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IN MEMORIAM RICHARD CASS: Friends, family, former students organize tribute concert for beloved teacher

Kansas City lost one of its greatest artists in November, when pianist and UMKC Conservatory professor Richard Cass died after a brief illness, aged 78. It was quite a blow to the musical community here, as Richard had been hearty and vigorous to the very last: In fact he and his longtime collaborator, violinist and former Kansas City Symphony concertmaster Tiberius Klausner, were scheduled to play a recital the week he died. In response to the love that so many colleagues and students held for Richard, at 7:30 p.m. October 2 at White Recital Hall the Conservatory and its Alumni Association will host a Richard Cass Tribute Concert, with performances by friends, former students and even his daughter. “He was an incredible man and a lot of people loved him a great deal,” says Melody Stroth, a prominent local piano teacher, who studied with Richard from 1978 to 1981 while working on her master’s degree. “This concert will be a time that we can gather and honor him in a way that is befitting of his legacy.”

The program falls right in the middle of the University of Kansas City-Missouri’s homecoming activities, and that is by design, Melody says, for what better time for friends to gather in Richard’s memory. “We wanted to do a ‘Reunion for Keyboard Studies’ and invite everyone — everyone who had studied piano or taught with him, and everyone who is a fan of the piano. It’s a way of showing what he meant to us.” Richard was an official Steinway artist: Proceeds from the concert will go to purchase a new Steinway concert grand piano for the Conservatory.

The concert will include music that Richard himself excelled in: Chopin, Scriabin, Ravel, Liszt, Schumann. Also featured are selections by Tiberius, with whom Richard performed for 25 years as the Klausner-Cass Duo, and by Richard’s daughter Liz Cass, a gifted mezzo-soprano. Other performers include Karen McBee, Janet Fetterman, Jayoung Hong, Michael Rickman, Peter Cooper, Leon Bugg, Vincent van Gelder and Inara Zandmane. Among the other homecoming activities is a welcome reception at 5 p.m. October 1, hosted by Conservatory dean Peter Witte, master classes by Inara and Michael during the day on October 2, and a lunch that afternoon in the Lobby of the Conservatory’s James C. Olson Performing Arts Center.

Richard was born in Greenville, South Carolina and graduated from Furman College. He won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Paris at the Ecole Normale de Musique, where among his teachers were the legendary Nadia Boulanger and one of the towering figures in the history of the piano, Alfred Cortot. He made a successful Paris debut and after joining the roster of prestigious Columbia Artists Management he traveled all over North America, Europe, Asia the Caribbean. In 1967 he married Sanna Bryan, who survives him. After a stint on the faculty of the University of North Texas in Denton, in 1975 Richard became professor of piano what was then called the Kansas City Conservatory, University of Missouri. He was later named Curator’s Professor, the highest honor awarded by the university. After his retirement he continued to perform and record and give master classes around the country. Richard is featured in Ben Saver’s book The Most Wanted Piano Teachers in the USA.

“Many of us felt he was a sort of father figure,” Melody says. “He just knew everything. He knew music and the arts, and he knew psychology: He knew just what approach was right for each student, and how to motivate each person — and what repertoire was appropriate for each. He was an inspirational teacher and performer.” He also taught his students about loyalty, she added. “He impressed upon us that we needed to attend our colleagues’ recitals. I was very loyal to him and I try to pass that sense of loyalty on to my own students.”

Another feature of the Cass Tribute is a special CD of recordings Richard made over the years, with music by Scarlatti, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Liszt. It will be available for sale at the concert. “I don’t think I appreciated his playing as much as I do now” says Melody, who was part of a committee that pored through dozens of recordings to make the selections. “It was like finding gold. This is fabulous solo playing.” Tickets to the Richard Cass Tribute Concert are $25 for general seating, $75 for a VIP single or $125 for a VIP couple. UMKC students are admitted free with their student IDs, non-UMKC student tickets for $12. For tickets and more information call 816-235-6222 or go to http://conservatory.umkc.edu.

