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Fit for a president

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Although planners of the Clinton Presidential Center had many uses in mind for the facility, being the best place for chamber music probably wasn’t high on the list.

But the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra had long been looking for the biggest and best place to hold its Chamber Series, and when the Clinton Library came online, the ASO found its answer.

“Without a doubt, without a DOUBT,” David Itkin, the ASO music director, said with emphasis. “We love it, the audience loves it. It’s great.”

The ASO’s Sturgis Quartet will be joined Monday, March 20, by ASO performers David Belcher on piano and violinists Andrew Irvin and Meredith Maddox for “Rags and Riches,” featuring music covering three centuries by such composers as Ravel, Tchaikovsky, William Bolcom and more. The performance begins at 7 p.m.

In the past several years, the ASO’s three resident chamber quartets — the Sturgis, Quapaw and Rockefeller quartets — have tried their shows in the Symphony’s rehearsal facility in the Heights, at the Darragh Center in the Main Library on Rock Street, and at the Arkansas Arts Center.

“It took us awhile to find the right place,” Itkin said. “The room itself is acoustically lovely for chamber, it has all hard surfaces, all wood and glass, with a big high ceiling. It sounds lovely and is just the right size, seating just over 300 people.”

Itkin estimates that the previous sites were, at best, big enough for 200 to 250 people. Also, parking was a problem when the ASO used the Main Library.

At the Clinton Library, shows this year have been selling out, he said. The six-concert series was already two-thirds sold out to subscribers before any tickets were available to the general public. The move to what Itkin feels is the chamber groups’ permanent home has brought added attention, he said. And when people attend one show, they’re almost certain to return.

“To add to the acoustics, there is the marvelous view. People look past the performers through the completely glass wall toward the night skyline of downtown. The beauty of the hall is it sounds beautiful in there, you don’t need any help in there with microphones. It’s perfect.”

Shows often include guest artists, from the Symphony and on tour, with the four-person chamber groups. A surprise violinist is planned for October, Itkin said.

The March 20 program ends the Chamber series season. Ravel’s “Tzigane will show off the piano and violin talents in a piece inspired by Gypsy music. A Spanish style is evident in Navarra by Sarasate. Tchaikovskys String Quartet No. 3, Schoenbergs Phantasy and the opening, jazzy Graceful Ghost Rag by William Bolcom, for solo piano, round out the show.

Tickets are $25 through the ASO box office (666-1761 or www.arkansassymphony.org).

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