Music Stories
1:24 pm
Fri October 4, 2013

Classical Connections In Symphony's Season

Kansas City Symphony's associate conductor, Aram Demirjian, and violinist Stefan Jackiw, attended elementary school together in Boston.
Kansas City Symphony's associate conductor, Aram Demirjian, and violinist Stefan Jackiw, attended elementary school together in Boston.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

Violinist Stefan Jackiw rehearsed at Helzberg Hall before the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts was open, but didn't get to play there. This weekend, Jackiw returns to perform on stage with the Kansas City Symphony - and also reconnects with a childhood friend.

Getting back to work at Helzberg Hall

It’s a Thursday morning at the Kauffman Center, a few minutes before the Kansas City Symphony’s rehearsal is scheduled to start. In a large warm-up room, with wood floors, the sounds of the orchestra tuning in Helzberg Hall drift in. The Symphony’s music director Michael Stern sits at a table, in a long-sleeved green shirt, and takes a quick sip of coffee.

"We’re just raring to go," Stern says. "You know, the summer is always welcome, but you’re always itching to get back."

As music director Michael Stern conducts, and listens intently to concertmaster Noah Geller, associate conductor, Aram Demirjian, listens in and takes notes.
As music director Michael Stern conducts, and listens intently to concertmaster Noah Geller, associate conductor, Aram Demirjian, listens in and takes notes.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

The Symphony opens its classical series with three masterworks, including Dvorak’s "buoyantly joyous" Scherzo Capriccioso, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, and, in the second half, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. Stern calls it "incredibly Russian" and "alive."

As the Rachmaninoff rehearsal gets underway, concertmaster and violinist Noah Geller runs through a section, and Stern stops to give feedback.

Connections from early years

During a rehearsal break, Stefan Jackiw, the guest violinist who will perform Mendelssohn’s work, and the Symphony’s associate conductor, Aram Demirjian, talk about their linked history. They both grew up in Boston and met in elementary school.

Aram Demirjian conducting with soloist Stefan Jackiw, April 2007.
Aram Demirjian conducting with soloist Stefan Jackiw, April 2007.
Credit Julia Sokol / courtesy Aram Demirjian

"The memory I have is when I was in 4th grade, and you were in 3rd grade, we were in an elementary school orchestra," says Jackiw. "Aram, in addition to being a conductor, is, or was, a cellist." Demirjian adds, "Is still."

"Is still a cellist," says Jackiw. "Once you're a cellist, you're a cellist for life, I guess."

"That's the same memory that I have, actually, when I was 8 and he was 9," says Demirjian. "To give you an idea of the different levels that we were on, even back then, I was just starting to play cello when I was in third grade, and we all,we all already kind of knew that he was destined for big things."

"I didn’t know that, still don’t know that," says Jackiw, who started playing violin at the age of 4, and made his professional debut at 12 at Boston Pops.

Music brings people together

Their paths crossed again through the years, including playing together in a youth orchestra in high school. And at Harvard, Jackiw performed as a soloist for the Harvard Bach Society, conducted by Demirjian.

Based in Kansas City since the fall of 2012, Demirjian calls the classical music world an intimate one.

"That’s one of my favorite parts actually. For me, so much of making music is about the people that you make it with," he says. "Music is, at its core, I think, an art form that brings people together. And the fact that musical relationships can be nurtured over time, the same way that personal relationships can be nurtured over time, enhances the art form exponentially."

Revisiting a work like revisiting an old friend

Demirjian's childhood friend, Stefan Jackiw now travels widely – performing with orchestras in the U.S. and abroad. Next month, he’ll perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C, as well as in St. Louis, Mo., Seoul, Korea, and Bern, Switzerland.

The work he’ll perform with the Kansas City Symphony, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, is one he learned when he was 12; he’s now 28.

"Like much of Mendelssohn’s music, it combines, sort of, a restless searching, yearning quality with also a kind of bittersweet childlike sadness and innocence, which I think is a very poignant combination," says Jackiw.

It’s been played and recorded so many times, Jackiw says each time he plays it he tries to simplify his interpretation.

"The Mendelssohn concerto is arguably the most perfect concerto ever written," says the Symphony's Michael Stern. He describes the movements flowing into one another unbroken, creating a sense of completion. 

"It’s a piece that I’ve lived with for so long, and it’s so deep in every string player’s DNA, that coming back to it is really like revisiting an old friend," says Stern. "And Stefan is just a miraculously wonderful player...it’s a joy to make music with him."

Stern says he’s looking forward to welcoming Jackiw to Helzberg Hall, as well as the new and returning members of the Kansas City Symphony. In their third season at the Kauffman Center, he says the musicians are giving 100 percent, and he’s proud of the music they’re presenting on stage.

The Kansas City Symphony presents Dvořák's Scherzo capriccioso, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, October 4 - 6, at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway, Kansas City, Mo. 816-471-0400.