Welcome to the podium

Finally! After the long, hard haul of searching for a new conductor, the big day is finally here for patrons of the Fresno Philharmonic.

Rei Hotoda will officially take the podium on Sunday, Oct. 15, in her first concert as the orchestra’s new music director. She was the unanimous choice of the orchestra’s search committee after six finalists each conducted a Masterworks concert during the 2016-17 season.

Her debut marks a new era for the orchestra. So it’s fitting that the first piece played under her new tenure will be Aaron Jay Kernis’ “New Era Dance.”


Taking up the baton: Rei Hotoda’s first piece will be “New Era Dance.” Photo /

She will be joined by guest artist Natasha Paremski, who will play the Grieg piano concerto. Paremski has played in many of the world’s great concert halls.

(I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to readers; see the end of this post for details on how to enter.)


I had a chance to talk with both Hotoda and Paremski about the concert, focusing on the pieces by Kernis and Grieg. Here’s a rundown.

Kicking things off

To inaugurate her tenure, Hotoda has selected a composition with an auspicious title. “New Era Dance.” It was commissioned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic.

“It’s a celebratory piece,” she says. “I wanted something totally different to start my season. I wanted to start the concert with something big.”

Kernis composed “New Era Dance” in 1992. Hotoda says you can’t miss the jazz influences in the piece.

There are other influences as well. Writing in Classical Net, critic Steve Schwartz describes it: “Latin, heavy metal, and hard bop among other things sail in and out in a whirl of highly imaginative scoring.”

When I tell Hotoda over lunch that I’d been scouring the internet to find a recording of the piece to listen to beforehand, she encouraged me not to.

“I don’t want to give it away! In fact, I don’t want you to listen to it until Sunday.”


Return to Fresno: Natasha Paremski will perform the Grieg piano concerto with the Fresno Philharmonic. Photo / Andrea Joynt

Grieg piano concerto

When I talk to Paremski by phone, she’s in the Bay Area visiting her mother. The New York-based pianist was born in Russia but came to the U.S. when she was 8 years old. This will be her first time to return to Fresno in more than 10 years, when she played for the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State.

She hasn’t performed the Grieg piano concerto in five years.

“It’s an interesting piece in that it really goes in and out of style,” she says. “I’ve been noticing that a lot of colleagues have been playing it this season.”

(Indeed, the piece was on the program last week at the opening concert of the season of the Sequoia Symphony in Visalia.)

Paremski’s theory is this: The Grieg piano concerto — he only wrote one — is so simple, beautiful and innocent that if you listen too much to the piece it can lose its charm.

Hotoda calls it “the pillar of romantic piano concertos. Everything in it is memorable. It’s virtuosic. It’s just gorgeous.”

It will be her first time to conduct the piece.

Side notes

The rest of the program: Sunday’s concert also will feature Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.”

Busy week: Hotoda’s schedule was fully booked as she prepared for her inaugural concert, including media interviews, meetings with Fresno Philharmonic board members and patrons, a Thursday lunch featuring her and Paremski, and, of course, rehearsals with the orchestra. “I’ve been having a lot of fun,” she says.

Globetrotter: Paremski has been keeping busy, too. She just returned from a concert at London’s Wigmore Hall, where her program included five mazurkas (a lively Polish dance in triple time). She’s looking forward to a new album coming out next year on the Steinway and Sons label that will include Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and a piece written by Fred Hersch, a legend in the jazz world who has composed a number of classically leaning pieces.

Mothers’ Day: Hotoda and Paremski will share something in common on Sunday: Both of their mothers will be in the audience. Hotoda’s mom hails from Chicago. (She will be bringing Hotoda’s son as well, his first visit to California.) Paremski’s mom will visit from the Bay Area. Needless to say, there will be two proud mothers at the Saroyan.

Win tickets

I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to Sunday’s Fresno Philharmonic concert (3 p.m. at the Saroyan Theatre). Here’s how you enter: Leave a comment on this post recommending your favorite Fresno-area Mexican restaurant for Hotoda to try. (She loves Mexican food but hasn’t had much of a chance yet to explore her culinary options.) I took her to Antonio’s Mexican Restaurant because I love their salsa. What would you suggest?

Or, if you’re shy about your restaurant tastes, just tell us why you want to go to the concert.

I’ll pick two winners at random. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at Will Call. Deadline to enter is midnight Friday, Oct. 13. I’ll get back to the winners Saturday morning.

