14ish Cultural Highlights of 2014

2014 was a busy year.  Here are 14 cultural highlights. In no particular order. Except maybe once in while.

The Rep's Bob Hupp and Catherine Hughes flank NEA Chair Jane Chu

The Rep’s Bob Hupp and Catherine Hughes flank NEA Chair Jane Chu

Dr. Jane Chu visits Arkansas. Former Arkadelphia resident Dr. Jane Chu was appointed as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. In October, she paid a visit to Little Rock and northwest Arkansas. While in the Rock, she participated in a discussion at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and toured the new Creative Corridor spaces under construction for the Rep, Ballet Arkansas and Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Chu was also the guest of honor at a reception hosted by the Arkansas Arts Council. While here, she had the chance to renew old friendships as well as make new ones.

Carroll Cloar exhibit at Arkansas Arts Center. The Arkansas Arts Center featured the works of Arkansas native Carroll Cloar. Much as the Biblical prophet who is ignored in his homeland, Cloar has long been better recognized outside of his native state.  The Cloar exhibit (which included a painting of future Little Rock mayor J. V. Satterfield playing football, a personal favorite of the LRCV) and the outreach by the AAC staff made great strides towards raising Arkansas’ consciousness about the works by the American treasure.

DSCF0011Robinson Center Music Hall closes for renovation. Opening in February 1940 as the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium, the City’s prime venue for performances and civic gatherings needed an external and internal facelift at 74. The building closed in July 2014 for a two year renovation which will see the reconfiguration of the performance and audience space in the music hall, the creation of a new special events venue overlooking the Arkansas River, and the restoration of this historic main lobby and front façade to 1940 appearance. During this closure tenants such as Ballet Arkansas, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Celebrity Attractions have temporarily relocated to other venues including the Pulaski Academy Connor Performing Arts Center and the Maumelle Performing Arts Center.

Ron Robinson Theater opens. Shortly before one Robinson closed, another opened.  The Central Arkansas Library System’s new Ron Robinson Theater opened. This multi-purpose venue has quickly become home to lectures (by the library, the Clinton School and others), films (in partnership with Arkansas Times, Little Rock Film Festival and others) and music (including the Arkansas Sounds series).  Named for famed Little Rock adman Ron Robinson, the public spaces pay tribute to his love of movies and music about Arkansas.

Music Music Music

  • As noted above, Arkansas Sounds has switched from a concentrated music festival to instead offering a variety of music styles and genres throughout the year at the new Ron Robinson Theatre. The music has ranged from Big Band to Klezmer to Country to Rock to Rap.  This is only one of the new music offerings in Little Rock.
  • South on Main completed its first full year of the weekly Local Live free music series sponsored by the Oxford American and Landers Fiat. South on Main also started a Jazz on Main series as well as increased their bookings of other musicians ranging from Rodney Block to Rodney Crowell.
  • Meanwhile, The Undercroft completed its first full year of (mainly) acoustic music offerings at the corner of Capitol and Scott Streets.

New Works of Art.

  • New sculptures were added to the Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden and Riverfront Park as well as the Bernice Gardens.
  • In what may be the first for any symphony in the US, the musicians of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra commissioned a new piece in honor of the ASO board of directors. The work, composed by Christopher Theofanidis, was entitled The Wind and Petit Jean.  It was well-received by audience and musicians alike.
  • Ballet Arkansas sponsored a choreography competition “Visions” which featured five choreographers competing to be selected for a full-scale commission.  The winner was Hilary Wolfley whose work will be seen at the spring Ballet Arkansas presentation.
  • Finally, in conjunction with the 175th anniversary of Christ Episcopal Church (the oldest church in Little Rock to be at its original location), a new choral piece was commissioned. Daniel E. Gawthrop’s “Haste the Day” premiered on December 7.

mod delaneyThe Tonight Show with Kevin Delaney. Because Jimmy Fallon is really just a big kid at heart, he wanted to include periodic “cool” science experiments when he took over the “Tonight Show.”  After being contacted by a producer of Fallon’s show and an audition process, the Museum of Discovery’s Kevin Delaney was booked to appear.  He debuted on May 5 performing experiment with Fallon and returned on November 7. When not a guest of NBC, Delaney performs the same types of “Awesome Science” experiments for tens of thousands of children and adults at the Museum of Discovery.

