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