The Galileo Project by the Friends of Chamber Music Kansas City (5 stars)

More people than you would think want to know more about Galileo, to judge by the almost sold out performance on a surely risky topic: Galileo, the 17th century scientist, presented by the Friends of Chamber Music Kansas City.

About half the audience arrived an hour in advance for a lecture from Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., of the University of Missouri, Kansas City. It was both entertaining and fascinating to learn more about the life of Galileo, who it turns out was also a musician! It’s a shame that the auditorium had so much echo, which made it difficult to follow his lecture, which though fast paced left no time for questions. The presentation was listed in “a partnership with the Linda Hall Library”, surely a missed opportunity to have said “in concert with the Linda Hall Library”. The Linda Hall Library of Engineering and Science we were told has the largest collection of original Galileo materials in the United States. I’ve got to check that out!

I’m not much into classical music concerts, but I had no idea why until I was instructed by the performance of Tafelmusik, Canada’s award-winning orchestra. A typical orchestra has sheet music on stands, hiding their faces from the audience and constraining them to sit still. Tafelmusik had memorized their music. This freed them to walk around the stage, processing in a circle, engaging with each other, in the way that we’re used to from duet singers on a stage, but all with instruments, including a harpsichord.

The Baroque Orchestra (and you can see why they’re broke, with generous ticket pricing starting at $20 to cover sixteen performers) entertained us with music from Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel and others. While most orchestras play long pieces whose story is known only to music scholars, Tafelmusik kept their musical numbers short, and prefaced them with spoken word stories about science, the ancient Greeks, and more. Knowing the context for the pieces made them much more accessible and powerful.

The only staging was a giant brass ring hung above the audience, representing the eyepiece of a telescope. The telescope of course is an invention that Galileo helped to create, and they project a circular video inside the ring, showing images from space, both real and artists’ renderings.

I’ve never experienced classical music with such dynamism. The choreography perfectly matched the music, with stamping of feet, walking to all corners of the stage, and the performers coming down to play in the aisles. The quality of the music was also well matched, and the instruments blended well, none being inappropriately dominant. The show included humor, such as dueling violinists, and cute comments about the violinists representing the four seasons. Later in his life, Galileo was sentencing by the church to prison, and the piece on this topic had a haunting beauty so powerful that I admit it brought tears to my eyes.

I wish I could give more than 5 stars to a performance so entertaining, educational, and brought to the public at a reasonable price. The show was even free or children. It was an internationally worthy show, something you would expect to see on the sophisticated stages of New York and Europe.

The Folly Theater offers inexpensive refreshments in the lobby and seats about a thousand. Although the seating is uncomfortable if you are a big and tall person, ask to be seated in rows with extra leg room or for a folding chair without confining armrests.

Learn more about the one-time Galileo performance and find upcoming shows including Discover Davinci & Michelangelo – Side By Side and comedian Hannibal Buress at