Beethoven, Blue Jeans, and a Brace of Arkansas Composers on tap for ASO Weekend Concerts

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra presents the second concert of the 2019-2020 Stella Boyle Smith Masterworks season: Beethoven and Blue Jeans, Saturday, November 9th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 10th at 3:00 p.m. in the Robinson Center.

The ASO is proud to present Beethoven and Blue Jeans, featuring the works of two Arkansan composers, Florence Price and William Grant Still, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”  Beethoven and Blue Jeans is sponsored by The DoubleTree Hotel. The Masterworks Series is sponsored by the Stella Boyle Smith Trust.  The concerts will be under the baton of guest conductor Andrew Grams.

Interim Artistic Director, Geoffrey Robson, gives these notes: “Beethoven and Blue Jeans will feature your Arkansas Symphony performing two works by 20th century African-American composers with deep Little Rock roots. William Grant Still’s Festive Overture is a lively march that passes the virtuosic torch around to all sections of the orchestra. Florence Price is rapidly gaining long overdue notice for the powerful late-romantic style and unique harmonic idiom of her compositions; her music will be interpreted by guest artist pianist and scholar Karen Walwyn. The second half of the program is filled by Beethoven’s Heroic Symphony, a beloved work representing the dividing line between the Classical and Romantic eras.”

All people with a ticket to Beethoven and Blue Jeans are invited to the annual pre-concert street party: Symphony Local. The party is on W Markham St in front of the Robinson Center starting at 5:30 on Saturday and 1:00 on Sunday. ASO will serve free brats, Stone’s Throw Brewery will sell beer, and music will be provided by the Episcopal Collegiate Steel Drum Band, under the direction of ASO percussionist Erick Saoud. The Arkansas Food bank collect non-perishable food donations, and will provide any patrons who bring 10 items or more will receive a voucher good for two best available tickets to a future Masterworks or Pops Live! concert. To learn more visit http://www.ArkansasSymphony.org/party

Tickets are $16, $36, $57, and $70; active duty military and student tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at www.ArkansasSymphony.org; 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 https://www.arkansassymphony.org/freekids.

Black History Month – William Grant Still and Robinson Center

bhm StillDr. William Grant Still was a legend in his own lifetime.  Dr. Still, who wrote more than 150 compositions ranging from operas to arrangements of folk themes, is best known as a pioneer. He was the first African-American in the United States to have a symphonic composition performed by a major orchestra. He was the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the US; the first to conduct a major symphony in the south; first to conduct a white radio orchestra in New York City; first to have an opera produced by a major company. Dr. Still was also the first African-American to have an opera televised over a national network

Dr. Still was born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi to parents who were teachers and musicians. When Dr. Still was only a few months old, his father died and his mother took him to Little Rock. Inspired by RCA Red Seal operatic recordings, his musical education began with violin lessons.

After his studies at Wilberforce University and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, he played in orchestras and orchestrated for various employers including the great W. C. Handy. For several years he arranged and conducted the “Deep River Hour” over CBS and WOR.

In the 1920’s, Still made his first appearances as a serious composer in New York. Several fellowships and commissions followed. In 1994, his “Festive Overture” captured the Jubilee prize of the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra. In 1953, he won a Freedoms Foundation Award for “To You, America!” which honored West Point’s Sesquicentennial Celebration. In 1961, he received honors for this orchestral work, “The Peaceful Land”. Dr. Still also received numerous honorary degrees from various colleges and universities, as well as various awards and a citation from Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers in 1972.

In 1939, Dr. Still married journalist and concert pianist Verna Avery, who became his principal collaborator. They remained together until Dr. Still’s death in 1978.  In a proclamation marking the centennial of Dr. Still’s birth, President Bill Clinton praised the composer for creating “works of such beauty and passion that they pierced the artificial barriers of race, nationality and time.”

In 1995, Dr. Still was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  In 2016, the new ballroom at Robinson Center was named in his memory.

RobinsoNovember: Dr. William Grant Still

bhm StillLast night, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s Opus Ball was the first public event in the William Grant Still Ballroom of Robinson Center.  This afternoon at 3pm, the Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra is playing a Still composition in a performance with Ballet Arkansas at the Albert Pike Memorial Temple on Scott Street.

Dr. William Grant Still was a legend in his own lifetime.  Dr. Still, who wrote more than 150 compositions ranging from operas to arrangements of folk themes, is best known as a pioneer. He was the first African-American in the United States to have a symphonic composition performed by a major orchestra. He was the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the US; the first to conduct a major symphony in the south; first to conduct a white radio orchestra in New York City; first to have an opera produced by a major company. Dr. Still was also the first African-American to have an opera televised over a national network

Dr. Still was born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi to parents who were teachers and musicians. When Dr. Still was only a few months old, his father died and his mother took him to Little Rock. Inspired by RCA Red Seal operatic recordings, his musical education began with violin lessons.

After his studies at Wilberforce University and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, he played in orchestras and orchestrated for various employers including the great W. C. Handy. For several years he arranged and conducted the “Deep River Hour” over CBS and WOR.

In the 1920’s, Still made his first appearances as a serious composer in New York. Several fellowships and commissions followed. In 1994, his “Festive Overture” captured the Jubilee prize of the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra. In 1953, he won a Freedoms Foundation Award for “To You, America!” which honored West Point’s Sesquicentennial Celebration. In 1961, he received honors for this orchestral work, “The Peaceful Land”. Dr. Still also received numerous honorary degrees from various colleges and universities, as well as various awards and a citation from Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers in 1972.

In 1939, Dr. Still married journalist and concert pianist Verna Avery, who became his principal collaborator. They remained together until Dr. Still’s death in 1978.  In a proclamation marking the centennial of Dr. Still’s birth, President Bill Clinton praised the composer for creating “works of such beauty and passion that they pierced the artificial barriers of race, nationality and time.”

In 1995, Dr. Still was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

RobinsoNovember: First Dance at Robinson Center

RC-dance-orchestra

Jan Garber and his orchestra

Tonight the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra hosts its annual Opus Ball inside the new William Grant Still Ballroom at Robinson Center.  That the first public event in this space will be a dance is only appropriate.  The first public event in the original Robinson was also a dance.  It was held four months before the building even opened.

On October 4, 1939, the convention hall on the lower level was the site of a preview dance.  The pecan block flooring had been installed just the week before.

The first four people to enter the building as paying guests were Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Wilheim, Frances Frazier and Bill Christian.  Reports estimated 3,200 people attended and danced to the music of Jan Garber and His Orchestra.  By happenstance, Garber and his musicians had also played in Little Rock on January 26, 1937, the date of the election which approved the auditorium bonds.  Since Little Rock then did not have a suitable space, that appearance had been on the stage of the high school auditorium.