Big orchestral pieces and a couple of big concertos are on tap for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra's 2023-24 Masterworks season.
Violinist Jennifer Frautschi returns to the stage of Little Rock's Robinson Center, soloing in "Poeme" by Ernest Chausson and Florence Price's single-movement Violin Concerto No. 2 to kick off the season in concerts Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.
The program will also include the Overture to "The Thieving Magpie" by Giocchino Rossini and "The Pines of Rome" by Ottorino Respighi.
Frautschi will be making her fourth solo appearance with the orchestra, performing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in the fall of 2003, Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto in the fall of 2013 and Jean Sibelius' Violin Concerto in the fall of 2017 (and in a chamber music concert the following week with members of the orchestra, Peter Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence" sextet). She also soloed in the Sibelius Violin Concerto earlier this month with the Texarkana Symphony.
The programming is the work of the orchestra's artistic director, Geoffrey Robson, who has been shepherding the orchestra since its previous music director, Philip Mann, left at the end of the 2018-19 season.
The orchestra is in the midst of a conductor search and hopes to name Mann's permanent replacement in June, according to chief executive officer Christina Littlejohn.
The rest of the Masterworks season lineup (all concerts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Robinson, 426 W. Markham St. at Broadway, Little Rock; programs and performers are subject to change):
◼️ Nov. 11-12: Conrad Tao, one of the season's two Artists of Distinction, also makes a return visit to the orchestra to solo in the Piano Concerto No. 3 in d minor, op.30, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Atlanta-based guest conductor Tamara Dworetz will be on the podium. The remainder of the program: the chamber orchestra version of "Duo Ye" by Chen Yi and the full orchestra version of Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" Suite.
Tao first appeared with the orchestra in Maurice Ravel's G major Piano Concerto in November 2021. As the Lee Ronnel Artist of Distinction, he will join members of the orchestra for a River Rhapsodies chamber music concert Nov. 14 at the Clinton Presidential Center. The program for that concert, as well as the rest of the River Rhapsodies series, is still in the works.
◼️ Jan. 27-28: Carolyn Brown, the orchestra's principal flutist, will solo in the Flute Concerto in d minor by C.P.E. Bach. The program will also include the "Organ Symphony" (the Symphony No. 3 in C major) by Camille Saint-Saens with an organist to be named, and "Tangazo" by Astor Piazzolla.
"I recently realized that we have three works on the season that involve an organ," Robson says; since the Robinson Center hall was rebuilt in the last decade without a pipe organ (much to the chagrin of area organists), the orchestra will bring in a large electric organ as it has in the past when an orchestral work required one.
◼️ Feb. 24-25, 2024: Kerson Leong, the Richard Sheppard Arnold Artist of Distinction, solos in the Violin Concerto in D major, op.61, by Ludwig van Beethoven. Also on the program: "The Wind and Petit Jean" by Christopher Theofanidis and "Halcyon Sun" by Jonathan Bailey Holland.
The orchestra premiered the Theofanidis piece, which the musicians commissioned (and dedicated to the orchestra's board) while Theofinidis was ASO Composer of the Year, in April 2013. "I thought it was time to bring that back," Robson says. Holland's piece is one of five commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony, in this case to celebrate the opening of the Freedom Center National Underground Railroad Museum.
Leong will join members of the orchestra for a Feb. 27 chamber music concert at the Clinton Presidential Center.
◼️ April 6-7, 2024: Gustav Holst's massive "The Planets" shares the program with "Night Ferry" by Anna Clyne, a piece Robson originally scheduled for January programs conducted by Akiko Fujimoto but which she swapped out for other repertoire. "I've finally found a home for 'Night Ferry,'" Robson says.
The "Planets" performance is timed ahead of the total solar eclipse the following Monday, with all of Arkansas in the path of totality. "There will be a lot of things solar and universe-related going on in Little Rock that weekend," Robson explains. "We thought this would fit right in."
◼️ May 4-5, 2024: Michelle Cann solos in the Piano Concerto in a minor, op.7, by Clara Schumann. The Prelude to Richard Wagner's opera "Tristan und Isolde" opens the program; the Symphony No. 4 by Johannes Brahms closes out the concert and the season.
To be announced: the conductors for five of the six concert pairings, which will depend on the outcome of the conductor search. The orchestra is still in the process of auditioning several candidates for guest conductors this season and last, many of them for the second time. The list includes:
- ◼️ Vladimir Kulenovic, music director of the Lake Forest (Ill.) Symphony, who was on the podium Oct. 1-2.
- ◼️ Stephen Mulligan, associate conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, who conducted the orchestra Nov. 12-13 and, previously, Sept. 29-30, 2022.
- ◼️ Akiko Fujimoto, music director of the Mid-Texas Symphony in Seguin, Texas, who conducted Masterworks programs in January and, initially, April 9-10, 2022.
- ◼️ Andrew Crust, assistant conductor of the Vancouver Symphony, who is conducting the orchestra this weekend, following a April 30-May 1, 2022, debut.
Robson, who has kept the orchestra on an even keel first as and currently as artistic director, and who conducts a pair of April Masterworks concerts featuring cellist Zuill Bailey in Antonin Dvorak's Cello Concerto, is also still in the running for the permanent job, Littlejohn confirms.
Matthew Kraemer, music director and principal conductor of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, had been scheduled to conduct a May 6-7 program, featuring pianist Samantha Ege as soloist in the Concerto for Piano and Strings by Doreen Carwithen as well as the "Symphonie Fantastique" by Hector Berlioz. He had initially conducted the orchestra May 14-15, 2022. However, he has recently taken a job as music director of the Louisiana Philharmonic and has withdrawn his name from consideration.
Kazem Abdullah, an American conductor currently living in Nürnberg, Germany and who was the music and artistic director of the German city of Aachen from 2012 to 2017, is replacing him for these concerts. Littlejohn says he, too, is among the conductors that members of the orchestra requested to "see."
The orchestra's 2023-24 Pops season opens Oct. 21-22 with a special concert featuring the music of John Williams.
The rest of the pops lineup:
- ◼️ Dec. 15-17: "Home for the Holidays"
- ◼️ Feb. 10-11, 2024: "Bond & Beyond," music from James Bond movies, two singers
- ◼️ March 9-10, 2024: "She's Got Soul," the return of Broadway veteran Capathia Jenkins
- ◼️ May 11-12: "Arkansas Idol," the culmination of a yearlong community competition project featuring what Robson calls "some of Arkansas' premiere up and coming talent," plus "multiple special guests to be named soon."