Libby Hanssen | KCUR

Libby Hanssen

CONTRIBUTOR

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She's written for KCUR, KC Studio, The Kansas City Star, The Pitch, and KCMetropolis. Libby maintains the culture blog Proust Eats A Sandwich and writes poetry and children's books. Along with degrees in trombone performance, she was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University.

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Libby Hanssen / KCUR 89.3

This article originally appeared in KCUR's Arts Adventure newsletter. You can see the archive here. Or, you can subscribe here to receive it every Tuesday.

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, for a tour of nostalgia, charm, craftwork and childlike joy. The merry-go-rounds of Missouri and carousels of Kansas are the cheapest rides on some of the finest examples of Americana folk art.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Dwight Frizzell was a teenager when he realized he could hear the Liberty Bend Bridge singing.

The bridge spans the Missouri River just north of Independence. It's part of Highway 291, which runs above Sugar Creek’s LaBenite Park.

“I heard the rhythm of the traffic — ka-kaw, kla-klock — but then I was also hearing resonances like singing, like harmonics, almost like voices singing in harmony,” says Frizzell, who’s been returning to the site for decades.

Drone photo by Don Ipock / The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

If there was a soundtrack for the sculptures on the lawn at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, what would it be like?

Christina Butera thought about that a lot while writing her dissertation in composition at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance.

Maiestatis Pontificiae Dum in Capella Xisti Sacra Peraguntur Accurata Delineatio. Museum no. E. 2801-1991 / Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In search of gold, the first Spanish conquistadors arrived in Kansas in 1541. Though they were disappointed, the age of discovery is still alive and well for a Kansas State University scholar named Patrick Dittamo, who has recovered a treasure of the Renaissance.

It’s a piece of music that Kansas City audiences will be the first to hear in nearly 500 years, and the first to hear outside the Sistine Chapel.

Mike Strong

Creating high quality art for kids is no easy task. As an audience, they’re pure in their responses: If the work engages them, they’ll roar in approval; if not, they’ll (at best) stare glaze-eyed or (at worst) rumble with disinterest as they turn their attention elsewhere.

The 800 middle- and high school students who whooped and chattered excitedly at the world premiere of a sophisticated new dance theater concept apparently approved of the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey's performances at the Folly Theater on Wednesday and Thursday.

Susan Kiefer

In your average art museum collection, which often displays the female form in various states of undress, less than 10 percent of the work was created by women.

A show at the InterUrban ArtHouse changes that ratio, at least for one month in Kansas City.

UMKC Conservatory

American composer Harry Partch lived an unconventional life. A dreamer and a traveler, he devised an original system for making music and built dozens of instruments to bring that dream to reality.

“My music and my instruments are an expression of an ancient tradition in which sight and sound unite toward the achievement of a single dramatic purpose,” Partch said in the documentary “Music Studio.”

Kip Niven

What started as a high school reading group in the 1960s has become a way for Kansas City audiences to enjoy some of America’s greatest plays, read aloud by Kansas City finest actors, for free.

When Kip Niven was a student at Shawnee Mission East High School, friends would gather in Frank Dwyer’s living room, Frank’s mother would put out snacks, and they’d read through plays like “You Can’t Take It With You” just for the heck of it.

NASA

Fifty years ago on Christmas Eve, the astronauts of Apollo 8 — the first humans to leave Earth’s gravity — orbited the moon, photographing its dark side and witnessed the first view of an earthrise.

Broadcasting back to Houston, they offered a Christmas greeting to those on Earth, where one in four people were watching the televised event.

NormanCorwin.com

A new concert at the Lyric Opera recalls the Golden Age of radio, when anything was possible.

Evolving from the technology of World War I, broadcasts reached into millions of homes, filling billions of minds with the culture and news of the day.

One of the leading dramatists of radio’s heyday in the 1930s and 40s was Norman Corwin. Using only voices, sound effects and the occasional full orchestra, he invited listeners into worlds conjured entirely of suggestion and imagination.

Victoria Botero

A new combination of ancient song and contemporary dance draws beauty from the hidden history of women.

“Morena” is a Spanish word meaning “beautiful dark woman.” It is also the name of the latest project between Kansas City soprano and musicologist Victoria Botero, the Owen/Cox Dance Group, and a cadre of international musicians.

Kenny Johnson

A new ballet with an original score isn’t quite as rare an event as a house falling on a witch, but it is an exciting chance to shape a fresh telling of the beloved story.

L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” set in Kansas, sparked 13 sequels, story spin-offs, and multiple adaptations on stage and film.

Emma Lou Diemer

Performing music by women is trickier than it would seem.

For centuries, women were discouraged or forbade from composing, their works relegated to salons and home audiences, and rarely published. In many cases, once a composer died, her oeuvre was abandoned and forgotten.

Helping to right that historic wrong is the Midwest Chamber Ensemble, presenting its fifth annual concert of women composers this weekend (the ensemble was founded in 2011).

Mike Strong

Partnering, in dance as in life, requires trust, collaboration and strength. Jokes are important, too.

Chris Lee

No one who lives in the United States today is removed from the coal industry.

Composer Julia Wolfe makes that point in the final movement of her 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio “Anthracite Fields,” listing various everyday activities that require energy — baking a cake, drilling a hole, washing clothes — energy powered, at least in part, by the coal industry.

William P. Gottlieb

Mary Lou Williams only spent a dozen years in Kansas City during its first jazz heyday, but this is where she solidified her professional reputation, gaining the respect of leaders in the field.

