Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck to join Springfield Symphony for season finale

Americana theme picked for program that includes tribute to longtime member.

A banjo and a symphony orchestra don’t sound in tune when you think about it. When the guest performer is the world’s premiere banjo virtuoso, Bèla Fleck, it’s in perfect harmony.

The 18-time Grammy-winner Fleck will perform his own original piece and his tribute to the centenary of one of the 20th Century’s greatest works when he guests with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) for its final concert of the season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Clark State Performing Arts Center. Tickets are still available.

SSO conductor and music director Peter Stafford Wilson wanted to close this season with an Americana theme and thought who better to represent that than Fleck, who is fresh off a concert at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall earlier this month.

He has led Bèla Fleck and the Flecktones for more than 30 years, taking inspirations from jazz, funk, bluegrass, African music and more. But he’s also composed banjo concertos.

“The banjo is a particularly American instrument, steeped in the folk traditions of the music of our land. (Fleck) has chosen to offer a celebration of another American treasure, George Gershwin, who wrote ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ 100 years ago this year,” Wilson said.

Fleck’s latest album released in February is “Rhapsody in Blue,” paying tribute to the centennial. He composed three variations including blues, bluegrass and the classical orchestration with banjo, which will be performed here.

“A piano player can play ‘Rhapsody’ a lot faster than I can,” Fleck said in a release for the album. “But the truth is they’ve played it so much that it sometimes gets rushed through. I’d listen and think, ‘There is so much in there, but it’s going by so fast that I’m not getting it all.’ That gave me a window into a way to reinterpret those parts on banjo. It could be a new experience for listeners rather than hearing it banged out on piano for the 25th time. It might even be revelatory.”

“Rhapsody in Blue” will round out the concert, but earlier in the show, Fleck will perform his own “Juno Concerto, Concerto for Banjo and Orchestra No. 2.”

Also for this program, Wilson chose the Philip Glass “Heroes” symphony, with its roots in the rock heritage, based on Davie Bowie’s “Heroes” album, and Philip Magnuson’s “…From Alice,” his reflections on the classic story “Alice in Wonderland.” The latter has a personal meaning for Wilson and the SSO.

“Phil was a longtime member of the Springfield Symphony and for many years the chair of the composition department at the University of Dayton. We lost Phil during the COVID-19 pandemic and are finally able to pay tribute to this remarkable talent and friend.”

While this concert ends the SSO’s season, they can be seen next at 8 p.m. July 7 at the 58th annual Summer Arts Festival in Veterans Park. Festival admission is free but donations are welcome.


What: Springfield Symphony Orchestra with Bela Fleck

Where: Clark State Performing Arts Center, 300 South Fountain Ave., Springfield

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 18

Admission: $55-85; does not include convenience or handling fees

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