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story.lead_photo.caption Guillermo Figueroa

— When Philip Mann was preparing in May 2010 to take over as music director of the Arkansas Symphony, one of his aims - in concert with the orchestra’s board - was to bring in at least one guest conductor each season.

“I made it really clear that guest conductors are an incredibly important component of a healthy orchestra,” Mann said at the time. “It’s important for musicians to be introduced to a diversity of interpretations and musical backgrounds.

“I look forward to bringing guest conductors to Arkansas [who] will complement my strengths and bring their own perspective, [and] where their specialties of repertoire lie outside my specialty.

“A really savvy engagement of guest conductors can be a really important complement to the music director, and it’s good for the orchestra - keeps everybody on their game, tip-top shape.”

The idea was to start the program in the 2011-12 season, but as it worked out, the first of those guest conductors isn’t arriving until this week.

Guillermo Figueroa, music director of the New Mexico Symphony and principal guest conductor of the Puerto Rico Symphony, will be on the podium for this weekend’s Arkansas Symphony’s Masterworks concerts, 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Robinson Center Music Hall, West Markham Street and Broadway, Little Rock.

He’s considered a specialist in the music of Hector Berlioz - he created what is considered the most comprehensive Berlioz Festival in the United States in 2003 for the composer’s bicentennial - but he won’t be conducting any Berlioz on this program.

David Gerstein, the orchestra’s principal cellist, will solo in the Variations on a Rococo Theme by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky; the program also includes the first suite from the Ancient Airs & Dances by Ottorino Respighi (which is also lending its name to the program as a whole) and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, op.36.

An American Airlines Concert Conversation will precede the concert an hour before “curtain” in Robinson Center’s Room 102. Tickets: $14-$52, free to the Sunday matinee for kids in grades K-12 with a paying adult; call (501) 666-1761 or visit

“Guillermo is a consummate musician, and the exact kind of person I’d want to work with the orchestra,” Mann says. “I’m very excited about what our audiences are going to experience, but also what the orchestra is going to experience.

“For an orchestra to continue a fast rate of growth, it needs to experience new perspectives regularly. And that can be more than just guest conductors; it can be the kind of guest artists you bring in and the selection of repertoire.”

Mann says he won’t be conducting any of Figueroa’s orchestras while Figueroa is here - “No, there’s no sort of exchange worked out; some people make their career on that, [but] I prefer to find artists and match them with repertoire that I think are going to bring something really special. If it brings an opportunity later, that’s an entirely different matter.”

Figueroa has guest-conducted the Detroit, New Jersey, Memphis, Phoenix, Colorado, Berkeley, Tucson, Santa Fe, Toledo, Fairfax and San Jose symphony orchestras, the Juilliard Orchestra and the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center.

He is also music director of the summer Music in the Mountains Festival in Durango, Colo., and a prominent violinist. He has served as concertmaster of the New York City Ballet and was a founding member and longtime concertmaster of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which has made more than 50 recordings for Deutsche Grammophon.

He is a regular performer at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and Music From Angel Fire in New Mexico and Music in the Vineyards at Napa, Calif.

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, Robinson Center Music Hall, West Markham Street and Broadway, Little Rock. David Gerstein, cello; Guillermo Figueroa, guest conductor. Ottorino Respighi: Ancient Airs & Dances,, Suite No. 1; Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme; Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major, op.36

Sponsor: Allied Bank

Tickets: $14-$52; free for children in grades K-12 to the Sunday matinee with paid adult (Entergy Kids Ticket)

(501) 666-1761

Weekend, Pages 37 on 01/24/2013

Print Headline: Guest conductor joins ASO for Ancient Airs

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