Artober – Music. The sounds of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

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Little Rock has a thriving music scene from jazz to blues to r&b to rock to soul to gospel to, well, you name it.

For over 50 years, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra has been playing a pivotal role in that scene.  While they play programs that are largely classical music, they also incorporate many different styles of music into their offerings.  Last night, they played a concert with Tony and Grammy winner Heather Headley which spanned numerous musical genres.  The ASO is led by Interim Music Director Geoffrey Robson and Executive Director Christina Littlejohn.

Incorporated in 1966, the ASO now performs more than 60 concerts per season, which includes the Masterworks and Pops Concerts. In addition, the orchestra has a Chamber Series, River Rhapsodies, at the Clinton Presidential Center, ASO, I.N.C.: Intimate Neighborhood Concerts, and a busy schedule of statewide touring and educational performances in numerous venues, along with collaborations with Ballet Arkansas and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. Integral to the ASO’s activities are its resident string quartets, the Rockefeller and Quapaw Quartet; The ASO Brass Quintet, ASO Big Band, and the Arkansas Symphony Youth Ensembles, which comprises two string-only ensembles and two full orchestras. Through ASO education programs over 40,000 children each year experience the magic of music.

Distinguished guest artists including Bill Clinton, Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Mignon Dunn, Marilyn Horn, Andre Watts, Maureen McGovern, Bernadette Peters, Maya Angelou, and Doc Severinsen, among others, have appeared in concert with the orchestra in Arkansas.

Comprised of the state’s most sought after professional musicians, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra is heard by more than 165,000 Arkansans each year, and consistently plays to high critical praise.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra celebrates a decade of fiscal responsibility and artistic growth

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra announced its 10th break-even fiscal year in a row at the end of June. The 54-year-old Little Rock nonprofit has broken even or finished with a small surplus each year since the 2009-2010 season while growing from a $2.8 million annual operating budget to a $3.5 million budget.

The orchestra achieved this monumental task through the support of the community, a hard-working and engaged Board of Directors, professional musicians and a culture of partnership with all musicians, leadership, volunteers and administrators.

The orchestra’s Chief Executive Officer, Christina Littlejohn, expressed gratitude to the community. “On behalf of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, ‘thank you’ to the more than 3,500 individuals who have given to sustain live music, music education and Arkansas’s quality of life. Your generosity shows how valued ASO is by the Little Rock and statewide community, and we are grateful and invigorated by your support.” Littlejohn also said the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra will continue to be a disciplined, creative and innovative community partner in Little Rock and Arkansas for decades to come.

In addition to financial health, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s past 10 years have been marked by many achievements:

  • Opened the Robinson Center with a free concert to say thank you to the community for the new concert hall. More than 2,000 tickets were distributed in 39 minutes.
  • Formed a financial recovery task force in 2010 which set standards and practices which enabled the paying off of $700,000 in accumulated deficit, the restoration of full-time and part-time musician pay, and issued cost of living increases.
  • Created the Sturgis Music Academy, providing string education to more than 250 students each week
  • Made Sunday concerts free for 16,000 children with the Entergy Kids Ticket.
  • Provided violin instruction to Bale Elementary School, Forest Park Elementary School, and Fulbright Elementary School with the Violin in Your School program
  • Added a new neighborhood concert series and special performances, increasing the number of musician services
  • Supported annual residencies of guest artists for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Youth Ensembles program starting with a residency of violinist Midori
  • Performed in temporary venues for two-and-a-half years during the Robinson Center renovation, and used the opportunity to reach and entertain new, diverse audiences
  • Nearly doubled the endowment ($4 million in June 2010 to $7.6 million as of May 2019)
  • Set a new record for the largest Annual Fund ever raised by the orchestra, over $1 million given for its annual fund in 2019
  • Received national and local coverage of orchestra programs
  • Commissioned and premiered six new works for orchestra including a commission of Christopher Theofanidis by orchestra musicians in honor of the Board of Directors
  • Board of Directors recognized as “Best Non-Profit Board of Directors” by Arkansas Business
  • Introduced SHARP, ASO’s young professionals group and growing attendance from 30 in its first year to over 200 in four years

Chris White, Market President of Simmons Bank Central Arkansas, and a member of the Board of Directors, said the orchestra’s education and community service programs, which serve more than 26,000 children each year, are the key to its future success. “Simmons Bank regards social and civic responsibility as an inherent part of everything we do. There’s real value for Little Rock and Arkansas by supporting the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, and specifically its youth programs that foster disciplined, hardworking and team-oriented people.”

