Some Arkansas Symphony concertgoers may have been disappointed not to have "name" violinist Rachel Barton Pine as soloist for the orchestra's season opener Saturday night at Little Rock's Robinson Center Performance Hall. (Pine, recovering from an elbow injury, had to take a couple of weeks off.)
Nobody was disappointed, however, once "substitute" violinist Blake Pouliot took the stage.
Pouliot was absolutely spellbinding in Max Bruch's "Scottish Fantasy". His stage presence was only the beginning; he assayed the piece's complex demands brilliantly, playing with both motion and emotion. The subsequent ovation earned the audience an encore, Pouliot's own arrangement of "The Last Rose of Summer."
He also charmed the audience earlier in the program with a delightful "appetizer," the A major "Violin Concerto" by Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a Mozart-like work (Bologne was for a time Wolfgang Amadeus' neighbor) with some tricky technical moments and a merry toe-tapping finale.
Guest conductor Vladimir Kulenovic, music director of the dormant Lake Forest (Ill.) Symphony, expressively conducted without a baton, delivering "instructions" to the musicians with both hands -- sometimes at the expense of the boring old steady right-hand beat -- in Mozart's Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" and Paul Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber." He is the only conductor in recent memory to actually indicate dynamics in the curtain-opening "Star-Spangled Banner."
The musicians were, by the way, in concert blacks, eschewing the formal white-tie get-up they used for several seasons.
Pouliot, Kulenovic and the orchestra will repeat the program at 3 p.m. today at Robinson, 426 W. Markham St. at Broadway. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 666-1761, Extension 1 or online at ArkansasSymphony.org.