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A casually clad Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, a sparklingly clad pianist and a comfortably clad guest conductor enthralled a very responsive audience Saturday night at Little Rock's Robinson Center Performance Hall with music by two 20th-century composers with Little Rock ties and one from 19th-century Vienna.

The orchestra's annual "Beethoven and Blue Jeans" concert featured pianist Karen Walwyn as soloist in the Piano Concerto in One Movement by Florence Price, a Little Rock native; the curtain-raiser was Festive Overture by William Grant Still, who spent his childhood here.

Walwyn deftly interpreted the concerto, which though in only a single movement has three distinct sections, particularly in the lush, idyllic second movement, with echoes of spirituals, and the Joplin-esque finale. The evening's only disappointment is that she didn't reward the ovation with an encore.

During the Still piece, and particularly during the Ludwig van Beethoven work on the second half of the program, Andrew Grams, music director of the Elgin (Ill.) Symphony, showed considerable elan onstage and it was easy to read just what was coming from his gestures and body language, including his crouching into the quiet passages. His one bit of spoken introduction felt comfortable for him as well as for the audience.

The performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op.55, "Eroica," was nothing short of spectacular. Grams' tempos were well centered and well thought out -- the second movement "Marcia funebre" (funeral march) was slow but never dragged; the third movement "Scherzo" practically twinkled. And the finale, a set of variations on a theme that the composer actually varied three times (once in a ballet and once as a piano piece), took off like a rocket and never relaxed for a moment.

The orchestra felt it -- you could see most of the players, physically as well as musically, giving somewhere around 123%, and there was sterling solo work from the woodwinds. The audience felt it, applauding after each of the first three movements and whooping into an ovation at the end. And maybe it was the performance and maybe because the acoustic balance of the hall has been improved, but it was possible to hear considerably more clarity among all the various string and woodwind sections.

Walwyn, Grams, the orchestra, Price, Still and Beethoven will reassemble at 3 p.m. today at Robinson, West Markham Street at Broadway. A "Symphony Local" pre-concert street party, with free bratwursts and for-sale beer and cold treats, starts at 1 p.m. along the blocked-off 400 block of Markham, open to all ticket holders.

Ticket information is available by calling (501) 666-1761 or online at ArkansasSymphony.org.

Metro on 11/10/2019

Print Headline: Beethoven joins jeans, two 'hometown' works

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