Kauffman Center

by Bob Hoelscher 28. December 2011 01:32

September witnessed the opening of one of Missouri’s newest cultural and visitor attractions, the magnificent Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City. Many years in the planning, the Kauffman Center not only replaces antiquated and inadequate venues for the city’s three major performing arts organizations, but also does so in truly spectacular fashion. 

From the north side, the facility approximates two giant oyster shells that some have compared to the famed Sydney Opera House in Australia. The Center was designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, whose other recent, and similarly praiseworthy addition to the Midwest cultural scene is the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, which opened its doors in November.

Inside are two splendid halls. From the main entrance on the south side of the complex, the 1,800-seat Muriel Kauffman Theatre, the new home of the Kansas City Opera and Kansas City Ballet, is on the visitor’s left. This facility will also be utilized for “Broadway” productions and traveling shows, such as the one-woman performance by comedienne Lily Tomlin that was scheduled for the evening of my visit in late November. On the right, and connected by a spacious and truly impressive “grand foyer” on two levels, is the Kansas City Symphony’s new 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall. Both the ceiling (roof) and the south side of the foyer itself are expansive walls of glass  To the south is a panoramic view of the city (but not the downtown area itself), looking towards the Crown Center, historic Union Station, the Liberty Memorial, which houses the National World War I Museum, and other sights.

My reason for coming to Kansas City was a Sunday matinee concert by the Symphony, an excellent orchestra that has come a very long way since it’s founding in 1982 from the “ashes” of the bankrupt Kansas City Philharmonic. Although based on the conversations I had, the word had likely circulated widely among the city’s residents, but I was immediately surprised how much the interior of Helzberg Hall resembles a slightly smaller version of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.  Needless to say, however, the somewhat controversial exterior of the Disney facility, designed by Frank Gehry, is much different.  But the real test of any concert hall is its acoustics, and I am happy to report that here they are superb. Furthermore, the sightlines are excellent from seating areas throughout the hall.

I think my friend Roger Oyster, the Kansas City Symphony’s Principal Trombone, said it best in an e-mail to me after the hall debuted in September  I am happy...ecstatic, actually...to report that Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center is spectacular in nearly every way. Stunningly beautiful, sound is flattering on stage, you can hear yourself and your colleagues always no matter what the context---it is literally among the best places I've ever played, which include Symphony Hall in Boston and pre-renovation Carnegie (Hall in New York). I've had some chance to hear the KCS in the house, and while I haven't been in nearly as many great halls as a listener as I have a performer, the sound is absolutely stunning. The best news we learned this last weekend: it sounds even better with a house full of people. We're all beside ourselves with joy here.” Don’t miss it on your group’s next visit to Kansas City!

Halzberg Hall

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

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Three snapshots of the Midwest

Pea Ridge National Military Park

by Bob Hoelscher 28. December 2011 01:29

Looking for something different and well worth adding to your next tour to Branson and/or Eureka Springs? May I suggest one of two significant Civil War battlefields in the area that are administered by our National Park Service? 

In fact, there are three fine, but lesser known NPS sites that are inexpensive to visit and within easy driving distance of the Branson area. Both Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield and George Washington Carver National Monument are close by in Missouri, and Pea Ridge National Military Park is right across the Arkansas line, about 25 miles west of Eureka Springs and 10 miles northeast of Rogers. This March 7 and 8, the latter site will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the crucial battle that saved Missouri for the Union during the first year of the Civil War.  

Open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Days, Pea Ridge features a visitor center with a theatre, bookstore and small museum, as well as a seven-mile tour route through the battlefield itself. Along the way, you’ll pass remnants of the original Trail of Tears, traveled by thousands of Cherokees and other Native Americans during their forced removal to “Indian Territory” (now Oklahoma) during the winter of 1838-39.  You’ll also learn about the movement of the armies, some 16,000 Confederates and 10,500 Federals, which collided here in fierce combat. You can also visit the reconstructed Elkhorn Tavern, held at different times by each side.

Although the tide of battle turned several times, with both armies suffering significant casualties, the Confederates eventually withdrew when their ammunition ran low, leaving Missouri to remain at least politically neutral and a Union State throughout the remainder of the war.   

Trail of Tears marker

Cannons at the Leetown Battlefield

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Three snapshots of the Midwest

Circus World Museum

by Bob Hoelscher 28. December 2011 01:05

On my recent trip to the Midwest, I focused on three diverse attractions. The first attraction often overlooked by groups headed towards the nearby Ho-Chunk Casino and Wisconsin Dells to the north, or to the House on the Rock to the southwest, is the site of the one-time winter quarters of the storied Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Today, on the banks of the Baraboo River, the Circus World Museum preserves the history and traditions of the circus in America. The Museum, all buildings and exhibits are open annually from mid-April until late October, while live shows featuring a wide variety of circus performers are offered from the week before Memorial Day through the Labor Day weekend. I didn’t make my visit until late November, when they Museum itself was open, but the staff was also kind enough to allow me to wander the grounds by myself on a cold but sunny day. 

Within the complex are historic elephant, horse and animal barns, the Hippodrome (venue for the live performances), classic circus train cars, a carousel, sideshow facilities, and both the W.W Deppe Circus Wagon Pavilion and the C.P. Fox Wagon Restoration Center. The Museum building itself houses what is billed, in typical circus fashion, as “the largest collection of restored parade wagons, antique advertising posters and big top memorabilia in the world.” 

Here also is a theatre for regular showings of a circus movie, and displays that I found particularly interesting which tell the story of the Ringling Brothers themselves, as well as their extensive schedules of annual circus tours, performance and amusement innovations, plus the promotional efforts that they perfected. Groups with an interest in exploring a widespread form of public entertainment that was extremely popular before the days of movies, television and “virtual reality” are sure to enjoy their visits.

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Three snapshots of the Midwest

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