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REVIEW: Arkansas Symphony Orchestra casual concert fuses music, fine art

Many elements, including some chilly ones, came together for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra's Masterworks season finale Sunday at Little Rock's Robinson Center Performance Hall.

Players, audience and conductor Philip Mann were casually clad for the annual "Beethoven & Blue Jeans" concert, for which, for the first time in years, Beethoven was the program focal point. It was also the culmination of the orchestra's Canvas Festival, linking visual arts to live symphonic performance.

In that context, impressionist painter Barry Thomas created a work onstage while the audience watched via a big screen as the orchestra gave a fine and artistic (though not flawless) performance of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, aka the "Pastoral."

Thomas started swabbing paint onto a pre-blackened canvas as Mann dropped the baton on the first movement, creating an impressionistic landscape-skyscape that he turned from mid-afternoon to night to day, including storm clouds and a post-storm sunburst as the piece proceeded.

Mann's tempos were brisk throughout -- particularly the "walking" tempo in the second movement, "Andante molto mosso," which too many conductors over the years have taken way too slowly. The musicians played crisply, though Mann sometimes took them into broader, more legato gestures. A first-movement mix-up brought in wind players at the wrong moment, and there was an unfortunate horn "clam" in the transition from the fourth-movement storm to the fifth-movement song of thanksgiving.

The program opened with a lovely, highly nuanced performance of Maurice Ravel's Mother Goose Suite and a piece actually inspired by four pieces of visual art -- Finding Rothko by ASO composer of the year Adam Schoenberg, who provided onstage program notes.

Sunday's blustery weather put a pretty bitter chill on the pre-concert Beer & Brats street party, even driving the Episcopal Collegiate Steel Band indoors.

Metro on 04/16/2018

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