The 2019-2020 ASO season is focused on the Arkansas and Little Rock community, presenting programs in partnership with other community institutions, highlighting the compositions of local composers, and maintaining a commitment to accessibility, service, artistic excellence, and fiscal discipline. Subscriptions are on-sale now and offer discounts from single ticket prices as well as benefits exclusive to subscribers, such as guaranteed priority seating and free and flexible ticket exchange.

Still time for Spoken Word submissions for CALS and ASO collaboration

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) have announced a collaboration in a spoken word performance event focused on themes of joy, unity and hope.

Spoken word artists ages 18 and younger should submit their work, either in writing or by video, through a participating CALS branch or via email at

Adults should submit via Submissions will be accepted until December 3, 2018, and should be limited to no more than three minutes long. Performers may perform original work or works for which they have secured performance rights.

CALS and ASO will invite youth and adult finalists to perform for a panel of judges and a live audience January 10, 2019 at the Ron Robinson Theater. At this event, performers will be selected to join the ASO on stage at Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9: Ode to Joy, February 23 & 24 at the Robinson Center.

“Whether lyrics in a popular song, libretto for an opera, or a symphonic setting of a poem, music and writing go hand-in-hand,” said Christina Littlejohn, CEO of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. “We are excited to join with another fundamental Little Rock institution to enrich our community with the power of orchestral music and language in our first spoken word collaboration.”

“Engaging people with words, music, and creativity lies at the center of our broad library mission,” said Nate Coulter, CALS Executive Director. “This collaborative performance with ASO musicians and library patrons speaking poetry will be an opportunity to express shared hopes and joys through two of our oldest and most emotionally evocative art forms. Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ is a great choice by the orchestra to inspire and embrace our library community’s aspiring poets.”

With a full orchestra and massed Arkansas intercollegiate and professional chorus, Maestro Philip Mann will lead more than 300 musicians on stage to perform one of the most powerful and recognizable works in the entire history of music: Symphony No. 9, Ode to Joy. In this first ever collaboration between the ASO and CALS, spoken word artists will perform from the Robinson Center stage during the concert.

A series of special events at CALS branches is being planned as part of the partnership, including spoken word performances, mini-concerts and educational performances by ASO musicians, and panel discussions. CALS will also curate a multimedia collection of materials on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, its libretto, and other topics relevant to the themes of the presentation. For detailed information about events and materials at CALS and ASO, please visit

Tickets to Ode to Joy are available now and cost $16, $36, $57, and $68; active duty military and student tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at at the Robinson Center street-level box office beginning 90 minutes prior to a concert; or by phone at 501-666-1761, ext. 1. All Arkansas students grades K-12 are admitted to Sunday’s matinee free of charge with the purchase of an adult ticket using the Entergy Kids’ Ticket, downloadable at

Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Center closes in preparation for Second Act

On July 1, 2014, Robinson Center Music Hall closed so that renovations could commence.  Instead of having a groundbreaking ceremony, Gretchen Hall and LRCVB arranged for a “stage breaking.”  Slats from the stage flooring were pried up with crowbars.

Twenty-eight months later, Robinson Center reopened on-time and on-budget.

(As a side note:  the Culture Vulture announced the countdown before Governor Mike Beebe and various Little Rock leaders used their crowbars for the first breaking of the stage flooring.)

Here are some photos from that ceremony.

Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Center closes for renovation

On July 1, 2014, Robinson Center Music Hall closed so that renovations could commence.  Instead of having a groundbreaking ceremony, Gretchen Hall and LRCVB arranged for a “stage breaking.”  Slats from the stage flooring were pried up with crowbars.

Twenty-eight months later, Robinson Center reopened on-time and on-budget.

(As a side note:  the Culture Vulture announced the countdown before Governor Mike Beebe and various Little Rock leaders used their crowbars for the first breaking of the stage flooring.)

Here are some photos from that ceremony.

A free Capital Hotel concert tonight at 5:15 by Arkansas Symphony musicians

ASO at CHMusicians from the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra will be performing this evening in the lobby of the historic Capital Hotel. The music will start at 5:15 pm.

In 2011, the ASO started these free concerts in the lobby of the Capital Hotel.  The marble and tile of this historic lobby provide a wonderful acoustic backdrop for the musicians.

The concert will feature the Rockefeller String Quartet.  Members of the quartet will introduce the pieces to be performed.

Unlike concerts in music halls, guests here are encouraged to bring drinks to their seats or to stand and move around while the musicians are playing.  It is a relaxed, informal atmosphere where the audience and musicians alike are able to interact with each other.

This concert is part of the ASO’s ongoing efforts to play throughout the community under the leadership of Music Director Philip Mann and Executive Director Christina Littlejohn.  In addition to the Capital Hotel concerts, they offer occasional free concerts at UAMS and have recently started the INC (Intimate Neighborhood Concerts) subscription series.