Fort Smith Symphony opens 100th anniversary season Sept. 9

Fort Smith Symphony opens 100th anniversary season Sept. 9

“The Fort Smith Symphony is one of the most rambunctious, fun, dedicated orchestras I’ve ever been a part of,” says composer and principal second violin Patrick Conlon. “There is a true joy and rush of excitement to every concert that you don’t find everywhere. I really wanted to write a piece that celebrates that kind of unabashed joy in making music that I think makes this orchestra such an incredible part of the community.”

That’s how the Fort Smith Symphony will begin its 100th birthday season — with Conlon’s composition, “Time Flies,” debuting Sept. 9. Also on the program for the first concert of 2023-24 are Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with pianist Maxim Lando; Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”; and Ravel’s “Bolero.”

“Patrick’s music is absolutely terrific — very intriguing, very exciting and very fun music,” says the symphony’s music director, John Jeter. “We will be performing a total of five works by Mr. Conlon throughout the season and then recording those commercially in March 2025.”

But first, Conlon kicks off “RAVE: The Centennial Season” with a commission he calls “really special.”

“I have almost a 15-year relationship with John and the symphony, and I’m friends with all the players,” says Conlon, who is currently assistant director of the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma and teaches courses in film scoring, studio recording and composition. “So the first thing I do is really think about what the piece should be — it’s a 100 year celebration, it’s a bunch of my friends playing the parts, and it’s for John.

“So I jotted down what musical things I thought of for those — first off, I wanted to reference the past century of orchestral music, so I studied what was being released in the 1920s and ’30s,” he continues. “I knew John loved aviation and old movie soundtracks, so I wanted to reference those as well. And, finally, I wanted to celebrate the orchestra, so I purposely wrote a big, gushy, romantic piece that features all the parts of the orchestra and is just flat-out fun to play.

“I hope [concertgoers] really hear the joy and beauty and love embedded in the work.”

Conlon’s passion for music started early in his native Canada.

“Piano was my very first instrument — there’s actually a picture of me about 6 months old on my grandfather’s lap ‘playing’ piano — but violin was the first instrument I studied seriously,” he remembers. “When I was about 6, I went to a violin recital at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and afterwards told my parents I wanted to take violin. I’ve been smitten ever since!

“Music has always been the thing that’s resonated with me. I love all sorts of other things — math, poetry, writing, etc. — but music was the one that every time I put time into it, the universe of sounds I could explore just seemed to grow. And I’m still exploring and growing every day!”

Conlon says the desire to compose came along almost immediately.

“In middle school, I would write a birthday song for my friends for their birthdays, and spent hours writing little piano pieces and improvising on the violin,” he recalls. “By the time I got to high school, I was in a couple rock bands, a couple jazz combos, and spent a lot of time writing and improvising, and in college I started really studying the classical craft more seriously.

“It’s really been one of those things that I’ve always done, so I’m extremely fortunate to still get to do what I did when I was a teenager — but now I get paid for it!”

Writing for an occasion like the symphony’s 100th birthday was not something Conlon took lightly.

“The very first rehearsal is absolutely nerve-wracking — did I make a mistake in one of the parts, are there wrong notes, did I over-orchestrate a certain section, does it take too long, is it boring, is it too frenetic, etc., etc., etc.

“Writing an orchestra piece is a really difficult, long journey, but there really isn’t anything like hearing 100 of the best musicians on the planet just play the pants off of one of your pieces! It’s an incredible honor, and honestly it’s a little addicting.”


Fort Smith Symphony:

One Hundred Years

WHEN — 7 p.m. Sept. 9

WHERE — ArcBest Performing Arts Center in Fort Smith

COST — $25-$55


BONUS — In addition to the free after-party at The Bakery District, there will be an anniversary gala with food and music by symphony musicians. Tickets are $75.

Categories: Music