New Festival of Arts. Acansa, a new multi-discplinary, multi-venue arts festival, debuted this year in September.  Over a five day period, ACANSA Arts Festival brought together audiences and cultural resources to present unique and exciting visual and performing works which celebrate the unique influence of the south and champion excellence and innovation in artistry.  There was theatre, dance, instrumental music, choral music, puppetry and visual art.

14 14 4Gridiron Returns. The talk of the return of the Star Wars movie franchise was not the only welcome news of returns. Gridiron, the biennial attorney fundraiser which spoofs politics, current events, sports and everything that is “sacred” to the general populace, returned after a hiatus.  Once again this effort was under the watchful eye of producer Judge Mary McGowan, the creative leadership of Jana Beard, and the writing prowess of the anonymous committee.  As has been the case in the past, many of the targets of the show good-naturedly showed up and laughed along in the audience.

Sculptures Returned.  Gridiron was not the only welcome return. Earlier this year several sculptures were stolen from the Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden in Riverfront Park. After a media blitz about the theft, some people strolling through the park stumbled across a bag containing the missing sculptures. The pieces are in the process of being restored and will be reinstalled soon.

14 14 3Clinton Center turned 10.  Proving that you can come home again, quite a few of the people who were present for the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in 2004 showed up again in 2014 to take part in celebratory festivities.  Among events included several lectures; a day of service benefiting the Arkansas Food Bank; a barbecue picnic; and a concert featuring Nick Jonas, Kool & the Gang and others which was hosted by Kevin Spacey.  The Clinton School also celebrated 10 years of lectures and innovative programs.

Preservation Concentration – The Quapaw Quarter Association marked the 50th Spring Tour this year. The event was co-chaired by First Lady Ginger Beebe and lifestyle expert P. Allen Smith.  Later in the year, the QQA hosted its first Mid-Century architecture tour highlighting some of Little Rock’s buildings from this style. They ended the year with the news that they had purchased the William E. Woodruff House in east Little Rock. One of Little Rock’s oldest houses, it was built by the founder of the Arkansas Gazette.  They will shore up the building to try to ensure no further decay as the building is readied for its next phase.

Huzzahs

  • 14 14 2Reese Rowland, architect and principal at Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock, was named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, awarded to fewer than 4 percent of AIA members.
  • Little Rock native Will Trice earned his third Tony Award in three years, this time for producing All The Way, the Best Play of 2014. His previous Tonys were for Porgy and Bess (Musical Revival-2012) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Play Revival-2013).
  • Arkansas native and frequent Little Rock performer Al Green was one of the 2014 Kennedy Center Honorees.
  • Little Rock’s Creative Corridor continued to rack up honors. The UA’s Community Design Center, which includes faculty and staff members from the school, won a 2014 Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects for its work on the Creative Corridor, on which it collaborated with Marlon Blackwell Architect of Fayetteville. The project also received the American Society of Landscape Architects Honor Award for Analysis and Planning.

Transitions.

  • 14 14Sharon Priest, a longtime cultural advocate as a City Beautiful Commission member, Little Rock City Director, Little Rock Mayor and Arkansas Secretary of State announced her retirement after 12 years as Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.  Over the past dozen years, she has continued her cultural advocacy.
  • One of Priest’s successors as a member of the Little Rock City Board, Stacy Hurst, was named by Gov.-Elect Asa Hutchinson to be his choice to lead the Department of Arkansas Heritage. She will oversee seven agencies including three Little Rock museums: Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Old State House Museum and Historic Arkansas Museum.
  • Following the closure of Starving Artists Cafe, the weekly Tales from the South program (which originated from there) had to scramble to find a place.  After several weeks of a completely nomadic existence, it is now settling into a rotating list of locations. The Arkansas Arts Center’s Best Impressions restaurant has been designated a “permanent” site for the first Tuesday of each month.
  • The free outdoor Movies in the Park celebrated its 10th season this year. Founders Blake Rutherford, Heather Allmendinger and Ben Beaumont were honored at the start of the season.  A few weeks into the season, the series screened the film Frozen and set a new record for attendance by logging over 7,000 attendees.
  • After the closure of the Riverdale cinema in 2013, the space sat vacant.  In June 2014, Matt Smith moved the Market Street Cinema operations into the Riverdale space. He upgraded the equipment at Riverdale (which was also a vast improvement over the equipment at Market Street).  The new Riverdale 10 shows a mix of first-run blockbusters as well as the independent films for which Market Street had been beloved.
  • The Studio Theatre was launched adjacent to the new Lobby Bar in downtown Little Rock.  In addition to producing its own performances, it is also the new home of the Community Theatre of Little Rock and Precipice Theatre.
  • Weekend Theatre founder Ralph Hyman retired as the Artistic Director of that group. He will continue to direct productions from time to time.

 

Beethoven, Wagner, Ghosts and Tangos tonight at Ark Symphony’s River Rhapsodies

ASO_revTonight at 7pm, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s final 2013-2014 concert of the Parker Lexus River Rhapsodies Chamber Music Series will feature ASO Musicians playing Wagner, Beethoven, Theofanidis and Piazzolla. The concert will be held at the Clinton Presidential Center.

The program is an intimate showcase of the ASO’s musicians.

General Admission tickets for River Rhapsodies concerts are $23, and Student tickets are available for $10. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ArkansasSymphony.org, over the phone at (501) 666-1761 or at the door.

The program will include:

THEOFANIDIS                    O Vis Aeternitatis for String Quartet and Piano
(Quapaw Quartet, Tatiana Roitman, piano)

BEETHOVEN                      Piano Trio No. 5 in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1, “Ghost”
I.          Allegro vivace e con brio
II.         Largo assai ed espressivo
III.        Presto
(Geoffrey Robson, violin, David Gerstein, cello, Julie Cheek, piano)

INTERMISSION

PIAZZOLLA                         Histoire du Tango
I. Bordello 1900
II.        Café 1930
III.       Night Club 1960
IV. Concert d’Aujourd’hui (Modern Day Concert)
(Kelly Johnson, Karla Fournier, Carina Washington, clarinet; Lyle Wong, bass clarinet)

WAGNER                              Siegfried Idyll
(Diane McVinney, flute; Leanna Booze, oboe; Kelly Johnson, Karla Fournier, clarinet; Susan Bell Leon, bassoon; David Renfro, Brent Shires, French horn; Richard Jorgensen, trumpet; Kiril Laskarov, Andrew Irvin, violin; Katherine Reynolds, viola; Daniel Cline, cello; Barron Weir, contrabass)

 

PROGRAM NOTES
Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio is so-called because of its eerie slow movement. It is speculated that the ghostly sound may have been influenced by Beethoven’s thoughts of  composing a Macbeth opera.

Originally written for flute and guitar, Histoire du Tango is one of Piazzolla’s most famous compositions. It has been arranged for many ensembles and is presented here as a demonstration of the lush sound of a clarinet quartet. The work attempts to demonstrate the evolution of the Tango, and the composer provided these notes:

Bordello, 1900: The tango originated in Buenos Aires in 1882. It was first played on the guitar and flute. Arrangements then came to include the piano, and later, the concertina. This music is full of grace and liveliness. It paints a picture of the good natured chatter of the French, Italian, and Spanish women who peopled those bordellos as they teased the policemen, thieves, sailors, and riffraff who came to see them. This is a high-spirited tango.

Café, 1930: This is another age of the tango. People stopped dancing it as they did in 1900, preferring instead simply to listen to it. It became more musical, and more romantic. This tango has undergone total transformation: the movements are slower, with new and often melancholy harmonies. Tango orchestras come to consist of two violins, two concertinas, a piano, and a bass. The tango is sometimes sung as well.

