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Orchestra soars in Michael Fine premiere and Philip Mann farewell / Arkansas Democrat & Gazette

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Maestro Philip Mann's nine-year tenure as music director and conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra ends this weekend with a spectacular program at Little Rock's Robinson Center. Opening with a world-premiere composition, the sixth and final concert of the season looks forward to the ASO's future artistic growth, nurtured by Mann, and offers through a well-loved composer a link to the maestro's earliest days with the orchestra. Michael Fine's Concerto for Oboe Section and String Orchestra -- a work suggested to the composer by Mann and receiving its first public performance with the ASO -- displayed the virtuosity of the orchestra's three accomplished oboists, Leanna Renfro, Lorraine Duso Kitts and Beth Wheeler (who also did double-duty at times on the English horn).

The three-movement concerto grosso also highlighted the lush sinuosity of the ASO string section, which continually engaged in collaborative interplay with the oboists. Fine's bright, accessible composition led the superbly balanced players from a yearningly nostalgic beginning through a lilting larghetto to delightful pizzicato-punctuated dance rhythms.

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