Pianist nimbly aces Chopin; orchestra plays with passion

Three highly dramatic 19th century masterworks got three highly dramatic, enthusiastic and excellent performances from the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and conductor Philip Mann on Saturday night at Little Rock's Robinson Center Performance Hall.

Mann exacted the maximum oomph out of all three pieces, all of which he took at tempos designed to maintain the maximum amount of audience head-nodding and involvement.

Pianist Andrew von Oeyen, in a tux coat but tie-less, nimbly manipulated the keyboard of the orchestra's new 9-foot Steinway for a thrilling and fulfilling performance of Frederic Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, one of the repertoire's great finger-busters. The performance wasn't note perfect but von Oeyen's minor misses took place mostly in the filigree moments and not anyplace that counted.

The orchestra-piano balance weighed just a hair on behalf of the piano, but Mann helped the ensemble shine (there are no purely orchestral Chopin works, so players have to make the most out of the stellar moments, like the orchestral introduction, which they did). The resultant ovation brought von Oeyen back on stage for three curtain calls but no encore.

Mann and the orchestra opened with a truly exciting curtain raiser, the Overture to Giuseppe Verdi's opera La Forza del Destino, starting with the three forceful, fateful chords that the brass section attacked with fabulous vigor. Woodwind solos were superb throughout.

And the orchestra took the concluding work, Felix Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony (No. 3), in more-than-stride, with hardly any pause between movements and with plenty of brio and passion.

Von Oeyen, Mann and the musicians will repeat the program at 3 p.m. today at Robinson, West Markham Street and Broadway. The pianist, the Arkansas Symphony's Richard Sheppard Arnold Artist of Distinction for the 2018-19 season, will also join orchestra members for a River Rhapsodies chamber concert, 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Clinton Presidential Center, 1200 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock.

Ticket information is available by calling (501) 666-1761, extension 100, or online at

Metro on 01/27/2019