Jonathan Lane, the former orchestra director at Shawnee Mission East, knew he wanted to continue conducting after he retired.
That’s why he started the Westwood Ensemble in 2017. But just as the orchestra was preparing to end its third season last year — and break even financially for the first time — the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Now, more than a year later as pandemic restrictions continue to relax, Westwood Ensemble is coming out of its months-long hiatus on Friday, June 25, for a free concert that will finally wrap up its third season. And hopefully propel the group towards a fourth.
Like all Westwood Ensemble concerts, Lane said the June 25 performance will be family friendly.
More than that, Lane said he intentionally tries to create a welcoming atmosphere to avoid turning off people who do not have classical music backgrounds, who may often feel like they’re trying to “break a secret code” at classical concerts.
“I feel like I’m offering something special and unique for the musicians and for the audience,” Lane said. “I don’t like pretentious classical music or jazz, and I try to reach everybody.”
Part of that effort, Lane said, is telling the audience about the featured pieces.
The performance Friday, which will be held at 8 p.m. at Olivet Baptist Church at 4901 Mission Road, will finish off the orchestra’s third season that had an “Overtures and Outlaws” theme.
Westwood Ensemble will perform Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” which was written as a patriotic piece in 1899 as Russia occupied Finland, Lane said.
The orchestra will also perform the overture to Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Nabucco,” the plot of which follows an Old Testament story of persecution and exile of the Jews from the Babylonian kingdom.
“I like to tell the stories of the music, not just have a written program that maybe some people look at or not,” Lane said. “When I do a play, I tell the stories of the music to the audience, often the stories you tell musicians to help them play.”
Hope for a fourth season
Lane — who has been using his personal retirement savings to fund the ensemble through its first three seasons — said he’s hoping the June 25 concert will result in donations to plan a fourth season.
He wants to base that season around the theme of “great cities of music,” with works related to St. Petersburg, Vienna and Prague and have a New York and Kansas City concert.
While the upcoming concert’s venue is free courtesy of the church, Lane said each performance costs about $2,000 to $2,500 to put on — and with four shows a season, it adds up to about $8,000 to $10,000.
Donations can be made the day of the concert with checks made out to Westwood Ensemble.
Lane said they also accept donations via Venmo or PayPal.