KCCO Welcomes Return of Conductor Christopher Kelts

The Kansas City Civic Orchestra is pleased to welcome conductor Christopher Kelts back to the position of Music Director. After serving with KCCO for seven and a half years, Kelts resigned from the organization in December 2015 after accepting the position of Director of Orchestral Studies at Missouri State University (Springfield, MO).

“It was an exciting opportunity for me,” he said, “but I realized that the responsibilities of the new position might impact my ability to serve KCCO appropriately. Therefore, I chose to step down while I acclimated to my new role.”

Between December 2015 and May 2017 KCCO enjoyed a successful 58th season performing under the baton of five guest conductors. As Kelts noted, this gave the orchestra a chance to experience artistic diversity, strengthen its musical talents, and expand its adaptability. The orchestra also hosted outstanding guest artists, featured the winners of its annual Young Artist Concerto Competition, and continued to grow its outreach efforts.

After an extensive search for the right candidate to serve as music director, the orchestra and Board of Directors explored the possibility of having Kelts return to the position. Fortunately, he was happy to reengage with KCCO. “I want to keep the orchestra on a path of strengthening its artistic and musical performance, expanding educational outreach, and continuing to build the audience community that shows us such amazing support,” he said.

Kelts will kick off his return on July 1st, 2017 and will begin by planning the 2017-2018 concert season. “We are back at it, even in the off months. There are auditions to plan, repertoires and artists to solidify,” he said. “The Kansas City Civic Orchestra is nearing its 60th year of offering quality concerts to the greater Kansas City community. We have a lot to be proud of, and I’m excited to be part of it.”

Information on the 2017-2018 season, including audition and concert dates, will be announced this summer.

Holiday Classics (KC Metropolis Review)

By Anthony Rodgers
Mon, Dec 12, 2016

Now in its 58th consecutive season, the Kansas City Civic Orchestra is a staple of the community music scene in the greater KC area, and their annual holiday concert series is no exception. Under the direction of Michael Mapp, the volunteer orchestra performed the greatest hits of the season with energizing holiday spirit.

During his spoken introductions to tunes, Mapp placed a lot of emphasis on the popularity of crooners with regard to Christmas classics, and I personally couldn’t help but hear the low, soothing voices of Bing Crosby and Dean Martin in my mind, accompanied by the orchestra playing some of my favorite holiday songs. Not all of the pieces were standard arrangements, however. A Latin-influenced version of Let It Snow was an exciting variation that even appeared to entertain the performers on the night reviewed. Still, the typical sounds of the holiday pops orchestra prevailed, including ringing chimes in The Christmas Songand lush string melodies in White Christmas.  And in the true spirit of giving, even the trombones were allowed to join in the melody during Silver Bells.

In general, the orchestra did not do much with dynamics throughout the concert, staying at a safe mezzoforte level through most of the pieces; most of the changes in sound came from shifts in timbre and instrumentation. Some diversity of volume would have greatly enhanced the overall performance, particularly with the Hollywood ending of White Christmas.

A guest conductor—the winner of a recent auction—took the ensemble on a rousing Sleigh Ride with driving sleigh bells, whip cracks, and a whinnying trumpet to the audience’s delight.

A Bill Holcombe arrangement, Festive Sounds of Hanukkah had some tuning issues in sustained open intervals that didn’t resolve quickly enough, but the group finished strong with this Hanukkah medley. Although there were some distracting issues with tuning and rhythmic integrity during I’ll Be Home for Christmas, the number did not lose its sense of duty as it was dedicated to soldiers and loved ones unable to be home for the holidays. A sing-along portion was nothing short of fun. The orchestra provided a solid foundation for the audience-chorus during selections including O Tannenbaum and We Three Kings, which was a brave choice due to the traditionally long-held fermatas. Opting for a subtler departure, the warming sounds of the strings closed with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

While this program may not have musically challenged the players of this volunteer orchestra, the evening was nonetheless a delight for those in attendance, being a part of a Kansas City tradition with the KC Civic Orchestra.

Kansas City Civic Orchestra
Sounds of the Season
December 9–10 (Reviewed Friday, December 9, 2016)
Atonement Lutheran Church
9948 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, KS

Animal Inspiration (KC Metropolis Review)

By Christopher Gage
Mon, Nov 14, 2016

Composers have often looked to the animal realm for inspiration. On Friday night, the Kansas City Civic Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Michael Mapp, presented a concert comprising animal-themed works as part of their pops series, with a few surprises and special guests to keep the evening interesting.

