC Metropolis Review)

By Lee Hartman
Wed, Mar 11, 2015

On the first warm evening of 2015, the Kansas City Civic Orchestra performed a program that was in direct conflict with the day’s sunniness. Saturday’s concert, “Tragic Beauty,” was another packed house for Civic under the direction of Christopher Kelts.

Selections from Jean Sibelius’s Pelléas et Mélisande, an incidental suite from 1905 for Maeterlinck’s play, opened the concert. This unfamiliar work contains many of the Sibelius hallmarks: dark sonorities, waltzes, layered strings, preponderance of English horn, and fleeting moments of grandeur. It took a while for the pitch settle in “At the castle gate” but it was centered for “Mélisande,” which featured a ravishing solo by Anne Sneller on English horn. The movement presents Mélisande as hesitant with its frequently clipped phrase endings and structural pauses. “A spring in the park” contained many rhythmic and pitch inaccuracies across the ensemble and was the least successful of the seven movements performed, which was then followed by the strongest—the wind-dominated “Three blind sisters.” Sibelius’s strange placement of the noble “Entr’acte” as the penultimate movement makes more sense narratively than musically as it is followed by the reflective “The Death of Mélisande.” With muted strings and hushed serenity, the ensemble played with great sensitivity, though the timpani was over-balanced in Atonement Lutheran’s reverberant space.

Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte started with some tempo discrepancies; Kelts wanted to pull the ensemble back, whereas solo horn Matthew Haislip wanted to press forward. This issue was resolved on the famous melody’s repeat at the faster tempo. The ensemble could have played softer throughout and with more freedom as the piece came off more Elgar-like than Ravelian.

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, “Tragic,” has to be the most optimistic “tragic” symphony ever written. While certainly not among the best symphonies ever composed (or even among Schubert’s best, which might be why it wasn’t premiered until nearly 20 years after his death) there were plenty of noteworthy moments in Civic’s performance. Aside from an out-of-tune opening chord in the first movement, the development section was very well played and the ending (in C major) was just exuberant enough. The principal winds shined in the lyrical second movement, but it was the third movement that was the highlight of the piece. More scherzo then menuetto, Kelts and the ensemble rightfully highlighted the jaunty hemiolas in the chromatically inflected melody. Again, not very tragic but delightful. The fourth movement was confidently performed, though could have used more dynamic contrast.

The Kansas City Civic Orchestra is worthy of its capacity audiences. Kelts picks interesting pieces from the repertoire (though they skew Euro-centric and Romantic) that challenge the group but are well within its grasp. His skilled wind section is particularly enviable. The ensemble’s next concert on May 2 features Richard Strauss’s deceptively difficult waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier and shouldn’t be missed.

Kansas City Civic Orchestra
Tragic Beauty

Saturday, March 7, 2015
Atonement Lutheran Church
9948 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, KS

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Echoes of Eastern Europe (Review by KC Metropolis)

By Lee Hartman Tue, Oct 14, 2014
From KC Metropolis

With a subtler program than usual, the Kansas City Civic Orchestra, under the direction of Christopher Kelts, brought the sounds of Bohemia and Jewish culture to Atonement Lutheran Church on Saturday evening.

The minor mode and a prevailing sense of melancholy embodied the Kansas City Civic Orchestra’s opening concert of its 56th season, but fine communal playing kept a metaphorical light shining through the proceedings.

Bedřich Smetana’s nationalist “Moldau” from Ma Vlast opened the concert. The programmatic work traces the Moldau river from its source in the mountains, through the Czech countryside and forests, over rapids, past a wedding feast, and through the city of Prague. From the burbling flutes to thunderous percussion the piece is wonderfully evocative. The opening flute line wasn’t as seamless as it needed to be because it was evident which player was playing at which time. However, the strings on their main theme were warm and rich. The rapids section lacked some of the required drama. The final section was well balanced and grand though.

The Overture on Jewish Themes by Sergey Prokofiev was a strange-yet-delightful, unfamiliar work. The clarinets were superb in their filtered-through-Prokofiev’s-pen Klezmer lines. Prokofiev model of toccata, melody, and invention were in equal partnership with the Jewish source material. My only complaint is the entire piece lacked an upper dynamic—a rarity for community ensembles! The softs were beautiful (and the addition of the piano gave some extra body) but the louds were understated for Prokofiev.

Hyerim Jeon, Cellist

Cellist Hyerim Jeon stepped in last minute to solo on Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. The pair of Hebrew melodies for obbligato cello and orchestra is an exercise in lyricism. I often refer to Bruch as “Brahms with exoticism” because the harmonies are dark and rich with emphasis on low timbres. The bassoons got carried away with this predisposition and at times overpowered. Jeon is a capable, expressive player, but the lack of rehearsal time showed as the soloist and orchestra seemed unwilling to budge in their perceived interpretation of the work making Jeon perform more rigidly than desired.

Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 closed the program in fine fashion despite a few wrong notes and intonation slips. The woodwinds, especially the oboes, played the second movement wonderfully with clear lines, delicate articulations, and appropriate style. The brass tonguing also was commendable. Conductor Christopher Kelts emphasized the dramatic mercurial shifts of the piece, including the odd coda of the third movement and the insanely fun horn line in the final movement.

Kansas City Civic Orchestra
Echoes of Eastern Europe

Saturday, October 11, 2014
Atonement Lutheran Church
9948 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, KS

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Brett Gibson performs with Kansas City Civic Orchestra

From the May, 2007 United States National Accordion News on-line

Kansas City based musician Brett Gibson received a rousing standing ovation and encore performance for his rendition of Piazzolla’s Concerto when he made his debut with the Kansas City Civic Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Andy Anderson.

Brett was born in Auckland, New Zealand but now makes his home in the Kansas City area of the United States where he has established himself as one of the leading accordion specialists in the Celtic music scene having performed several seasons with The Elders, Gabriels Gate and is a regular musician with Eddie Delahunt. Brett began playing the accordion at age seven and at the age of 12 won his first New Zealand championship for that age category and continued to seriously perform and compete into his late teens as a soloist and with duet, trio, quartet, ensemble and orchestra. He went on to tour overseas with both the Air New Zealand Accordion Orchestra and also the UMKC Accordion Orchestra.

The Kansas City Civic Orchestra focuses on community enrichment and interaction, drawing players from all walks of life and bringing music to people of all ages and interests, the Kansas City Civic Symphony’s concert on Saturday was the last in the 48th season.

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Uthe stands out in fine rendition of Puccini’s ‘Edgar’

Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005
by Timothy McDonald, Arts Writer
The Johnson County Sun

The Civic Opera Theater of Kansas City and the Kansas City Civic Orchestra presented a fine production of the rarely performed opera “Edgar” by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini at the Folly Theater last weekend.

“Edgar” was Puccini’s second opera, written for Milan’s Teatro alla Scala in 1889. While it does not approach the name recognition of the composer’s more mature works (“Madama Butterfly,” “La Bohème” and “Tosca), “Edgar” contains its fair share of voluptuous melodies.

The semi-staged production featured an onstage orchestra partially hidden from view by sets, a small chorus veiled in monks’ robes, and five principal singers. The placement of the orchestra resulted in a better balance between voices and instruments than has been the case in previous productions employing the Folly pit.

The opera was cast well, particularly with regard to the women’s roles. Megan King portrayed the pure-hearted shepherdess Fidelia, and sang splendidly with her lovely, light soprano voice.

Stacey Stofferahn Uthe was the standout singer in the role of the lusty and wild Tigrane. The darker coloring made a fine contrast with King’s, and her rapid passages were nicely delivered. In her opening piece, though, the low range did not project well.

Bruce Burstert as Frank and Robert Grady in the title role of Edgar generally sang well and with expression. Grady sang with a tight upper range that was not always attractive in Act I, but improved markedly in later acts.

Opera librettos can be convoluted, but that of “Edgar” was downright silly at times, with plot twists and references that make you want to jump up and say “huh?” The music was wonderful, though, and included a welcome number of marvelous orchestral interludes, played with passion by the Civic Orchestra under the direction of Andy Anderson.

The Civic Opera and Orchestra are to be commended for taking a chance on a little known work by a major composer and turning into a wonderful evening of summer opera.

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Civic Opera’s ‘Edgar’ a solo success

OPERA Review: Civic Opera’s ‘Edgar’ a solo success

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005
The Kansas City Star

In opera, you can hear only so many “La Bohèmes” before you are ready to move on to fresh fare.

On Sunday at the Folly Theater, I found myself fascinated and more than a little amused by Puccini’s early opera “Edgar,” in a shoestring production by the Civic Opera Theater of Kansas City.

Despite being the composer’s first completed opera, it is hardly a primitive piece: It predates his “Manon Lescaut” by only four years and “Bohème” by just seven. It contains the Debussian parallel chords and Wagnerian orchestration of the later works, not to mention the ferocious choral climaxes. Its voluptuous vocalism is, if anything, refreshingly unfettered compared to the more mannered restraint of the later works.

The Civic Opera’s “Edgar” won the heart with remarkable solo singing and an inventive stage setup that might prove revelatory for future small-scale opera productions here.

The orchestra was upstage, largely hidden by the stage set — designer Laura Burkhart’s lowlying representation of a wall, a set of glass doors and so forth — and a choir of monks.

This allowed the leads to sing from the stage extension, which thrust them into the audience’s front-and-center view. Three video monitors allowed them to follow conductor Andy Anderson, who was well behind them.

