The sounds of World War II will open the Fort Smith Symphony season

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 218 views 

The horror of Dachau and the death and dedication involved with D-Day will be addressed in a “thoughtful” way as part of a unique opening of the 92nd season of the Fort Smith Symphony.

To be sure, history will come alive at the season-opener of Fort Smith Symphony, as the orchestra commemorates the 70th anniversary of World War II. The Oct. 3 event at ArcBest Performing Arts Center features the world premier of Pulitzer Prize nominated composer Michael Schelle’s “Resilience,” a book signing by author and historian John McManus and two other well-renowned classical performances.

According to John Jeter, Fort Smith Symphony Director, the concert is a unique experience that can’t be found in many cities nationwide.

“A lot of performances centered around World War II are on the lighter side,” he said. “That is not something we wanted to do. This will be a very entertaining and exciting performance, but also very thoughtful. We will be honoring our veterans in a very special setting.”

The agenda begins with the book signing, hosted by Books-A-Million, and a pre-conference lecture from 6:30 to 7:15 John McManus, author of “The Dead and Those About to Die: D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach.” It is considered to be the definitive book on the event.

McManus will be available before and after the lecture and during intermission for book signings. Jeter said McManus, who lives in Missouri, is a classical music fan and since his book ties in well with the concert theme, Jeter issued an invitation to attend and it was accepted.

“All of these pieces just tied together so well. We’re excited to bring this to the Fort Smith audience,” he said. “When you do a comparison to other orchestra’s nationwide, in many categories, the Fort Smith Symphony comes out on top. We are very grateful for the community support to achieve top-notch shows like this one.”

The concert will open with John William’s version of the Star Spangled Banner, then move into “Resilience”, a double concerto for viola, cello and orchestra. According to composer Schelle, “Resilience” is a commentary about conflict, suffering and the ultimate ability to endure. It reflects the horrors of the camps at Dachau and on to the Pacific.

“Resilience” will feature Alaina Rea, viola, and Joshua DeVries, cello, two young musicians Jeter refers to as very powerful and impressive.

“We are very excited to be premiering a new work that is about World War II,” said Jeter. “It’s going to be a special and unique evening. There are not many compositions out there that center around the conflicts of World War II so this is a big deal.”

Schelle’s contemporary style contrasts with the third performance of the evening, Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3. This composition was completed in 1945, and though not technically about the war, the emotions of the time ‘seeped into the piece,’ said Jeter.

“Of all symphonies written by American composers, this is considered to be the greatest,” he said. “It’s exciting and fulfilling and very artistically done.”

Becky Yates, director of marketing for the Fort Smith Symphony, is excited about this season’s programming. This is the 92nd season for the symphony, said Yates, and in addition to the music, additional elements have been added to the evening to make the season opener a one-of-a-kind performance. 

“Every year the music gets better and better,” she said.

The University of Fort Smith jazz band will perform in the lobby before the concert, artwork will be on display and other “surprises” will be on hand to entertain concert goers, she said.

“Throughout the entire season, we want to add extras to make our patrons experience more than a great symphony concert. We want to make their evening a real event,” Yates said.

During the week before the concert, Jeter, Schelle, Rae and DeVries will travel to local high schools to perform bits of the symphony music as well as give back to the community.

“We’ve got something here in Fort Smith that rivals orchestras on any national level stuff. We want to share with the community and share the love of music,” Jeter said.

Tickets for the Fort Smith Symphony can be purchased by calling 452-7575. A limited number of tickets has been set aside for the season opener for veterans and can be reserved by calling the same number.

Additional concerts for the season will feature Disney musicals, a chamber orchestra concert, a rhythm and blues performance and a romantic era concert. In addition, the symphony will feature three world-premiers as well as the award-winning Earquake school concerts for 4,000 local sixth graders, Symphony-in-the-Schools for fifth graders and the unique Storybook Strings for third graders in Fort Smith schools.