Topeka’s Grace Cathedral a destination location for classical performers from all over the world

When asked which performance Steve Burk thinks will be most popular for the 15th annual Great Spaces Music & Arts Series, Burk hesitates — torn by the decision of choosing a favorite.

 

After a few moments, he’s given a short synopsis of each performer, and basically recited the program.

Burk is the organizer of the internationally recognized series, held every August through July at Topeka’s Grace Cathedral, 701 S.W. 8th Ave.

Each show brings something new to the cathedral, from acoustic guitarists and local brass bands to the opener for the year, Susan Matthews, a world-re-knowned organist.

“There’s some things we do every year — we always have one or two piano concerts, and one or two big choral events, those are our main stays,” Burk said. “But over the years I’ve listened and talked to people at our receptions after the performances, and I try to talk with people to see what they like and don’t like.”

Burk said on average they try to have 125 to 200 people fill the grand space that is Grace Cathedral, but that for sold-out shows, they have a limit of 600 seats.

“There aren’t that many arts events — other than all the bars and the bands and that kinds of stuff — but there aren’t that many classical things happening in town,” Burk said.

Since the series began 15 years ago, Grace Cathedral has become known worldwide as the destination location to play if you’re traveling through the Midwest, Burk explained. And most traveling performers, as they travel from coast to coast, are looking for places to rest as they cross through “layover states.”

“They come here, there’s a lot of people, it’s a fantastic space, they’re treated well — so that word has spread since the very first season,” Burk said. “They know about Grace Cathedral and they know about Topeka because of this concert series. I get calls and emails virtually every month from literally all over the world saying ‘when are you booking?’ “

The first performance is 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 27. Matthew’s performance is a free will offering, but concert prices range to up to $20 a show depending on the performer and the funds needed to cover expenses. Burk explained that even though the series is under the church’s umbrella, it functions completely on donations, which Burk says “is a shoestring budget.”

Sixty to seventy-five percent of the funding needed for the series comes from people outside the Episcopal church, which Burk said is a testament to how ingrained this series has become in the community.

“Non-members have said, ‘I vote for this in Topeka,’ ” Burk said. “And they’re saying it with their checks. I think that kind of thing is what has made this series so strong.”

Attending the concert series is a great introduction to the cathedral, Burk said, because of how large and intimidating it is, he said people are often nervous to attend.

“If they get to come for another reason that first time, a concert or artist or something like that, they get in and go ‘wow,’ and people are nice to them and everything else, and if they get to a point in their life where they’re looking for a religious connection, then we might be in their sights,” Burk said. “And I feel that all I can ever do is invite. I can never convince you to come, I can never convince you to be a Christian or anything else, all I can do is invite.”

In addition to Matthews, Robert Weirch, a concert pianist; the Washburn University Faculty Brass Quintet; Mateusz Rzewuski, a concert organist; Eli Shille-Hudson, a classical guitarist; The Concordia Choir, conducted by Rene Clausen; and the NAVO Chamber of Orchestra are just a few of the 14 events scheduled.

Also marking its 20th year is the Silents in the Cathedral event, which will be celebrated with the 1922 classic, “Nosferatu.” This showing is free and sponsored by the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.

For more information about the Great Spaces Music & Arts Series, visit greatspaces.org.

Contact reporter Savanna Maue at (785) 295-5621 or @CJFoodFun or @SavannaMaue on Twitter.

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