Thursday, August 9, 2018
August heat continues, yet summer nears an end. Seasons don't technically change until the Sept. 22 equinox, but events approaching on the calendar tell us autumn leaves will soon be aflutter. Just as New Orleanians know winter Carnival season is officially over when the Rex and Comus krewe queens meet in midnight pomp on Fat Tuesday, Northwest Arkansans know summer ends when Queen Concordia is crowned and the last spaghetti dinner is served at the Tontitown Grape Festival Saturday night. Pediatric metabolisms barely have time to expel the carnival midway cotton candy and funnel cakes before back-to school on Monday morning.
Another sign: My email inbox is filling with upcoming performing arts season news from classical music organizations I've patronized over the year. I wish I could sign up for them all; alas, from Fort Worth to Tulsa or Bentonville to Fayetteville, there are so many celli and timpani, so little time. In our corner of Arkansas, we are fortunate to enjoy wide and varied musical performances, be they indigenous folk and bluegrass, pastoral summertime Opera in the Ozarks, nationally-ranked high school choirs or traditional classical orchestras. Then there are travelling artists at the Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers and the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, student and faculty performances at the University of Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas Community College venues and the unique, occasional musical programming in the Great Hall at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Our musical cup runneth over much to the surprise and puzzlement of some outsiders and new arrivals. It's off-putting, for example, to have not one, but two professional orchestras in the market: The Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SONA) based in Fayetteville and the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra (APO) of Bentonville. An email from the APO sparked my thoughts on season changes and how plentiful are great performances in our backyard.
The APO 2018-2019 season begins as usual in the Arend Arts Center at Bentonville High School with an early jump on Halloween on Sept. 29. Why not? Michaels and Hobby Lobby have had plastic pumpkins out since Memorial Day. With some unexpected selections on the program, thankfully a few old fallbacks are not. In other words, "Night on Bald Mountain" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" have gone missing. Other family-friendly concerts follow with the Dec. 15 and 16 Christmas music line-ups. As part of the education mission of the orchestra, aspiring young artists in the Arkansas Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will perform alongside seasoned professionals.
Then the last two of the season get serious. For the Valentine's weekend concert Maestro Steven Byess has chosen some of the most evocative romantic themes in orchestral literature. I always say, there's no better source for unrestrained romantic emotion than from those terribly frustrated, Soviet-repressed Russian composers Khachaturian, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. The Rach Piano Concerto 2 is simply the best, a live performance of which should absolutely be on your bucket list.
Byess never misses an opportunity for enlightening an audience, so I look forward to his pre-curtain thoughts on how the music of the final concert in April connects with the theme of inspired literature. Rather than at the Arend Arts Center, this last concert will play in the newer Bentonville West High School auditorium in Centerton.
Meanwhile, SONA in Fayetteville has announced its coming season, which begins Nov. 3 in the Walton Arts Center. There will be five "Masterworks" concerts plus a pop double-header of Christmas music leavening the serious loaves. SONA musical director Paul Haas' energetic conducting is entertainment for the eyes as is the music for the ears.
If there's a preference for me, it's personal and tilts towards the APO because of its roots in the Civic Symphony of Benton County started by church choir director and community college choral professor Miles Fish. When Fayetteville's long-time orchestra went dark years ago, Fish stepped in to form the Civic. In his view, Northwest Arkansas could not prosper without an orchestra nor should our talented musicians have been denied the opportunity to perform. The situation exemplified Bentonville's quirky normalcy, as if every small Southern city has a Methodist choir director like Fish who puts together symphony orchestras and teaches in Italy most summers.
So whether in Bentonville or Fayetteville, we are blessed with talented musicians, steadfast volunteers and generous benefactors making it all possible. Now all you need to do is visit the websites (Arphil.org and Sonamusic.org), purchase tickets and then pull into parking spaces steps away from your concert hall seat. And you get home before the Saturday Night Live cold open.
Commentary on 08/09/2018
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