By David Markham
For the public, a series of concerts in JCPRD parks during September and October are a chance to hear some classical music beautifully performed for free. For the participating musicians from the Kansas City Symphony, these concerts are a chance to do something a little different and to make connections with the public.
Violinist Rena Ishii and Violaist Duke Lee, who happen to be married, took time to answer questions about the series of 14 concerts in seven JCPRD parks being performed through Oct. 31, beginning Thursday, Sept. 17, in Heritage Park.
“Playing in an orchestra and playing in a small chamber music group are so different,” said Ishii, who has been with the symphony since 2011. “Your job is to be a good piece of a large machinery, which is the orchestra. I enjoy the challenge of listening to my colleagues and having to fit into our playing as a group. But it has been really nice to practice chamber music, especially with my husband, to prepare for these outdoor concerts. You get to pick your tempos, your phrasing, and even your program! I also enjoy being able to casually talk to audience members right after performing.”
“Although I miss performing on the stage of Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, there are very nice aspects to these outdoor shows,” added Lee, who has been with the symphony since 2006. “It gives us an opportunity to connect and share with those who may find it difficult to go downtown to listen to one of our concerts. It also provides a very comfortable atmosphere, where listening in flip flops with a beverage in hand is not only acceptable, but encouraged. Plus, we all get to soak in the fresh air around us. I hope we can contribute a positive experience for every listener to be alive in that moment – to breathe, feel, and be present.”
Thursday’s concert will take place beginning at 6 p.m. near the parking lot at Shelter #1 in Heritage Park, 16050 Pflumm Road, Olathe. Other concerts at JCPRD sites will take place on six dates and locations through Oct. 31. Some dates, like Thursday’s, involve a single performance, while others have up to four back-to-back performances.
The outdoor chamber music performances will last 30 to 60 minutes each, will feature quartets and quintets of musicians from the symphony, and are part of a larger series of outdoor concerts being presented by the symphony throughout the Kansas City metro area. Social distancing and the wearing of masks will be encouraged at all of these concerts. Many of these events will utilize a KC Symphony trailer that acts as a portable stage. Patrons are welcome to bring lawn chairs and blankets.
For more about all the concerts at JCPRD parks and facilities, including dates, times, and locations, go to jcprd.com/1575/Symphony-in-the-Park. For more about the other metro locations where the symphony will be performing, go to kcsymphony.org/concerts-tickets/neighborhood-concerts.
Both musicians were asked to name a piece of music that might be heard at the concerts and talk about it a little bit.
Ishii named Passacaglia by Johan Halvorsen. “It’s a piece Halvorsen wrote in 1894 based on a theme written for harpsichord in 1720 by Handel,” she said. “The theme and variations utilize many virtuosic techniques of string instruments. It’s a challenging, yet very fun piece I hope our audience will enjoy.”
Lee mentioned Mozart’s G Major Duo for violin and viola. “One interesting story about the piece is that it is widely believed that he composed it pretending to be Michael Haydn, brother of Franz Joseph Haydn,” he said. “Due to illness, Haydn was unable to complete a set of six duos that was commissioned by the Archbishop, so Mozart wrote two of them for and as Haydn to help complete the set. I haven’t heard the duos composed by Haydn, but there are definitely fingerprints of Mozart’s that permeate throughout the work.”
Both Ishii and Lee mentioned that the outdoor concerts will also give them a chance to perform for an audience including their three sons, ages two, four, and six.
“Classical music is constantly in their lives and two of them already play the violin,” Ishii said. “I believe classical music enriched their lives deeply, so please bring your kiddos to these shows! We wouldn’t be offended by kids running around and talking. We’d love to see them get excited and dance to our music. I would like people who have never been symphony goers to hear us at these concerts and find classical music to be fun. And it would be really cool if they can find their favorite instrument and favorite composers etc.”