Art Scene: 21st Annual Hot Springs Music Festival Comes of Age


Each June, Hot Springs resounds with a joyful noise as classical music performances fill venues around the Historic Downtown Arts District.


Maestro Peter Bay

Maestro Peter Bay

The 21st Season of Hot Springs Music Festival, June 5 to 18, promises to be as inspiring and dramatic as the selections chosen. Maestro Peter Bay of the Austin Symphony Orchestra returns as special guest conductor, bringing his inimitable ear and list of 2016’s Orchestral Repertoire:

Ginastera’s Overture to the Creole Faust, Op 9 (1943); Smetana’s Ma Vlast (My Fatherland) and Vltava (The Moldau); Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat, Suite No 2; Beethoven’s Overture to Coriolan, Op 2; Mozart’s Ave verum corpus, K 618 and Veni sancte spiritus in C Major, K 47 (with chorus); Arutiunian’s Trumpet Concerto in A-flat Major (1950); Dvořák’s Symphony No 8 in G Major, Op 88; and Mahler’s Symphony No 5 in c# minor.

Director Suzanne Davidson, in her second year organizing the longstanding festival, explained how apprentices team with mentors for two weeks of nonstop rehearsals and performances.

“It’s a teaching and learning festival,” Davidson, a career arts educator, said. “Applicants to Hot Springs Music Festival are pre-professionals, graduate students from all over the world. We use digital files for the selection process.”

Mentors from around the United States and within the state listen to these files and select the musicians based solely on merit. Andrew Irvin, violinist and co-concertmaster of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, is one of many mentors returning to the Spa City this summer.

Hot Springs Music Festival supplies the more than 100 apprentices with scholarship support and housing during the festival. The apprentices and most of the mentors reside in the dormitories of Arkansas School of Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts (ASMSA). Designed as a full immersion experience, apprentices plunge into the intense cycle of rehearsal and performance. The result is an organic, ensemble process that only music can convey.

"Low Notes" by Richard Stephens

“Low Notes” by Richard Stephens

One of Davidson’s favorite aspects of the festival is the unique “Inside Looking Out” orchestral “reading session” with conductor Peter Bay.

“You get to sit among the rows of musicians and experience the music from within the orchestra itself,” she said, marveling at the experience. “It’s a wonderful chance for children to see the inner workings of the symphony.”

This year, the interactive experience takes place the evening of June 6 at First United Methodist Church’s Life Center, located at 218 Pratt St.; admission is $10 per person.

The 21st season officially begins with a flourish at 6:45 p.m. June 5 as the Opening Fanfare sounds from the terrace of the Arlington Hotel & Spa in the heart of historic downtown. The free terrace concert will be followed by a Mentor Showcase in the Arlington Ballroom at 7:30 p.m.; admission is $15 per person.

“With the mentor performances, we’ll have the Cavell Trio, solos, percussion and horn, and collaborations with local jazz artists,” Davidson said.

Violinists taking a bow after a performance.

Violinists taking a bow after a performance.

The game of musical chairs goes on for days, with a mix of intimate chamber music events interspersed with full Festival Symphony Orchestra performances at Oaklawn Performing Arts Magnet School auditorium June 9, 14 and 18. The auditorium is at 301 Oaklawn St.; tickets are $20 per person.

Arts nonprofit Learning through the Arts is partnering with Hot Springs Music Festival to ensure every area school student enrolled in music classes receives two free tickets to the festival; beyond that, student tickets are only $5. The performance schedule, which is still being finalized, also features Music at the Market, a popular outdoor concert at the Farmers Market Pavilion downtown.

a group of "horn apprentices"

a group of “horn apprentices”

“Peter Bay is fascinating to watch, and the young musicians are incredibly talented,” Davidson said, noting that a sampling of the thousands of visitors to last year’s Music Festival represented 45 communities and 25 states. The ripple effect created by this concentration of talent and tutelage has resulted in many festival apprentices going on to careers with orchestras and performing arts centers around the country. With support steadily building for a performing arts center in downtown Hot Springs, cultural boosters cite Hot Springs Music Festival as an important draw. Heritage tourism never sounded so good.

For a complete list of venue locations and performance schedules for this festival, log on to or call 501.623.4763.

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