Concert info

Fresno Philharmonic Masterworks concert, 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St., Fresno. $25-$79

Related story

Fresno has a new maestro: Rei Hotoda: Orchestra picks Hotoda as the 8th music director and conductor in the organization’s long history

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (19)

  • Cindy Tiehen

    So wonderful to have Hotoda conducting!
    I would recommend Los Ponchos because of their killer margarita & very soon you will be able to sip one outside on their Fulton St. patio while gazing at Joyce Aiken’s & Jean Ray Laury’s beautifully restored mosaics.

  • Brenda Venezia

    I want to be at this concert because it’s Fresno-history-making, because it’s about time, and because the livestream you posted of the announcement of Hotoda as conductor made me cry. 💕 Top restaurant suggestion is Cuca’s in Tower, but our close-to-home favorite is La Fonda De Ofelia at Palm/Shields. And! Pepa’s on Cedar/Sierra. I could go on, but I’ll make myself stop here 🙂

  • Lee M Garcia

    Welcome to Fresno! Toledo’s is pretty awesome and the salsa is delicious.

  • Welcome to Fresno! So exciting to have a woman leading our great Philharmonic orchestra! Be sure to check out Toledos Mexican Restaurant Clovis. Our family favorite!

  • Lisa Gluskin

    We’re happy to have you here! Go to La Elegante Taqueria in Chinatown and get their tacos. For lunch (they’re not open for dinner) it will be $10 for two people. Or take a short drive and enjoy Salsa’s in Old Town Clovis.

  • artsfan

    There are restaurants…and then there’s the whole taco experience. Don’t forget Don Pepe’s spicy shrimp tacos, which even merited a mention in Saveur magazine:!

  • Jasmin Kloos

    I would really love to attend and see the winner of our conductor search! My favorite Mexican restaurant is Casa de Tamales in the Tower. . . So delicious and the beans and tamales are vegan and lard free!

  • Adam

    The La Elegante truck. Taco trucks are the best way to find the pure essence of Mexican food in the valley.

  • Hotoda’s premier performance as our new conductor is going to be a superb occasion for all symphony lovers.There are so many legendary Mexican restaurants in Fresno, all having the same menu selections for years. Why not Casa de Tamales? It has an innovative, eclectic and locally-sourced menu; and I am sure many items cannot be found in any other Mexican restaurant. Hotoda deserves to be met with the same mastery as that which she is bringing to us as an audience.

  • Rei Hotoda, welcome to Fresno, Cafe Leon is all about the green sauce. This homemade chili is so flavorful that you can saturate all it’s wonder over any of the delicious dishes on the menu. Although, the sauce is mild the flavors are fresh and spices meld into any of the authentic Mexican favorites. The evidence of how popular this, whole in the wall, restaurant is can be seen by all the ceramic, or plaster lions, gifted I’m sure by happy and satisfied customers. Although, I live very close to Cafe Leon, I often drive several miles to pick up and take family and friends to join me for a delicious and casual experience.

  • Miss Burley

    Try Casa Corona and ask for Elsa- she’s the best!

  • La Elegante has the best albondiga tacos in Fresno. But as far as all-around best, you can’t go wrong with Sal’s.

    Would love to make it to the show. I unfortunately missed Rei Hotoda on her first show around here.

  • Nadine Howell

    Welcome to Rei! The Master Chorale is stoked to be prepping to sing with her at the Holiday Concert. The taquitos are so good at El Mariachi at Bullard and Marks.

  • I’m really looking forward to this concert, not only for the welcoming of Rei Hotoda, but also because this will be the 1st time my husband Tony will be performing in a concert again since his kidney transplant surgery. This is the 3rd time the Fresno Philharmonic has asked him back as the organist and I would really appreciate the tickets. As for Mexican food restaurant recommendations, I would suggest for comfort food Don Pepe’s on Blackstone and Gettysburg and Robertito’s at Blackstone and Indianapolis, or for more contemporary Casa de Tamales in the Tower. Also as stated above, any of our wonderful taco trucks!

  • Jasmine

    So happy to see Rei Hotoda as the new conductor. I attended her audition show and was in awe. I’ll echo La Elegante for tacos and taco truck Tacos Bruno on Belmont between Angus and 1st (especially if she likes spicy salsa).

  • Stephanie

    El Cochinito Contento is a family owned and run Mexican restaurant. It’s not fancy but the food and friendly service are great!

  • Margie Vogt

    We like Cuca’s in the Tower, or Plaza Ventana on Shaw. It would be so exciting to be present when this new era begins! I’m so happy they chose a woman as the new conductor. She sounds like an extremely talented, fun person.

  • Vicki Cheney

    Javier’s is good but I tend to go to Toledo’s most often. I would love to hear the Grieg. I need me some Philharmonic!


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