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Maestro Philip Mann's nine-year tenure as music director and conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra ends this weekend with a spectacular program at Little Rock's Robinson Center. Opening with a world-premiere composition, the sixth and final concert of the season looks forward to the ASO's future artistic growth, nurtured by Mann, and offers through a well-loved composer a link to the maestro's earliest days with the orchestra.

Michael Fine's Concerto for Oboe Section and String Orchestra -- a work suggested to the composer by Mann and receiving its first public performance with the ASO -- displayed the virtuosity of the orchestra's three accomplished oboists, Leanna Renfro, Lorraine Duso Kitts and Beth Wheeler (who also did double-duty at times on the English horn).

The three-movement concerto grosso also highlighted the lush sinuosity of the ASO string section, which continually engaged in collaborative interplay with the oboists. Fine's bright, accessible composition led the superbly balanced players from a yearningly nostalgic beginning through a lilting larghetto to delightful pizzicato-punctuated dance rhythms.

One of the titanic achievements in the symphonic form, Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor, contains a universe of emotions, contrasting existential despair with joyful exaltation. Mann and the orchestra produced a spectacular experience for the audience, bringing dynamic energy to the darkness of Part I's Trauermarsch (funeral march) and turbulent Sturmisch bewegt.

The players shifted seamlessly to an uplifting Scherzo in Part Two. The movement was filled with marvelous work by the brass, with a stunning sustained note by principal horn David Renfro. In Part Three, the orchestra infused the achingly beautiful Adagietto with a warm, expansive lyricism. The flawless playing of the string section and the harpist sustained the movement.

Shifting directly to the accelerating Rondo-Finale, the orchestra exuberantly pushed toward a remarkable conclusion to Mahler's magnificent symphony and Mann's inspired and inspiring leadership as ASO music director. The program was a testament to what the maestro has given to the orchestra and the community.

Oboe section, orchestra and conductor will reassemble at 3 p.m. today at Robinson, West Markham Street and Broadway. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 666-1761 or online at arkansassymphony.org.

Metro on 05/05/2019

CORRECTION: The key of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 is C-sharp minor. An earlier version of this review included an incorrect key.

Print Headline: Orchestra soars in conductor's farewell

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