Kansas City produced a world-class filmmaker in Walt Disney. Everybody knows his name.
But our town also produced a world-class classical composer. Yet Virgil Thomson's is far from a household name.
The PBS documentary tentatively-titled Virgil Thomson: Identifying an American Voice, about Thomson's life and work, should help rectify that oversight.
Excerpts from that work-in-progress will be screened as part of A Valentine for Virgil Thomson. on Wednesday, February 13, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
Among the clips is footage of Thomson's work being performed. These include a Flint Hills concert by Lyle Lovett and the Kansas City Symphony and a concert in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts by local classical soloists including tenor Nathan Granner, mezzo-soprano Elaine Fox, soprano Elizabeth Botero, singer/guitarist Barclay Martin, pianists Karen Kushner and Brad Cox, and violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane.
The evening concludes with a public conversation conducted by Andrew Granade, assistant professor of musicology at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, with the filmmakers: producer James Arntz, director John Paulson, co-producer/writer Aimee Larrabee, and KCPT production coordinator Angee Simmons.
Deemed by fellow composing giant Aaron Copland to be "the father of American classical music," Thomson (1896-1989) grew up in Kansas City studying piano and organ and accompanying vaudeville performances and silent movies.
He became a fixture of "Paris in the twenties," forging relationships with prominent cultural icons like James Joyce , Ernest Hemingway , E. E. Cummings , Aaron Copland , Ezra Pound , Igor Stravinsky , Pablo Picasso , Orson Welles , Jean Cocteau , and especially his future collaborator, Gertrude Stein .
His best-known works are "Symphony on a Hymn Tune," and the operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All, both with librettos by Stein. Among his film scores are those for the documentaries The Plow That Broke the Plain and Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.
But Thomson worked in many musical genres, always in a style marked by a crafty wit and a playfulness rooted in hymnbook harmony and American, Midwestern, and Kansas City
In addition, from 1940 to 1954 Thomson was the influential music critic of the New York Herald Tribune. He was the author of eight books about music.
He received a Brandeis Award, the gold medal for music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, and more than 20 honorary doctorates, and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the French Legion of Honor.
Major funding for programs at the Kansas City Public Library is provided by a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407.