Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bach Is In The House

You'll never guess where I was Sunday night, between the hours of 7:00 and 9:00. You would not imagine that I would be hanging out in a mansion on Ward Parkway, mingling and schmoozing with a crowd of affluent, high brow types. But there I was, sipping my red wine and pretending that I was one of the beautiful people, and that this was just the sort of well-appointed gathering I was accustomed to.

How did I come to be there? Who let me inside? The truth is, I hadn't exactly been invited. Admission had come at a price, the price of a ticket to the Hauskonzert by the Bach Aria Soloists. Roger had bought the tickets as a Valentine's Day gift for me.

The Bach Aria Soloists is a small group of Kansas City musicians who perform music by Bach and Bach-inspired composers, and they put on these hauskonzerts three times a year, so as to provide an intimate chamber music setting for hearing the music as it was originally intended, and to give rubes like me the chance to rub elbows with the cultural elite. 

Each hauskonzert is hosted in a lovely (rich-ass) home, and includes drinks before the concert, and afterwards, a killer reception full of sumptuous eats.

This particular hauskonzert was going to be a special Valentine's-themed concert, featuring "love" works by Bach, Edward Elgar, Fritz Kreisler, and Gabriel Faure.

When the time for the concert came, Roger and I made our way to the tony address on Ward Parkway, and found a majestic brick colonial with huge white columns adorning the front. This is one of those ultra-swank homes I have driven by a gazillion times, but never thought I would ever step inside.

As we approached it we saw that the big wrought iron gates that were normally shut tight were flung open for us, and we drove right up the circle drive, as if we were somebodies. The valets played along, and acted like we were somebodies too, quickly taking the car off our hands.

From the outside, I would have pictured this home ornately furnished, flush with luxurious fabrics and gleaming antiques. Instead, the interior was ultra-modern and sleek and I suspect, was very Feng Shui. The style seemed Japanese-influenced, with clean, geometric lines and very few curves, and a minimalistic approach to decoration. Even the abstract art on the walls, while bold, was primarily monochromatic. Along one wall was what appeared to be a shoji screen.

Roger and I went to the free bar and got cups of red wine, then drifted around aimlessly. We wandered through the kitchen area, and like some of the other guests, we ogled the reception food that was covered with plastic wrap. An army's worth of sushi!--catered by Jun's restaurant---awaited our greedy appetites. Behind the counter, the wall behind the stove and sink was illuminated with an eye-catching display of colored light. "Look," I whispered. "The wall is hot pink." It seemed like an odd color choice for the kitchen. But as I watched, the color faded to rose, which then morphed into orange, which turned to yellow, and so on, until the light had cycled all the way through the color wheel and back again.

But forget the eye candy. The concert was the main thing, and it was marvelous. Violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane, who founded Bach Aria Soloists, made me want to cry, her playing was so beautiful. Elizabeth is a virtuoso who has played all over the globe. Kansas City is lucky to have her. I have had the opportunity to speak to her casually, because she brings her son Ethan to our house for jazz piano lessons. Musically speaking, I consider her royalty, but in person she is as full of warmth and grace as her music is.

Beau Bledsoe played brilliant guitar. I've enjoyed hearing him many times but most memorably, when he played with Tango Lorca for my 40th birthday party, and for a work holiday party. Rebecca Lloyd sang French operatic numbers in a soaring soprano, and Elisa Bickers was stunning on piano and harpsichord.

After the concert, we joined the line for the food. While standing in line, Elizabeth introduced us to a man whom she said was Elisa Bickers' husband. Looking at him directly for the first time, and seeing that he wore an earring in each ear, I immediately recognized him as Lilah's honors English teacher!

Poor man, I can't help but think he looked like a trapped animal as I loudly identified him. I wasn't sure he was all that pleased to run into two parents. He was probably groaning inwardly at the thought of having to talk about school. And what did I do? I launched into a discussion of The Book Thief, which he had assigned to Lilah's class, and which I was in the middle of reading myself. "What did you think of the narration?" I asked him. I was genuinely curious, because I was having my own issues with it. I didn't necessarily mind that Death was the narrator, since this was a story about Nazi Germany, but I found the narrator's constant fragmented interruptions and announcements to be increasingly annoying and getting in the way of the story. The narrator intrudes with a glibness that to me sounds too much like the author signalling his cleverness.

Anyway, Mr. Bickers and I were both saved from our conversation by the sushi table, which had at last come within reach. We had only tiny plastic plates, but I loaded mine up as best I could. I tried putting ponzu sauce (what is that??) on my plate, but it rolled around like a loose marble and spread over everything. I waffled over the wasabi. First I skipped it, out of fear, then I went back and put a smidge of it on my plate, but in the end, I left it untouched. My drink was empty and I had no way to put out the fire. There were several colorful permutations of sushi, and something deep-fried that might have been a prawn.

Roger and I found seats next to the 90 year old mother of Benny Lee, the Taiwan-born and raised owner of the house. I know she's 90 because Lee had introduced her at the start of the concert to the whole room, and announced that she'd flown 6,000 miles to be there.

We had a choice of using either a fork or a chop stick, and naturally everyone at our table was using chopsticks, including Roger. So I wanted to try to use them too. This didn't worry me too much, because I thought I had actually learned to use chopsticks successfully on some prior occasion. And really, how hard could it be?

Well, it turned out to be plenty hard. In my attempt to grab my sushi roll with the two sticks, I repeatedly stabbed it instead, which pushed the inside portion of neatly packed bits completely out of the coiled center and made the whole piece of sushi fall apart. But using a fork didn't work much better. Just trying to grab it with my fork produced the same effect of pushing out the center and making the whole roll collapse. I ended up having to improvise with a combination of fork, chopstick and finger to get it from the plate to my mouth. I can only imagine what Benny Lee's 90 year old mother must have been thinking.

Thank goodness dessert was just a simple heart cookie with pink or red frosting.

When it came time to go, the valets fetched our car with brisk efficiency. But while I was waiting in the foyer, I had time to look up and notice the light fixture hanging overhead -a marvel of modern design made up of dozens of white sheets of metal that looked like the petals of a flower and suggested kinetic sculptures I've seen in museums.

But then our car pulled up and we stepped away from the Lee home back to reality. It was a very cold night, but the car was warmed up for us, the ease of which was the last bit of luxury we could grab, along with the extra heart cookie we had swiped to take home to the girls. The richness of the music though, we could keep forever.

Bach Aria Soloists --Rebecca Lloyd, Beau Bledsoe, Elisa Bickers, and Elizabeth Suh Lane


  1. wow...and wow! i read this post with ever-widening eyes and a mixture of envy and admiration. very very VERY cool. too bad you couldn't take pix, lol. but your description was wonderful!!

  2. p.s....in case i ever am fortunate enough to be somewhere that provides valet parking....what does one tip?

  3. Sue, I don't know! That stuff always confuses me.

  4. An opportunity lost.
    That smart phone would have provided stealth photo's, video and audio. Oh, well. Maybe next time.
    Do you get an opportunity to host this traveling shindig? You should.
    BTW-WRT valet. I over tip the guy that parks the car and ask that he put it in a safe spot. The guy that brings it up gets the short end because he just delivers.

  5. H.B. --Your tipping idea is brilliant. I'll remember the next time I valet park, which based on past frequency intervals, will probably be another 5 years from now.

    Me host the traveling Bach hoo-dang? When I get my million dollar home, then I'll host it.