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!
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts