Greener Grass At Home

Sym­phony sea­son cel­e­brates best of Ar­kan­sas

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - WHAT'S UP - BECCA MARTIN-BROWN

The theme for the 2017-18 Fort Smith Sym­phony sea­son is “Fron­tiers,” and mu­sic di­rec­tor John Jeter is as ex­cited as he’s ever sounded about the se­lec­tions and the guest stars.

“We’re play­ing on that word in a num­ber of ways,” says Jeter, now in his 21st sea­son with the or­ches­tra. “It’s our usual re­ally cool mix of pro­grams with a few in­ter­est­ing twists.

Even when the mu­sic is very tra­di­tional, there’s some­thing unique about the con­cert.”

Jeter just fin­ished his

20th an­niver­sary year, one he calls “a blast — but very tir­ing.”

“We had a great time! The short an­swer? We set a new bar we’re al­ways go­ing be op­er­at­ing from in terms of do­ing more. More and more or­ga­ni­za­tions from pri­vate schools to hos­pi­tals are ap­proach­ing us to ask for help with ‘X’ project. The whole idea of the sym­phony be­ing a com­mu­nity re­source? We’re see­ing a sig­nif­i­cant growth in that. It’s been re­ally great — ex­cept ev­ery cool new project al­ways means more work. But the idea of do­ing more than just con­certs has re­ally taken off in ways every­body is re­ally happy about.”

For this sea­son, that means the or­ches­tra will be record­ing again for Naxos Records. This time, it will be the mu­sic of Arkansan Florence Price (1887-1953).

“Florence Price’s mu­sic is ro­man­tic, lyri­cal, soul­ful and beau­ti­ful,” Jeter says. “She was the first AfricanAmer­i­can fe­male com­poser to have a sym­phony per­formed by a ma­jor Amer­i­can or­ches­tra. She is con­sid­ered the most prom­i­nent, his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant con­cert com­poser of her race and gen­der in Amer­i­can mu­sic his­tory. The Fort Smith Sym­phony will be the first or­ches­tra to ever record her com­plete cy­cle of four sym­phonies. This is a very spe­cial and his­toric mu­si­cal event for our city, state and our coun­try!”

Jeter points out that the con­cert, which takes place on May 12, be­fore the record­ing ses­sions, will also be the first time Price’s Sym­phony No. 4 in D Mi­nor (1945) has “ever been per­formed, ever.” The sheet mu­sic was copied from a man­u­script at the Univer­sity of Ar­kan­sas.

He’s also par­tic­u­larly ex­cited about in­volv­ing two re­gional bands in a per­for­mance on April 21. The Crumbs will per­form “Fort Smith her­itage songs” — “String ‘Em Up,” “Wave,” “Horses One, Pis­tols Three” — and the Ben Miller Band will present its own unique “Ozark stomp” clas­sics in a cel­e­bra­tion of Fort Smith’s bi­cen­ten­nial.

“We’re sort of the un­of­fi­cial of­fi­cial con­cert for a year of stuff the city’s do­ing,” Jeter says. “And we’ll per­form a world pre­miere work — ‘Good Night Fort Smith’ — that is the of­fi­cial com­mis­sioned work for the an­niver­sary.”

The rest of the sea­son in­cludes a per­for­mance by Jeremy Denk, “the most prom­i­nent Amer­i­can pi­anist right now”; “The Great Ladies of Swing” with vo­cal­ist Dee Daniels; “An Epic Christ­mas”; and “Ro­man­tic Echoes,” fea­tur­ing Schu­mann’s Sym­phony No. 2, Op. 61 in C ma­jor, which has not been per­formed in Fort Smith dur­ing Jeter’s ten­ure.

“One of the things I re­ally like about the com­ing sea­son is there’s a ten­dency to think what’s bet­ter is what’s far away — from a big city, from a for­eign coun­try,” Jeter says. “The grass is al­ways greener if it’s not from here. I’ve al­ways loved bring­ing in in­ter­na­tional soloists, etc., but I re­ally like fea­tur­ing the re­gional bands and the whole con­cert cel­e­brat­ing a na­tive Arkansan in May. I know a lot of or­ches­tras in their own states don’t do a lot of that, and they should.”


A Fort Smith Sym­phony per­for­mance on April 21 will in­volve two re­gional bands: The Ben Miller Band, pic­tured, will present its own unique “Ozark stomp” clas­sics, and The Crumbs will per­form “Fort Smith her­itage songs” in a cel­e­bra­tion of Fort Smith’s bi­cen­ten­nial.


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