The setup somehow filled the hall with amazingly rich sound. From the balcony, I heard a blend between soloist and orchestra that was as fine as you get in any theater in Kansas City.

Granted, the performance remained earthbound by marginal choral males and unpredictable orchestral playing by the Kansas City Civic Orchestra. And the supertitles were so faint as to be unreadable, leaving us to rely on our college Italian.

But none of this obscured the fine solo performances. Bruce Burstert as the hotheaded Frank sang with a warm, mellow sound. Robert Grady in the title role belted out the high notes, at least, with precision, and commanded the part despite some lack of vocal support, which might explain why his voice was failing by Act 3. Phil Eatherton showed off a highly polished voice in the small role of Gualtiero.

Stacey Stofferahn Uthe’s focused, penetrating voice made her ideal for the torchy Gypsy

Tigrana. Act 3 belonged to Megan King as Fidelia, which she inhabited with a sparkling, textured soprano and a mature dramatic grasp.

The Civic Opera continues to take risks and to score marginal successes despite its use of volunteer performers. For a few dollars more, the company could easily pass into the ranks of truly significant local arts groups.

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An operatic portrait of Puccini…

An operatic portrait of Puccini…
Posted Sunday, Aug. 07, 2005

The Kansas City Star

Even those with a casual acquaintance with opera have probably seen or heard something from Puccini’s “Tosca,” “Madama Butterfly” or “La Boheme.”

But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, even opera fans, who have seen the composer’s “Edgar” on the stage.

This week Kansas Citians will have a chance to see Puccini’s first completed opera, a youthful morsel with flashes of the greatness that would bloom in later verismo masterpieces.

At 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Aug. 14 at the Folly Theater, the Civic Opera Theater of Kansas City opens its 21st season with “Edgar.” Andy Anderson is conductor and stage director of this semi-staged production.

“It’s a love triangle. Actually it’s a love square,” Anderson said of the story. “Boy and girl are in love, but boy (Edgar) has loved another girl before that. And the girl has loved others, too.

Several others. It happens that the boy’s best friend, Frank, is in love with the girl he loved earlier.”

And on it goes. “It’s very Carmenesque,” Anderson said.

The musical language, he added, is that of the Wagner and Verdi that the young Puccini was hearing at the time.

“In a lot of ways, it’s the Puccini that we’ve come to know, with a twist.” The female lead sings in a florid bel canto style, he said, while the other characters are more in keeping with the later Puccini.

“The orchestra is thick and lush, like all his other operas,” Anderson said. This “Edgar” marks the inaugural collaboration between the Civic Opera Theater and the Civic Orchestra of Kansas City, which Anderson also directs.

The cast includes Robert Grady in the title role, Bruce Burstert as Frank, Megan King as Fidelia, Stacey Uthe-Stofferahn as Tigrana and Phil Etherton as Gualtiero, the father.

Tickets cost $18 ($15 for students and seniors, $10 for persons in groups of six or more). Call (816) 235-6222.

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Civic Orchestra demonstrates passion for music

By:Timothy McDonald, Sun Arts Writer April 15, 2004

Some people play music for a livelihood, some for a hobby. The members of the Kansas City Civic Orchestra play out of sheer passion for classical music.

The orchestra played recently in Yardley Hall, at the Carlsen Center of Johnson County Community College, in a program featuring music by Giacomo Puccini, Max Bruch and Johannes Brahms.

Founded in 1959, the Kansas City Civic Orchestra draws its membership from the entire Kansas City metropolitan area. While some performers are music teachers, most work in a variety of other fields, from insurance agent to TV weatherman.

The concert opened with the “Preludio Sinfonico” by Giacomo Puccini, a relatively unknown but lovely piece by the famous Italian opera composer. Many of Puccini’s signature traits were noticeable, especially the poignant and long-breathed romantic melodies.

Tiberius Klausner joined the orchestra for the “Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor” by German romantic composer Max Bruch. Klausner, a Johnson County resident, was the longtime concertmaster of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra and professor emeritus at the UMKC Conservatory of Music.

Klausner performed with elegance and a highly attractive tone. The concerto’s central slow movement was particularly sensitive and lyrical, and the orchestra, under the direction of Andy Anderson, responded well to Klausner’s songlike approach.

The popular finale was dancelike and effervescent. Klausner managed the multiple stop passages deftly, and the orchestra, despite some tuning inconsistencies, performed admirably. The final work on the program was Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 2 in D Major.” The orchestra played the attractive opening movement with a sense of urgency and drama. Energetic playing and contrasting dynamics and tempos kept the third movement appealing.

The next concert by the Kansas City Civic Orchestra will take place at 7:30 p.m. May 16 at the Rose Theater of Rockhurst High School in Kansas City. The ensemble will perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7” and Ralph Vaughn Williams “Tuba Concerto.” For more information, go to

©The Johnson County Sun 2004

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