Kelly Bietka
School of Music

Composer to return for KU performances of 'Tartuffe'

Fri, 01/18/2013

LAWRENCE — Kirke Mechem’s three-act opera "Tartuffe," the first opera he composed, will come to life on the stage of Crafton-Preyer Theatre when KU Opera presents this modern work next week at the University of Kansas.Kirke Mechem

Mechem, a native of Topeka who received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from KU in 2012 for his notable contributions to choral music and opera, will attend both performances, Jan. 25 and Jan. 27, as well as visit with KU School of Music students and faculty on the 25th.

Tartuffe, first premiered by the San Francisco Opera in 1980, is set in Paris in the 17th century and is based on an English translation of the French play of the same name by Moliere. KU Opera will present a version with a cast of eight principal characters (wearing period costumes), with the KU Symphony Orchestra accompanying, led by Maestro David Neely. Professor John Stephens will serve as stage director.

The story is set in the household of a wealthy French gentleman, Orgon, and his family and maid. Looked highly upon by Orgon’s mother, Tartuffe is befriended by Orgon and is soon welcomed into his home. Tartuffe’s conniving, hypocritical and manipulative ways quickly become evident to everyone else in the family except Orgon, creating much upheaval in the household.

“The opera is lively and tuneful, with charming arias and clever ensembles,” Stephens said.

Recognized as “the dean of American choral composers,” Mechem studied music at Stanford University and earned a master’s degree in composition from Harvard. He returned to Stanford as assistant choral director and then lived in Vienna before becoming the composer-in-residence at the University of San Francisco.

Mechem is credited with more than 250 works, including “Give Thanks unto the Lord,” which won the SAI American Music Award; “Symphony No. 1,” premiered by the San Francisco Symphony in 1965; “Seven Joys of Christmas,” and “Island in Space.” He has been honored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Choral Directors Association, the Music Educators National Conference and the National Opera Association with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007, the American Choral Directors association celebrated Mechem’s 50 years of compositions with a retrospective concert at its national convention. In January 2011, his work “From the Heartland,” a composition for baritone and orchestra based on four poems by his father, was premiered by the Topeka Symphony at a program in honor of Kansas’ sesquicentennial, as well as his work “The Jayhawk: Overture to a Mythical Comedy.”

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 27. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10/students and seniors. Call 785-864-3436 for ticket information.

For more information, contact the KU School of Music at 785-864-3436 or visit

Happy Kansas Day, Kansans! We caught sunflowers standing tall at the Grinter Family Farms just outside Lawrence last fall. You may wonder how the sunflower came to be the State flower in 1903 and we found an excerpt from Kansas legislation: Whereas, Kansas has a native wild flower common throughout her borders, hardy and conspicuous, of definite, unvarying and striking shape, easily sketched, moulded, and carved, having armorial capacities, ideally adapted for artistic reproduction, with its strong, distinct disk and its golden circle of clear glowing rays -- a flower that a child can draw on a slate, a woman can work in silk, or a man can carve on stone or fashion in clay; and Whereas, This flower has to all Kansans a historic symbolism which speaks of frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairies, and is full of the life and glory of the past, the pride of the present, and richly emblematic of the majesty of a golden future, and is a flower which has given Kansas the world-wide name, "the sunflower state"... Be it enacted ... that the helianthus or wild native sunflower is ... designated ... the state flower and floral emblem of the state of Kansas.

We caught sunflowers standing tall at Grinter Family Farms outside of Lawrence last fall. Happy Kansas Day, Kansans!
Explore KU: The Bells of Mount Oread KU’s Campanile, a 120-foot-tall timepiece that tolls automatically on the hour and quarter-hour, not only sounded in the 2015 New Year at midnight with 12 mighty gongs, but also regularly rings up memories for many Jayhawks – the 277 faculty and students who gave their lives during World War II, the graduates who walk through its doors at commencement, and aspiring students who have strolled through the Lawrence campus. (See For nearly 60 years, KU’s 53-bell carillon has been tolling the sounds of peace and serenity across Mount Oread since it was installed in June 1955 inside the landmark World War II Memorial Campanile, which was dedicated in 1951. (See The carillon is also a four-octave musical instrument, which is played with a giant keyboard and foot pedals. University Carillonneur Elizabeth Egber-Berghout (, associate professor of carillon and organ, climbs 77 steps up a spiral staircase in the bell tower to perform recitals several times a month.

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