And W O W! It is a wonder. Soaring. Dramatic. Modern. Visually impressive both outside and in. From the reception hall, the Brandmeyer Great Hall, one looks out across the city. Green space fronts the building because the parking garage is underground and instead of seeing a concrete entrance, the builders planned for a green space with lawn and earth. Quite remarkable.
Inside the Helzberg Auditorium, which is the symphony hall, nothing impedes the acoustics. Everything is wood. The experts say is it is like being inside a cello. It felt more like an ark to me and I thought the space seemed smaller than I was expecting. The hall seats 1600 -- but it feels much more intimate than that. The orchestra tier is only 38 seats across but since seating is on all four sides (yes, three rows of seats are behind the stage) and there are 5 balcony tiers, I suppose that accounts for the number the hall can hold.
The feeling inside the Helzberg hall is very, very modern -- not cold, though. With the mid-toned woods employed -- and everything but the seat cushions is wood -- the feeling is kind-of Danish modern. The seats are cushioned in shades of medium to dark blue in a fluctuating pattern. Because the seats are tiered, everything requires wooden steps. This is not easy on arthritic knees and Hubby will have some problems attending future concerts there. For one thing, elevators are in scant supply and some only go up while others only go down so one has to hike to find an elevator.
The concert itself was a grand surprise. We knew the students were performing and so really didn't expect too much in terms of quality. However, the UMKC Conservatory Student Concert Jazz Band was conducted by the local jazz great Bobby Watson and performed Watson’s The Gates BBQ Suite. Ollie Gates is the barbecue king of Kansas City and these pieces were written to commemorate our barbecue heritage. Certainly not in Mozart's quality, the music was entertaining and we got to hear Bobby Watson perform with the Band. Everyone was bopping along and feeling upbeat about the performance by intermission.
The the PRISM Quartet, a saxophone group, performed William Bolcom’s Concerto Grosso for saxophone quartet and winds, a PRISM commission, along with the UMKC student symphony. This was my favorite piece of the evening -- a lovely melodic yet modern piece.
The conclusion of the concert though, showcased the acoustic wonders of the auditorium. I'm not sure I would ever want to hear this music played again -- but for the sheer excitement of it's first hearing and the maximum usage it made of the concert hall, this piece was creative, imaginative, and a spectacular end to a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The UMKC Conservatory Wind Symphony directed by Steven Davis performed Corigliano’s Circus Maximus, Symphony No. 3 for Large Wind Ensemble. And OH MY GOD! This was a circus for sure. Musicians were placed on all tiers of the Helzberg Hall. Four different levels of sound bombarded the audience. It was fun to watch the conductor hold up one finger and watch the musicians on the stage play. Then would come two fingers and the saxophone ensemble on our left would join it -- or solo. At three fingers the musicians behind us played and with four the instruments on our right joined in. Sometimes musicians on tiers two, three and four changed places. At one point they paraded across the stage. And some of them were in costume. Santa Claus was there in full beard and red suit, there was a beatnik, a naked swimmer, and several others. We were swiveling in our seats and trying to follow all the action -- until the final chords when a guy popped up from back stage fired a huge rifle -- with all the force of a loaded canon. It was hugely good fun: loud, dissonant, melodic, soft, fast, slow, merry, eerie, and unexpected.
Though we didn't get home until 11:00 that night (and 5 a.m. arrived very early on Thursday) Wednesday was a treat! I can't wait for more.