Saturday was a night of firsts for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra at Little Rock’s Robinson Center Performance Hall.
The world premiere of “Pasajes” by Tania Leon was a delightfully accessible musical experience, reflecting, as the composer explained, “flashes in my memory of what has been the trajectory of my life.”
As such, it contains distant but happy childhood memories, bits of birdsong, rhythms of her native Cuba and what she accurately describes as a “bombastic ending that [shows] what I have become as a musician.” Oh, and a timpani cadenza to kick off that finale (a tour de force for timpanist Rick Dimond). Commissioned through Amplifying Voices, it’ll have subsequent debuts by half a dozen other “bands.”
Pianist Martina Filjak, in a shimmering golden gown that was in marked contrast with the orchestra’s “concert blacks,” sought, and delivered, plenty of nuance in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s C-major “Piano Concerto No. 21” (a bonus for folks who have heard the piece a hundred times or more). She engaged in a nice musical dialogue with the players and with first-time guest conductor Akiko Fujimoto, and her self-written cadenzas were short, punchy and very vivid.
But it took until the rollicking finale for everything to fully mesh and for the performance to be as much fun as it ought to have been throughout. The subsequent ovation, alas, failed to produce an encore.
Fujimoto, music director of the Mid-Texas Symphony in Seguin, Texas, and former associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra and the San Antonio Symphony (and the wife of former ASO Associate Conductor Israel Getzov), finally got to show what she could do as a conductor in the short concert’s finale, a glorious performance of Richard Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration.”
Fujimoto, Filjak, Leon (presumably) and the orchestra will repeat the program at 3 p.m. Sunday at Robinson, 426 W. Markham St. at Broadway. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 666-1761, Extension 1, or online at ArkansasSymphony.org.