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ASO, audience get cozy in ‘Pulling Out All the Stops’

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published January 17, 2013 at 2:25 a.m.

— The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra wants to get a little closer to its listeners.

So it has created a new music series, offering mostly familiar repertoire of a more modest scope in settings that are more intimate than its home base, the 2,500-seat Robinson Center Music Hall.

The new Stella Boyle Smith Trust Intimate Neighborhood Concert Series debuts at 7 p.m. today at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, 4823 Woodlawn Ave., Little Rock.

The program, titled “Pulling Out All the Stops,” will feature organist Justin Bischoff in Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ in g minor. Music Director Philip Mann will be on the podium.

Mann’s program also includes the Overture to The Barber of Seville by Giacomo Rossini, Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 35, the “Haffner.”

The two other concerts in the series, both in downtown Little Rock:

March 14, the orchestra’s Quapaw and Rockefeller string quartets and Beth Wheeler, English horn, will play works by Edward Elgar, ASO composer of the year Jennifer Higdon, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Bela Bartok at Christ Episcopal Church, 509 Scott St.

And May 16, the Arkansas Chamber Singers will join orchestra members for Mozart’s Requiem at First United Methodist Church, 723 Center St.

The orchestra’s officially stated purpose for the new series is to make classical music available to more Arkansans and to perform works that the full orchestra might not do on a regular basis. But Mann says there are other motives.

“We’re really trying to build more of a connection between the musicians and the audiences,” he explains.

“The intimacy in the title is a real key component. We want to make sure people can connect with the ASO in new ways, but especially in very close-up ways.

“For example, when we take an intermission - just a pause, really - the musicians will come out and mingle with the audience. And each of these programs will be followed by a reception where the guest artists and the conductors and the orchestra will be with the audience.”

The programs will be a little shorter, an hour to an hour and a half, Mann says, which “allows for different audience experience, possibly pair it with dinner before or after.”

Mann says he chose his venues carefully and in some cases the physical layout determined what he plans to play there.

“Each of the programs is more than just a selection of repertoire,” he explains. “I’m thinking of them as unique experiences, and memories that people can take with them. It’s the juxtaposition in [linking] the performance space, the performers and the audience - the combination of the music and the setting.

“These are pieces that are best heard in this size acoustics; Robinson would be too big and the Clinton [Presidential] Center [where the orchestra puts on its River Rhapsodies chamber series] would be too small.

“These are small programs with repertoire with very broad appeal. They’re classical, but they’re picked for people who haven’t maybe experienced the symphony before. And that appeal is not limited to just the public; these are programs that musicians get very excited about.”

Mann says that although the first three programs are in churches, “it’s not a sacred space series, it’s a neighborhood series. Looking off into the future seasons, there are lots of other venues that we’re considering that are not churches,” including possible performances at the Arkansas Arts Center and the Governor’s Mansion.

Tickets are $25, $35 for premium seating, $10 for students and active members of the military. A three-concert subscription will be $75 and $105, half price for new subscribers.

Call (501) 666-1761 or visit arkansassymphony.org.

Weekend, Pages 34 on 01/17/2013

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