The last time John Jeter took over to conduct the Fort Smith Symphony was the last concert of the 2021-22 season – a screening of the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a live orchestral score.
Almost immediately, the 2022-23 season was announced – and Jeter hopped on a plane to Württemberg, Germany to record Volume 3 of The Complete Orchestral Works of Florence Price (1887-1953) for Naxos Records. There is no rest for a weary conductor – but there is a lot of joy.
“Volume 1 of the Florence Price Series on Naxos Records was recorded by the Fort Smith Symphony and is recognized as one of the catalysts for today’s national and international rediscovery of the music of Florence Price,” Jeter proudly states. “Price was born and raised in Arkansas and is recognized as the first African-American female concert composer.”
Never content to rest on his laurels, Jeter already knows who will be the next composer to enjoy the attention of the Fort Smith Symphony. His name is Louis Ballard (1931-2007), and according to Jeter he is credited “as being the first Native American concert composer”. He’s also the subject of the 2023 season finale, “Native American Legends,” on April 22.
“Perhaps our most important project of the season will be a celebration of the music of Louis Ballard,” Jeter said. Born near Miami, Okla., “Ballard’s Quapaw and Cherokee lineages are tied to the Native American history of our area,” he explains, and “his music has been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and orchestras in Europe.
“His songwriting style was very traditional at first but developed into a much more modern, edgy feel in his later years,” Jeter continues. “His works are imbued with Native American influences, sometimes very overtly, other times very subtle. The Fort Smith Symphony will present a subscription concert of his music on April 22 [and] this music will then be recorded by Naxos Records for commercial release.
“This will be the orchestra’s fifth recording for Naxos,” enthused Jeter. “The recording will include music that hasn’t been played in decades and has never been commercially recorded. Ballard’s music will also be featured throughout the season at other events. Ballard created a wonderful program for elementary music education that uses Native American folk songs. [and] the symphony orchestra will work with regional school systems to help introduce and include this Native American component in the current music curriculum.
“The intention,” Jeter concludes, “is that this regional project can help showcase Ballard’s educational work nationally and will be useful for music education programs generally, as greater diversity is sought in education. artistic and musical.
Of course, before this performance, the Fort Smith Symphony will present a full season – its 99th – just as diverse as usual. This year, Jeter calls it “Legends”:
September 10 — From the New World: Featuring “On the Nature of Daylight” by Max Richter; Cello Concerto No. 1 by Franz Joseph Haydn performed by Tess Crowther; and Antonin Dvořák’s thrilling New World Symphony.
October 15 — Symphonic Superheroes: A heroic evening featuring cinema’s best superheroes, including X-Men, Captain America, Robin Hood, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Transformers and more.
December 3 – Christmas Cheer: Featuring holiday favorites like “Sleigh Ride”, https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2022/may/22/99-and-fine-fort-smith-symphony- debuts-historic/”We Three Kings”, https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2022/may/22/99-and-fine-fort-smith-symphony-debuts-historic/”The Nutcracker” and ” Amazing Grace.”
March 4 — What a Rush! : A classical concert covering the 20th century and beyond with “Ode to Tornado Alley, Whirl” by Cristina Spinei; “Rush for Saxophone and Orchestra” by Kenneth Fuch, performed by Damian Cheek; and Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2.
April 22 — Native American Legends: A thrilling and historic evening of orchestral works by the first recognized Native American concert composer.
“We look to this 99th season as a year of growth and transition from the previous two seasons – which were showcased to great acclaim during covid – towards celebrating the organization’s 100th season in 2023-24,” says Jeter. “None of this would be possible without the incredible support of our community, sponsors and patrons.”