Terence Blanchard is one of the most significant musical figures of our day.
The outstanding jazz trumpeter played with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and and Jazz Messengers before he hit number three on the Jazz Billboard chart with his first solo album in 1990. He has won five Grammy Awards and been nominated for two Academy Awards for his scores for films by Spike Lee.
Blanchard has also made waves in the classical world with his groundbreaking opera “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.”
The Harriman-Jewell Series will present Blanchard in “Absence” Oct. 2 at the Atkins Auditorium in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
“Absence” is Blanchard’s tribute to another jazz great, the 89-year-old saxophonist Wayne Shorter.
“He is one of my heroes,” Blanchard said. “When you talk about composition, there’s Duke Ellington, and then there’s Wayne Shorter. Wayne has always been a person who had a lot of melodic ideas, and I wanted to show how much we appreciate him and how much he means to us by doing not only his music, but music that was inspired by him. It is a labor of love.”
Blanchard’s band, The E-Collective, which plays jazz, R&B, funk and fusion, will be joined by the acclaimed Turtle Island String Quartet, which plays everything from Johann Sebastian Bach to John Coltrane.
“If you saw us on a street, you’d never put us in a band together,” Blanchard said. “I think everybody’s shocked at how well a string quartet and an electric band work together. But as soon as we hit the bandstand, there’s a connection. It’s just been a beautiful experience playing with those guys.”
Blanchard’s connection to classical music goes back to his childhood, when his father, a manager for an insurance company, was also a part-time opera singer.
“We had a lot of opera in the house because of my father,” Blanchard said. “He was always playing records. He didn’t play a lot of modern opera, he listened more to the classics, but, still, hearing those voices and hearing those arrangements really had a huge effect on how I develop melodies.”
Blanchard has made his own mark on the opera world with “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” based on a memoir by New York Times columnist Charles Blow. First performed in 2019 by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, in 2020 it became the first opera by a Black composer to be performed by the Metropolitan Opera.
“Fire Shut Up in My Bones” deals with a young African American who comes to terms with his childhood sexual abuse. The opera draws on Blanchard’s various influences, from classical music to R&B.
“I don’t know if they served as a model, but I’ve always loved Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’ and ‘Turandot,’” Blanchard said. “Puccini’s orchestrations just blow my mind.”
The opera is also permeated with African American church music, R&B and jazz.
“I knew that a good percentage of the singers were taught only to use a certain type of technique when singing Verdi or Puccini,” Blanchard said. “But I wanted them to bring their background singing in church or singing R&B to bear on this. And they all picked up the mantle and ran with it. You listen to Angel Blue sing ‘Peculiar Grace,’ and she goes back and forth between classic opera sound and the church, and it’s a very affecting performance.”
Blanchard grew up in New Orleans, where he was friends with Wynton Marsalis and studied with Wynton’s father, Ellis Marsalis. Blanchard is looking forward to performing in Kansas City, which he says has an important place in the history of jazz, like New Orleans. While in town, Blanchard will do a workshop with students from the Paseo Academy’s Jazz Ensemble.
“When you think about Kansas City, you think about Charlie Parker, you think about the roots of modern jazz,” Blanchard said. “That’s why I’m excited about coming in and working with some kids. It’s all about giving back. It’s all about trying to find those musicians and letting them know that whatever they dream of can actually come true. They just have to be dedicated.”
7 p.m. Oct. 2. Atkins Auditorium, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St. $20-$55. 816-415-5025 or hjseries.org.
Kansas City Symphony
André Previn once called Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony a big piece of strudel. He meant it as a compliment. Strauss’ hour-long orchestral mountain-climbing expedition, which features a thunderstorm played on a metal thunder sheet, is a lot of fun and as delicious as a pastry buried under an avalanche of schlag.
In a rare concert this season, Michael Stern will conduct the Kansas City Symphony Oct. 7 through 9 at Helzberg Hall. Stern has a real knack for Strauss’ music. In fact, I’ve heard him conduct the Alpine Symphony before and it was an absolutely thrilling experience.
In a program that honors planet Earth, the symphony will also perform “Jeder Baum Spricht (Every Tree Speaks)” by Iman Habibi and a percussion concerto by Adam Schoenberg, “Losing Earth,” featuring the symphony’s principal percussionist, Josh Jones.
8 p.m. Oct. 7 and 8 and 2 p.m. Oct. 9. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$95. 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.
Friends of Chamber Music
Europa Galante is one of the most exciting early music groups performing today. The Friends of Chamber Music will present the Italian early music ensemble Oct. 7 at Atonement Lutheran Church. Led by violinist Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante will perform music by Vivaldi and Bach, including Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, which features a mind-blowing harpsichord solo.
7:30 p.m. Oct. 7. Atonement Lutheran Church, 9948 Metcalf Ave. $25-$40. 816-561-9999 or chambermusic.org.
Russian pianist Ilya Shmukler joins Behzod Abduraimov and Kenny Broberg as another competition star turned out by Park University’s International Center for Music. Fresh off being a finalist in the 2022 Cliburn Competition and winning “Best Performance of a Mozart Concerto,” Shmukler will present his debut Kansas City recital Oct. 8 at the 1900 Building.
In addition to Bach, Brahms and Debussy, Shmukler will perform the complete “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Mussorgsky’s original piano miniatures are as thrilling in their own way as Ravel’s more often heard orchestration.
7:30 p.m. Oct. 8. 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway. $10-$30. icm.park.edu.