Little Rock Look Back: Aretha Franklin with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra at Robinson Center

On November 16, 2004, the rafters of Robinson Center Music Hall were shaken by the vocal prowess of Aretha Franklin.

She shared the Robinson stage with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  The ASO brought Miss Franklin to town as part of the festivities surrounding the opening of the presidential library.  Long a favorite of the Clintons, Miss Franklin sang at his 1993 inaugural festivities the night before he took the oath of office.

Resplendent in a series of white dresses, Miss Franklin was in top form feeding off the love from the audience.  While backstage she may have been dealing with back and knee issues (which the Culture Vulture saw first hand), when she stepped on to the stage she was giving her all as she rolled through hit after hit from her starry career.  She sang, she played the piano, she entertained!

It was a sold out house and her voice and energy reached the last row of the balcony.

Prior to her appearance, the ASO played a few selections including variations on “Hail to the Chief” and “America.”

Earlier in the day, I had the privilege of picking up several copies of Bill Clinton’s autobiography for her to get signed by him.  I delivered them to her as she was resting between rehearsals. She was preparing for an interview with Craig O’Neill, and I hated disturbing her. But I wanted to be sure she got the books.  She was gracious and very appreciative.

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A Full Fall Weekend with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

Tonight (11/10) and tomorrow, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra has a full slate of activities, perfect for enjoying the autumnal weather.

While the centerpiece is the concert (7:30 pm on Saturday and 3:00 pm on Sunday), things kick off with a new festival celebrating local community organizations, arts and crafts, food trucks, and brews!

Symphony Local will celebrate local community organizations, including Arkansas Foodbank, and local arts and crafts vendors. Food trucks and drink vendors include Lost 40 Brewing, Say Cheese, Adobo-to-Go, Arkansas Heart Hospital Food Truck ‘Food from the Heart,’ Adams Mobile BBQ and more.

The festival takes place on Markham Street in front of Robinson Center prior to the concert from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. on Saturday and 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday and admission is free with a concert ticket to Elgar’s Enigma.

Once again, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra is partnering with Arkansas Foodbank to help provide food to those in need. Arkansas Symphony patrons can help by bringing non-perishable food items to the Symphony Local festival. Anyone who brings 10 or more non-perishable food items will receive a voucher good for one pair of tickets to any upcoming ASO concert in the 2018-2019 season.

Also prior to the concert is the Concert Conversation.  All concert ticket holders are invited to a pre-concert lecture an hour before each Masterworks concert. These talks feature insights from the Maestro and guest artists, and feature musical examples to enrich the concert experience.

The talks are one hour before each Masterworks concert, 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. The talks are in the Robinson Performance Hall’s Upper Tier Lobby. Take the elevators on the East (Doubletree) side of the building to the Upper Tier level. Exit the elevators and walk forward to the lobby.

The concerts begin at 7:30 p.m on Saturday , November 10th and 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 11th. Guest conductor Sara Ioannides will begin the concert with Joan Tower’s Made in America. The program continues with Smetana’s The Moldau and Šárka from his set of symphonic poems entitled Má Vlast, and concludes with Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The Masterworks Series is sponsored by the Stella Boyle Smith Trust. Elgar’s Enigma is sponsored by Doubletree Hotel.

 

This weekend’s ASO guest conductor Sarah Ionnides speaks today at the Clinton School

This weekend, Sarah Ioannides is guest conductor with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  Today at noon, she is featured at the Clinton School Speaker Series.

Sarah Ioannides has received international acclaim for her work as a conductor. She has been listed as one of the top twenty female conductors worldwide by Lebrecht’s “Woman Conductors: The Power List,” and described by the LA Times as “one of the six female conductors breaking the glass podium.” Ioannides is a recipient of the Joann Falletta award for the most promising female conductor.

She is now in her 5th season as Music Director of the Symphony Tacoma. Previously she was Music Director with the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra from 2005-17 and the El Paso Symphony between 2005-11. Under her leadership both Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Symphony Tacoma have received ArtWorks grants from the National Endowment for the Arts for creativity in collaboration, community, and commissioning projects and is now well recognized for her skills as a musical curator and adventurous programming.

In her career, Ioannides has had guest engagement spanning 6 continents. She has conducted the Tonkünstler Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre Nationale de Lyon, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Flemish Radio Orchestra, National Symphony of Colombia, Daejeon Philharmonic, Translyvannia Philharmonic Orchestra, Wuttenbergisches Kammerorchester, and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.

Ioannides has also led orchestras extensively in the United States including the Buffalo Philharmonic, Charleston Symphony, Hawai’i Symphony, Louisville Orchestra, New Haven Symphony, New West Symphony, North Carolina Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, Toledo Symphony, and Tulsa Symphony with numerous return engagements. Ioannides has also appeared in special engagements with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New World Symphony and the London Symphony Orchestra.