IN BRIEF:

The Friends of Chamber Music opens its 35th anniversary season this week with a recital by pianist Vladimir Feltsman, at 8 p.m. October 1st at the Folly Theater. Feltsman, whose amazing Friends performance of Pictures at an Exhibition in 2006 still rings in my ears, joins a stellar lineup of pianists including Ivan Moravec,Garrick OhlssonRadu Lupu and Rafał Blechacz. He’ll be performing a rarity for Our Town, Liszt’s mighty B-minor Sonata, in honor of the composer’s 200th birthday in 2011. In the spirit of the new Music Alliance, a collaboration with the UMKC Conservatory, the Friends are offering a special price of $15 to Conservatory alumni for the Feltsman recital. The Friends has gone all-out this year, with a season that also includes Pinchas Zukerman and Yefim Bronfman in recital, Sequentia, Chanticleer, Trio Mediaeval and Handel’s Acis and Galatea performed by Boston Early Music Festival. It’s a season worth subscribing to. For tickets call 816-561-9999 or go to chambermusic.org.

It’s going to be a busy weekend at Park University’s International Center for Music, too, which opens up its concert series October 2 and the following day hosts the opening of the Philharmonia of Greater Kansas City’s 23rd season. The recital on October 2 features visiting pianist Martino Tirimo performing a generous serving of Chopin — whose 200th birthday is being celebrated the world over this year — including the E-major Scherzo and all 24 of the Preludes, Op. 28. Tickets are $5, or free for the Park community. Tirimo is one of Europe’s leading pianists and conductors, and it is thanks to Park’s ICM that Our Town’s audiences have had a chance to hear and see him here, both in recital and in master classes with ICM students. The recital is at 7:30 p.m. at Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel on the Park campus.

Then on October 3 at 3 p.m. the Philharmonia of Greater Kansas City welcomes its new conductor, Travis Jürgens, in his debut concert as conductor and music director of the not-for-profit community orchestra. New Beginnings features soloist Yuntian Liu, another Stanislav student, performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Philharmonia. The program, which introduces a season-long focus on Russian music, also includes Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Founding music director of the United Orchestra of Urbana, Travis holds a bachelor’s in piano performance from Indiana University and a master’s in orchestral conducting from the University of Illinois. The concert is at 3 p.m. at Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel. Admission is $10 for adults ($5 for students and seniors 65 and older), and free for Park students. For more information, visit www.kcphilharmonia.org.

* Other upcoming concerts at Park include a recital on October 24 by Daniel Veis, Park’s visiting professor of cello and first prize winner of the 1976 Prague Spring International Competition. Then on October 29 at the Folly Theater the ICM presents Fête: Ioudenitch and Friends, a fun and exciting fundraiser featuring a blend of classical and popular styles performed by Van Cliburn Competition gold medalist Stanislav Ioudenitch, his protégé Behzod Abduraimov, grand prize winner at the 2009 London International Piano Competition, Park violin professor Ben Sayevich, cellist Daniel, guitarist Beau Bledsoe, bandoneónistHéctor Del Curto and others. Sponsorship packages are available, as well as individual tickets for $30 each. For information or to purchase sponsorships/tickets, visit www.park.edu/fete or contact Hilary Wheat, development director, athilary.wheat@park.edu or 816-584-6825. For more information about the International Center for Music, visit www.park.edu/icm.

The Kansas City Symphony opens its season next week, with a program October 8-10 at the Lyric Theatre featuring Hilary Hahn performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto. Michael Stern conducts the concert, which includes Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite from 1919 and also features the local premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff’sStarburst, co-commissioned by the Symphony. The Symphony’s season also includes conductors Roberto Minczuk, Giancarlo Guerrero and Larry Rachleff, and soloists André Watts, Jonathan Biss, Roberto Díaz, Ingrid Fliter, Stefan Jackiw and others.

For tickets call 816-471-0400 or go to www.kcsymphony.org.
To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor, send email to phorsley@sbcglobal.net.

Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.

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