On the mind of many in the audience at Saturday night’s Arkansas Symphony Orchestra concert at Little Rock’s Robinson Center Performance Hall: Is Sarah Ioannides’ guest-conducting gig this weekend a tryout for the orchestra’s pending podium vacancy? If so, she could not have had a more auspicious audition.
Music Director Philip Mann advocates using guest conductors, at least one per season, as a way of keeping the orchestra sharp, exposing the musicians to different styles and different techniques and strengthening the musical organization thereby. Ioannides, music director of Symphony Tacoma, certainly did that for this orchestra with some fierce orchestral showpieces, and the players came through with flying colors.
She led, sans score, a gorgeous rendition of Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, evoking a fine ensemble performance with several starring solo parts. Slightly longish breaks between many of the 14 variations allowed the audience to see each as a finely crafted gem while preserving the overall integrity of the piece.
Ioannides’ style differs markedly from Mann’s; her gestures are expressive and forceful, and there’s no chance the orchestra might misinterpret any of them.