RIP Donna Axum

News outlets are reporting that Arkansas’ first Miss America, Donna Axum, has died.

A native of El Dorado and a student at the University of Arkansas, during her reign as Miss America Miss Axum (or simply Donna as the newspaper headlines referred to her) made four public visits to Little Rock.  As the first Miss Arkansas to become Miss America, the state’s Capitol City was very interested in giving her a warm welcome.

After being crowned on September 7, 1963, Axum’s first official visit to Arkansas was November 1 through 3.  In addition to stops in Hot Springs and El Dorado, she appeared in Little Rock to attend events including an Arkansas Razorback football game at War Memorial Stadium.  Her entourage included the top four runners up from the Miss America pageant.

In February 1964, she made a brief appearance in Little Rock which included a press conference.

Donna Axum spent nearly two weeks in Arkansas in May 1964 attending several pageants as well as spending time with family.  During that visit she appeared in Little Rock twice.  The second time she headlined a concert with the Arkansas Symphony (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra) and the Arkansas Choral Society. It took place at Robinson Auditorium.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: ANYTHING GOES in 2001

The Arkansas Rep concluded its 25th season with the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes. Directed by Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker, it featured an onstage orchestra led by then-Arkansas Symphony maestro David Itkin.  (Rep Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp and Itkin had been trying for a while to find a project for collaboration.)

This shipboard romantic farce featured a book by Guy Bolton & P. G. Wodehouse which was revised before the 1934 opening by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse in their first collaboration. In 1987, Timothy Crouse (son of Russel) and John Weidman updated the script for a Lincoln Center Theatre production. It was that version which the Rep presented.

The cast was led by Rep newcomers Heather Ayers and Pat McRoberts. Kelly Vivian, Thomas-David McDonald, Rick Cox, Julie Conners, Marlene Toth and Steve Wilkerson also were featured.

Others in the cast included Bob Hulsey, Amy Curnow, Annie Mistak, Allison Stodola, Sarah Squire, Miranda Vannoy, Pamela Crane, Buddy Reeder, Case Dillard, Christopher Brown, Don Hill, Daryl Minefee, Matt Crowle, Christopher Crane, Scott Duquette and Joe Terry.

Ron Hutchens was the choreographer. Others on the creative team included Mike Nichols (set), Yslan Hicks (costumes), Japhy Weideman (sound), and Leland Jones (lighting).

The production proved so successful that even before its June 1, 2001, opening night, the run was extended a week. It closed on June 24, instead of the original June 17.

LR Culture Vulture turns 7

The Little Rock Culture Vulture debuted on Saturday, October 1, 2011, to kick off Arts & Humanities Month.

The first feature was on the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which was kicking off its 2011-2012 season that evening.  The program consisted of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, Rossini’s, Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  In addition to the orchestra musicians, there was an organ on stage for this concert.

Since then, there have been 10,107 persons/places/things “tagged” in the blog.  This is the 3,773rd entry. (The symmetry to the number is purely coincidental–or is it?)  It has been viewed over 288,600 times, and over 400 readers have made comments.  It is apparently also a reference on Wikipedia.

The most popular pieces have been about Little Rock history and about people in Little Rock.

Little Rock Arts Community Response on September 11, 2001

As all sectors did, the Little Rock arts and culture community responded to September 11.

Two of the groups in particular come to mind. When airspace was closed on September 11, several flights were grounded in Little Rock. The passengers on those planes became unexpected visitors to Little Rock.   Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey and Assistant City Manager Bruce Moore led efforts to make sure that everyone had a place to stay that evening.

The Arkansas Rep had opened its production of You Can’t Take It with You on Friday, September 7. The show was already scheduled to be dark on September 11, but on Wednesday, September 12, 2001, the performances resumed. That night the Rep offered these unexpected Little Rock guests free tickets to the performance.

Seeing a play which was both heartwarming, comic and full of Americana was the perfect balm for audiences who were weary, confused and nervous in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Most of the cast of that production was from New York City. Luckily, all of their friends and family back in New York were all safe.

Also on September 12, 2001, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra presented a previously scheduled concert with Michael Bolton.  He had been traveling by bus so was able to get to Little Rock.  His concert was cathartic for the 2000 plus attendees at Robinson Center Music Hall. It offered not only a communal experience but also a welcome break from 24 hour coverage.

Three days later, on September 15, the ASO kicked off its MasterWorks series.  As has been tradition since the days of Francis McBeth as conductor, that first concert of the season began with the National Anthem.  The audience and musicians gathered and sang and played with unprecedented gusto that night.