The Kansas City Symphony welcomes everyone — even the MTV generation. So says Aram Demirjian, the symphony's associate conductor, who believes that classical music isn't as exclusive as its reputation.
Demirjian, 27, joined the symphony a little less than two years ago, and he has quickly worked to create a more approachable symphony experience. Last year, he helped introduce Classics Uncorked, a series aimed at luring a "nontraditional" audience to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts to listen to classical music. Last year, Classics Uncorked's audience included young professionals who would pop over for a show after work and families with grade-schoolers.
Each of the five Classics Uncorked concerts runs between an hour and 75 minutes. General-admission tickets cost $25 and include a free drink coupon.
The series' second year kicks off December 11. We chatted with Demirjian about what to expect this season.
The Pitch: Give me a little background on Classics Uncorked.
Demirjian: So, Classics Uncorked is a series that we started last year, which was my first year with the symphony, and it was really a series that developed kind of organically. We wanted to do some shorter concerts on weeknights and serve drinks along with the concerts. We wanted to give an opportunity to people to kind of try out the symphony in a less formal way, if they were curious but hadn't been to concerts yet.
When we were trying to create a real concept for the series, I talked to a lot of my friends who are my age — young 20s, early 30s — all of whom I knew were musically inclined people, and who I knew liked classical music or liked orchestra music and responded very positively to it when they heard it but didn't go to concerts. I tried to probe them as to why, and the most common answer that I got was, "Well, I've never felt like there was a place for me in the concert hall."
I really try to construct these programs so that there is a place for anyone who wants to come. Every program has a theme, and that theme is generally nonmusical, something that really anybody, no matter what their background or experience with music is, can identify with.
What are some of this year's themes?
This year we have a Paris-themed program, and we also have a program featuring music about and by women. Our upcoming concert is winter-themed. We try to have a theme that is a point of entry for as many people as possible. When they get into the hall, the orchestra is dressed down a little bit. We encourage people to come dressed down or wear whatever they were wearing to work. I sort of provide a narrative from the stage as it's going on. I'll be introducing every piece, trying to give a window into the piece for as many people in the audience as possible.
The first concert in the series is called Winter's Gift. How did you decide upon that theme?
We decided that every season we would devote one program to being a part of our holiday offerings — a December concert — but we try to make the Classics Uncorked a little bit different than our other holiday concerts. Not necessarily what you'd turn on the radio and hear, but great classical music that is closely tied to the season. This year, when designing the program, I tried to think about some things beyond Santa Claus and reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, and even the more religious aspects of the season. What are some things beyond those that are essential, indispensable?
I came to the season of winter itself, which we all experience, and which is an experience that bonds us all together. And then, also, this idea of gift giving, that no matter what you celebrate or what you believe in, everyone is exchanging gifts with everybody else. Those are the two concepts that I tried to zero in on when designing the program, and it's reflected pretty well, I think, in some of the music.
What are some of the selections for Winter's Gift?
We have two short violin concertos, one is by Vivaldi, from his "Four Seasons," and it's "Winter." It's a very, very famous concerto, one of those pieces that you know it even if you don't think you know it. The other, a parallel piece, is by an Argentinian composer named Piazzolla. He wrote a piece inspired by Vivaldi a couple of centuries later, called "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires," so we're doing the "Winter" from those "Four Seasons" as well. This concerto by Piazzolla is this hot, sexy, tango-infused take on what Vivaldi wrote, and there are even little quotations from the Vivaldi piece in the Piazzolla.
There's also what I like to think of as the greatest Christmas gift ever given, which is a piece by Wagner called "Siegfried Idyll." He wrote it as a birthday gift for his wife, which was on Christmas Eve. He wrote her this beautiful piece in recognition of their baby son Siegfried's first Christmas, and gave it to her in the form of an ensemble playing in the foyer of their house on Christmas morning, waking her up with this piece. I just think it's one of the most beautiful, romantic and family-oriented gestures in the history of music.
Are these pieces recognizable to a wide variety of listeners?
They're all in our ears, even if you don't realize that you know them. There are a few pieces that are maybe new, or maybe a little less familiar, but we'll delve into those before we play them and really give people a framework in which to listen. We want people to get the most enjoyable experience out of being in Helzberg Hall and listening to the Kansas City Symphony, whatever that means to them.