Chicagoans hoping to see their hometown favorites play Kansas City at a sold-out Kauffman on Tuesday night are still in luck. But it’s Ludwig van Beethoven leading off, with centerfielder Dexter Fowler nowhere in sight, and Gustav Mahler in the First Symphony without pitcher Hector Rondon closing the ninth inning.
Hopes for a miracle Kansas City Kauffman confluence — the Chicago Symphony Orchestra starting its autumn tour at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts while the Chicago Cubs open baseball’s World Series against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium — disappeared last week like a flubbed double lost in the Wrigley Field ivy. Maestro Riccardo Muti and his CSO veterans play on, as manager Joe Maddon’s Cub rookies lick their wounds back home.
First in a series: Concert halls and iconic venues in cities the CSO tours
Expect plenty of traffic along Interstate 70 as Kansas City rushes to both Kauffmans for Tuesday’s two 7 p.m. starts. It’s the only town left nowadays where fans can choose pine-tarred bats or rosined bows at similarly surnamed venues.
Like the capital’s Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, from which the Washington Senators, then Nationals decamped, and its John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City’s ballpark and halls honor two members of the same family. Pharmaceutical magnate Ewing Kauffman returned American League baseball to Missouri in 1969, and Muriel, his wife, dreamed of revitalizing downtown with new homes for theater, opera and orchestra.
It’s Kauffman vs. Kauffman.
Kansas City’s sleek, symmetrical Kauffman Stadium has matured from ’70s modernist icon (when less was more, centerfield fountains excepted) to baseball’s sixth oldest diamond. It remains a retro space-age palace, sentimental rather than futuristic — a suburban sports Tomorrowland surrounded by ramps and interchanges. In 1995, the Royals yanked the stadium’s AstroTurf for a bluegrass lawn, always freshly cut, that stretches toward the left-field grandstand. Pickups and mini-vans whiz beyond, speeding across the George Brett Super Highway that honors the grinning Hall of Famer. The Big K is a pastoral baseball paradise to park your F-150.
Take George Brett eight miles west (the namesake expressway; the third baseman turned club executive of course wouldn’t skip a World Series opener) and exit I-70 near the Kauffman Center. Kansas City chose a ’60s modernist icon — Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, whose stacked, angled Habitat 67 stunned Montreal — to design its new performing arts complex, now in its fifth season.
Safdie, at 77, is no stranger to large, visionary projects. His heralded 2005 expansion of Israel’s Holocaust memorial, the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem, spurred a late-career resurgence: campus-sized destinations like Wal-mart heiress Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (2011) in Bentonville, Ark., where the retailer is headquartered, and the Salt Lake City Main Public Library (2003), with its curving five-story atrium. (Safdie’s not in the sports business unless you’re watching Singapore’s Grand Prix from the 57th floor infinity pool atop Marina Bay Sands, his triple-towered casino resort linked by a bright, sweeping lobby.)
At the Kauffman Center, Safdie revived the arcing-glass curtain wall — 330 feet down the line, like the foul poles at Kauffman Stadium. It visually ties the 1,800-seat proscenium theater with 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall, the concert stage where the CSO will perform. Both spaces share backstage facilities.
Kauffman Center’s Helzberg reflects recent trends in concert-hall design — serpentine wood surfaces for warm reverberation, like stringed musical instruments writ large, and close, compact “vineyard” seating in sloped terraces surrounding the orchestra. For 158 Kansas City ticketholders in the rear choral loft, where augmented CSO horns will pitch the final measures of Mahler’s First Symphony — standing, as the composer suggests — the sound is sure to be immediate.
Let’s hope Safdie’s curved glass holds.
Andrew Huckman is a Chicago-based lawyer and writer.
TOP: Kansas City’s Kauffman Center welcomes the CSO while the Cubs miss the Royals in the World Series at Kauffman Stadium | Photo: MJ Photography KC