MUSIC REVIEW: Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s night of premieres ends with a wild finale

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Saturday was a night of premieres for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra at Robinson Center Performance Hall in Little Rock.

The world premiere of Tania Leon’s “Pasajes” was a delightfully accessible musical experience, reflecting, as the composer explained, “flashes in my memory of what has been the trajectory of my life.”

As such, it contains distant but happy childhood memories, bits of birdsong, rhythms from her native Cuba and what she accurately describes as a “grand ending that [shows] what I have become as a musician. Oh, and a timpani cadenza to kick off this finale (a tour de force for timpanist Rick Dimond). Commissioned by Amplifying Voices, it would have subsequent debuts by half a dozen other “bands”.

Pianist Martina Filjak, dressed in a shimmering golden dress that contrasted sharply with the “concert blacks” of the orchestra, sought out and delivered plenty of nuance in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21” (a bonus for people who have heard the piece a hundred times or more). She engaged in a pleasant musical dialogue with the musicians and with guest principal Akiko Fujimoto, and her self-penned cadenzas were short, punchy and very lively.

But it took until the exuberant finale for it all to fully click and the performance to be as fun as it should have been all along. The ovation that followed, alas, did not produce an encore.

Fujimoto, music director of the Mid-Texas Symphony in Seguin, Texas, and former associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra and San Antonio Symphony Orchestra (and wife of the former associate conductor of the ‘ASO Israel Getzov), was finally able to show what she could do as a conductor in the short concert finale, a glorious rendition of Richard Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration.”

Fujimoto, Filjak, Leon (presumably) and the orchestra will rehearse the program at 3 p.m. Sunday at Robinson, 426 W. Markham St. on Broadway. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 666-1761, ext. 1, or online at ArkansasSymphony.org.

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