The orchestra opened with “Hoe-Down” from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, familiar to many as the music accompanying commercials for beef. While the themes were clear and energetic, this piece was the weakest on the program: several parts had intonation or rhythm issues, and the percussion section lagged after all the grand pauses. The musicians seemed more at home in the next program selection, “Baby Elephant Walk” by Henry Mancini, from the movie Hatari! Afterwards, as a special treat, Mapp played tenor saxophone while concertmaster Carol Chatelain conducted the theme from The Pink Panther. Both pieces had an easygoing, stylistic swing that worked especially well for the orchestra and the space.

Meteorologist and local celebrity Bryan Busby joined Dr. Michael Mapp and the Kansas CityCivic Orchestra in a concert featuring works about animals, culminating with a fun performance of Sergei Prokoviev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”

Selections from Le carnaval des animaux (Carnival of the Animals) by Camille Saint-Saëns had a twist: instead of listing the movements in the program, Mapp, after each movement, asked the audience for guesses as to which animal was being spotlighted. The first two selections, “Hens and Roosters” and “Tortoises,” received a mostly mezzo forte performance and lacked direction; the most successful movements were subsequent ones with fewer players. Jason Fuerst, for instance, gave the piano solo in “Kangaroos” a lovely sense of expression, easing into the grace notes to emulate the hopping, halting nature of a kangaroo’s gait; during the famous movement “The Swan,” cellist Hyerim Mapp played a gorgeous solo, full of elegance and life.

Bryan Busby, chief meteorologist for KMBC-TV, narrated Sergei Prokoviev’s Peter and the Wolf. He brought many special touches to his role, including a convincing duck voice and some extra theatrics, which the audience appreciated. The orchestra gave an excellent performance of this piece, especially flutist Mary Holzhausen, who played the musical role of the bird. The pièce de résistance of the evening, the Prokoviev capped off a concert that the near-capacity church appreciated and enjoyed immensely.

Kansas City Civic Orchestra
A Musical Menagerie
Friday, November 11 at 7:30 p.m.
Atonement Lutheran Church
9948 Metcalf Avenue, Overland Park, KS

KCCO Outreach – Barstow School

Thank you to the Barstow School for letting our musicians come and share their love of music with your students!


Early childhood and lower school students experienced music with their ears, eyes— and hands—during a visit from members of the Kansas City Civic Orchestra on Wednesday, October 19.
Jennifer Mitchell and Don Goldenbaum are members of the all-volunteer, community-based orchestra that performs high-quality, free concerts throughout the metro area. They shared their musical passion with students in pre-Kindergarten through grade 2 on Wednesday, October 19.

Their visit gave students the opportunity to not only hear a short violin concert, but also to see a live performance and to touch instruments and feel what it’s like to create sounds on a violin and viola.

Kristi Mitchell’s grade 1 and 2 students are studying orchestra instruments and instrument families in class this quarter. The live demonstration took those lessons to a new level.

“We’ve listened to classical music on an iPad app, but the transfer from studying it on the iPad to experiencing music live and in person was really cool,” Mitchell said.

The duo played songs that many of the children recognized, but might not have realized how instruments are used to create them: “Belle,” and “Cruella deVille” from Disney movies, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Jingle Bells.”

The familiar adage, “Look, but don’t touch,” was not part of the experience. Children passed around real horsehair that is used to make bowstrings. Mitchell and Goldenbaum also allowed every student in their audiences to hold their bows as the musicians guided them across the strings.

Barstow Director of Health Services Gay Lee Ludwig-Bonney ( aka Nurse Bonney) is a longtime member of the Kansas City Civic Orchestra. She plays the double bass, the largest of the stringed instruments. She said these outreach programs and events like the upcoming Instrument Petting Zoo give curious children the opportunity to develop a love of music at an early age.

“It inspires them to explore, to touch, to play, even to blow into a trumpet and create sound,” she said.

Children who are interested in more hands-on musical experiences are invited to attend the Kansas City Civic Orchestra’s Instrument Petting Zoo and family-friendly concert November 12 at 1:00 p.m. at Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park, Kansas.

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

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

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

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.