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KC STAR CLASSICAL BEAT: Kansas City Symphony will bring the drama with Bernstein’s ‘On the Waterfront’

Guest conductor David Zinman will lead the Kansas City Symphony in a program that includes music from Leonard Bernstein’s score for “On the Waterfront” and works by Prokofiev and Schumann. Priska KettererBY PATRICK NEAS
Special to The Star
February 17, 2018 08:00 AM
Updated February 16, 2018 05:19 PM

Guest conductor David Zinman will continue the Kansas City Symphony’s celebration of the Leonard Bernstein centennial Feb. 23-25 at Helzberg Hall. The concert will feature Bernstein’s music for the film “On the Waterfront,” Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto with guest artist Stephen Waarts and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2.

Bernstein took the job of scoring “On the Waterfront” in 1954 when he was riding high in his career and was the hottest name in classical music, conducting the New York Philharmonic, writing hit musicals and giving lectures on TV. But he had never written a movie soundtrack. What a first effort. By many critics accounts, “On the Waterfront” is one of the greatest American film scores ever written.

One of its great champions is Jon Burlingame, an instructor in film-music history at the University of Southern California.

“Every film composer must negotiate the tricky balance among sound elements (dialogue, natural sound, music), but Bernstein ‘pushed the envelope’ more than most,” Burlingame wrote in notes to accompany a Criterion DVD release of “On the Waterfront.” “When he felt that music needed to come to the fore, he didn’t shy away from the challenge, and very often he found a way for the dialogue and music to share the aural space on the soundtrack.”

Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 will provide a bracing counterpoint to the Bernstein. The work, first performed by French violinist Robert Soetens and the Madrid Symphony Orchestra in 1935, is a case of Russia meets Spain. The first movement has the sound of a Russian folk song, but following a flowing second movement, the rondo finale is a burst of Spanish color, complete with castanets.

Concluding the concert is Schumann’s Symphony No. 2. Written at a time of great turmoil in the composer’s life, it’s his most Bachian symphony. In August 1844, Schumann suffered a severe health crisis. He wrote that he was afflicted with “dizziness, weakness and pain in the limbs, rheumatism, disturbance of vision, insomnia, and hearing problems.” The very act of listening to music caused intense pain.

“I really have not been able to listen to music for quite some time,” Schumann wrote. “It cuts into my nerves as with knives.”

Medical detectives now speculate that these symptoms were brought on by a syphilitic infection, the same infection that would also eventually kill him.

Schumann’s health began to improve enough in 1845 that he was able to begin an intensive study of Bach’s counterpoint, which he declared led to “a new way of working.” The influence of his intensive Bach studies can be discerned in his Symphony No. 2. In addition to borrowing themes from Bach’s “A Musical Offering,” Schumann also imitates forms popular in the Baroque era, like the chorale prelude, of which Bach was a master.

8 p.m. Feb. 23 and 24 and 2 p.m. Feb. 25. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$82. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.

Read the full article on The Star website.