The Sprint Center may attract the biggest names in music, but it’s certainly not the only venue for Kansas City concerts. Less than a mile away resides the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, which is sometimes overlooked—especially by the younger crowd—in favor of the blockbuster events taking place at the arena. As the home of the city’s orchestra, opera, and ballet company, it might have an undeserved reputation for old-fashioned stuffiness. After all, when you think of an orchestra, it’s natural to envision a hundred or so people in tuxedos playing music by composers who died at least a century ago. Newcomers, though, should take a hint from the center’s dramatic modernist architecture: classical music doesn’t have to be antique. What is modernist classical music? Born near the turn of the 20th century, the first pieces of modernist music embraced compositional techniques such as atonality, indeterminism, and the use of new recording technologies. It’s since evolved into countless subgenres, though one common factor is atonality—meaning the piece doesn’t fall into one key. Virtually all modernistic music, from orchestral pieces to pop songs, is atonal to some degree. Who are some modernist composers? Though most people know more classical music than they realize, modernist compositions might feel more familiar or emotional to their ears simply because they’re accustomed to its innovations and experiments. After all, composers classified as “modernist” range from Igor Stravinsky (whose Rite of Spring re-entered the pop-culture realm via Disney’s Fantasia) and George Gershwin (whose collection of musicals, film scores, operas, and orchestral works includes the jazz standard “Summertime”) to Lou Reed and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. Bebop, one of the earliest iterations of modern jazz, was developed in part by Kansas City jazz pioneers Charlie Parker and Count Basie. Where can you see modernist music in person?At the Kauffman Center, concerts often celebrate the works of Stravinsky, Gershwin, Claude Debussy, John Adams, Aaron Copland, and other modernist composers. Perhaps more approachable for beginners is the Kansas City Symphony, which often appears with contemporary recording artists (Kristin Chenoweth, Amy Grant, and Matthew Morrison are on deck for the 2015–2016 season). It also periodically provides thrilling scores—live!—to scenes from movies such as Star Trek, Up, and Harry Potter, which play on a giant screen.
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