“Mary Lou Williams is increasingly ranked as one of the most significant and influential composers to have ever made Kansas City their home base,” says Dan Cameron, artistic director of Open Spaces.

Among the ten-week festival's opening-weekend events is a free performance of Williams’ “Zodiac Suite” by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra in Swope Park.

Theater League / Warner Brothers Theatricals

People all over the world are obsessed with “The Wizard of Oz." But there is no place in the world where it has as much cultural value as in Kansas, where "Somewhere over the Rainbow" can be considered as much the state song as "Home on the Range."

“It's become synonymous with ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” says Mark Edelman, head of Theater League, which produced this latest version of the iconic story that opened Wednesday at Providence Amphitheater (formerly known as Sandstone) in Bonner Springs, Kansas.

Spire Chamber Ensemble

A few times a year, select musicians from all over North America come together in Kansas City.

Assembling with a few of their locally based colleagues just a few days before show time, they pull off an impressive feat: a concert encompassing centuries-worth of styles, and techniques both ancient and modern.

Libby Hanssen / KCUR 89.3

When you see a stranger on public transit, what's your usual reaction? Do you make eye contact, even small talk, or studiously ignore them and play Pokémon Go on your phone?

Traveling with Megan Karson's The Stranger on the Train, reactions are a little different. When The Stranger trundles onto the #801 at the Kansas City Streetcar stop at Union Station, passengers stare, then laugh, at the surprising addition to their ride.

YouTube

Kansas City likes to boast that it’s internationally recognized for jazz. A concert at the Gem Theater on Thursday provides some evidence.

“Our musicians are everywhere in the world. We are pretty famous for our musicians,” says vocalist Deborah Brown, a Kansas City native and one of the instigators of Jazz Sister Cities, a partnership between musicians in Kansas City, Missouri, and Szczecin, Poland.

Kansas City already has civic relationships with 13 sister cities around the world, but this is the first purely musical relationship, unrelated to City Hall.

Kansas City Civic Orchestra

When the Kansas City Civic Orchestra decided to call its first performance in Helzberg Hall – Kansas City’s premiere concert hall – its "Surround Sound" concert, they didn’t realize they would end up literally surrounded.

In keeping with Civic's 59-year mission, the tickets were free. But even so, the organization had not anticipated the fervor that ensued.

Tickets for the May 11 performance went live April 3 and sold out within a week. (The last person to sell out the hall was internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.)

E.G. Schempf

Western audiences have long been fascinated in the Balinese art form of gamelan, which honors tradition while embracing experimentation.

The music’s shimmering sound is instantaneously recognizable, a unique timbre resulting from pairs of detuned instruments after an entire ensemble has gone through an extensive tuning process. As the slightly different frequencies pulse against each other, it creates a beating effect called ombak.

Sean Chen

Pianist Sean Chen connects his role as performing artist with that of teacher, approaching piano's vast repertoire with humility and fun.

Chen, who is now an artist-in-residence at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, moved to Kansas City from New Haven, Connecticut, two years ago, when his wife Betty, a violinist, joined the Kansas City Symphony. That gave him an instant local connection, and he's collaborated with some Symphony musicians for chamber concerts around town.

Te Deum

Kansas City choral conductor Matthew Shepard has wanted to perform “Seven Last Words from the Cross” for more than a decade.

A modern choral masterwork, it tackles the Bible's dramatic story of the reflective moments leading up to Christ’s crucifixion.

Shepard was attracted to Scottish composer James MacMillan’s strong, clear use of musical metaphor, which adds a cinematic element to the sacred work. Words are whispered, strained, proclaimed, set against gnarly chords and frenzied, fidgety strings.

Dan Rest / Lyric Opera of Kansas City

Carmen, Mimi, Norma, Tosca, Violetta, Cio-Cio-San, Medea, Liù, Aida, Lulu: Being an opera heroine is harrowing work.

For hundreds of years, opera's women have suffered: on stage from dishonor, ruination, madness and death; off stage from harassment, abuse, degradation, threats, and coercion.

Nodaway County Historical Society

On January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, millions of people around the world gathered to promote women’s rights in one of the largest international displays of solidarity for a sisterhood still battling for equality and equity.

Elizabeth Stehling / Kansas City Ballet

In an art form as brutal as it is beautiful, breaking through the tried-and-true blockbusters of classic ballet and strict company structure is difficult. New work and new talent is a risk. Creating new work not only requires learning new steps, but also changing perspectives, generating curiosity and challenging expectations.

Courtesy William Baker

“It could be said that Kansas City is blessed with as many fountains like Rome, many boulevards like Paris and many composers like Vienna,” says William Baker, the founder and director of his namesake William Baker Festival Singers.

Audiences get a chance to hear just a few of the pieces by those notable area composers, some living and some long gone, when Baker’s ensemble presents a Festival of Kansas City Composers this weekend.

Courtesy Andrew Schwartz / Veritography

A Thanksgiving feast in a Scottish castle was the cherry on top when Kansas City’s Fountain City Brass Band toured the United Kingdom last month as America’s highest-ranked brass band.

Fountain City is one of Kansas City’s strongest musical ambassadors, with a second-place finish at the prestigious Brass in Concert competition at Gateshead, England (placing ahead of top-ranked Cory) and a third at the Scottish Open in Perth. On their own turf, our homegrown ensemble held its own against bands with traditions dating deep into the 1800s.