Night Club, 1960: This is a time of rapidly expanding international exchange, and the tango evolves again as Brazil and Argentina come together in Buenos Aires. The bossa nova and the new tango are moving to the same beat. Audiences rush to the night clubs to listen earnestly to the new tango. This marks a revolution and a profound alteration in some of the original tango forms.

Modern-Day Concert: Certain concepts in tango music become intertwined with modern music. Bartok, Stravinsky, and other composers reminisce to the tune of tango music. This is today’s tango, and the tango of the future as well.

Wagner composed Siegfried Idyll  – in honor of his son – for his wife, Cosima. The piece was very private and filled with references of personal significance to the composer and his wife, many of which went unknown to the public for a long time.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 48th season in 2013-2014.  Under the leadership of Music Director Philip Mann, the ASO performs more than thirty concerts each year for more than 42,000 people through its Stella Boyle Smith Masterworks Series, ACXIOM Pops LIVE! Series and River Rhapsodies Chamber Series, in addition to serving central Arkansas through numerous community outreach programs and bringing live symphonic music education to over 24,000 school children and over 200 schools.

This evening at the Capital Hotel, musicians from the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in a free concert

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 5:00 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 performing Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, “Dissonance” and Theofanidis’  Visions and Miracles.

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.

World Premiere and Mahler at ASO This Weekend

ASO_revThe Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Philip Mann, Music Director and Conductor, presents the sixth and final concert in its 2013-2014 Stella Boyle Smith Masterworks Series: Mahler’s Fifth Symphony on April 12th at 8 p.m. and April 13th at 3 p.m. in the Robinson Center Music Hall. The Masterworks Series is sponsored by the Stella Boyle Smith Foundation.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 is joined on the program by a world premiere commissioned by the musicians of the ASO and written by ASO Composer of the Year, Christopher Theofanidis.

This will be the final ASO Masterworks concert in Robinson Center Music Hall before the renovations.  It is fitting that the concert features a work commissioned by the ASO musicians. It is a testament to the musicians and their supporters for the 40 years that the ASO has called Robinson home.

Adult tickets are $53, $47, $30, and $14; student tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at http://www.ArkansasSymphony.org or by phone at (501) 666-1761. All children are free on Sunday with the Entergy Kids Ticket, downloadable at http://www.ArkansasSymphony.org/freekids

ARTISTS
Christopher Theofanidis, composer

PROGRAM
THEOFANIDIS The Wind and Petit Jean
WORLD PREMIERE

INTERMISSION

MAHLER Symphony No. 5 in C# minor
PART I
1. Trauermarsch
2. Stürmisch bewegt
PART II
3. Scherzo: Kräftig, nicht zu schnell
PART III
4. Adagietto
5. Rondo-Finale

Gustav Mahler Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony could be his most famous work, and was often performed alone before his symphonies saw widespread performance as whole works. Adagietto was written as a love song for his beloved Alma. As with many of Mahler’s symphonies, the orchestra is greatly expanded for No. 5: in addition to a full complement of strings, the work calls for 4 trumpets, 6 horns, four flutes (which at one point all double on piccolo together), along with large double-reed, clarinet, and percussion contingents.

The ASO has a great collaborative relationship between the musicians, music director, Board of Directors, and administrative staff, which is illustrated by the very existence of The Wind and Petit Jean. When the Board of Directors made a personal gift (above and beyond their requirements as Board members) to the musicians of the ASO in recognition of their sacrifice during hard financial times, the musicians elected to use the money to commission a new piece of music and dedicate it to the ASO Board of Directors. Christopher Theofanidis was chosen by the musicians to compose the commission, and he worked with the orchestra on his Rainbow Body in October of 2013 during his residency as 2013-2014 ASO Composer of the Year.

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra
The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 48th season in 2013-2014 under the leadership of Music Director Philip Mann. ASO is the resident orchestra of Robinson Center Music Hall, and performs more than thirty concerts each year for more than 42,000 people through its Stella Boyle Smith Masterworks Series, ACXIOM Pops LIVE! Series and Parker Lexus River Rhapsodies Chamber Series, in addition to serving central Arkansas through numerous community outreach programs and bringing live symphonic music education to over 24,000 school children and over 200 schools.