Greener Grass At Home
Symphony season celebrates best of Arkansas
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.