What a blessing is the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra's Intimate Neighborhood Concerts series.
It's a chance for the orchestra musicians to play, and audiences to hear them play, a whole range of chamber orchestra works, fitting neatly between chamber music and full-orchestra masterworks, that would otherwise go unheard.
And they're in settings -- mostly area churches -- where conductor Philip Mann can program music that fits the space. Apparently, at least according to Mann, two of Thursday night's "Picture Perfect" pieces at Calvary Baptist Church in Pulaski Heights are ones the orchestra had not previously played.
The centerpiece was a fantastic performance by soprano Keely Futterer, a native Arkansan charging up the steep ladder of vocal-music prominence, of Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Futterer's voice was rich and full and her diction was so superb that we missed not a single syllable of James Agee's melancholy memorial to a simpler time and place. The players, as they so often do with excellent soloists, backed her nearly perfectly. Period images of the Tennessee town projected on screens on either side of the musicians enhanced the experience.
The projection process also gave an additional dimension to the fine (and apparently the orchestra's first) performance of Ottorino Respighi's Trittico Botticelliano, pairing the music with the three title paintings by 15th century master Sandro Botticelli, including "The Birth of Venus" (roguishly known best, perhaps, as "Venus on the Half Shell").
The other putative premiere was the five-movement suite of incidental music for Much Ado About Nothing by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, with echoes of (even where the precocious composer didn't actually quote from) Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, as well as echoes of the future movie scores that would later make his name famous. Mann and the musicians performed it with just the right balance of cartoonishness and coquettishness.
Metro on 01/19/2018