Donald’s list: Weekend choices (March 16)

I have three promising weekend picks for you. They are the Fresno Philharmonic’s “Virtuoso Orchestra” concert (to which you can win a pair of tickets; for details, see below); the Central Valley premiere of the musical “Bullets Over Broadway” at Visalia’s College of the Sequoias; and a special performance by PBS star Ethan Bortnick with a select group of singers from the Bach Children’s Chorale. Read on:

Fresno Philharmonic

stephanie phil

Fresno Philharmonic concertmaster Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio

Most of the time, a different stellar guest artist joins the Fresno Philharmonic at each concert for a solo performance. But for its next concert (3 p.m. Sunday, March 18), the orchestra is turning to one of its great talents within: concertmaster Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio.

“The Virtuoso Orchestra” will showcase Sant’Ambrogio performing Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” and Foss’ “Three American Pieces.” The program also includes Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 (“The Hen”) and Ginastera’s “Variaciones concertantes.”

In 2016 I did an interview with Sant’Ambrogio (here’s a link to the Fresno Bee story), who has been concertmaster in Fresno since 2010, and after talking with her, I came away even more impressed. After graduating from Indiana University and the Eastman School of Music, she landed a spot in the famed Cleveland Orchestra at age 24, then went on to become reigning concertmaster at the San Antonio Symphony for 13 years.


She and music director Rei Hotoda spoke to Valley Public Radio this week about Sunday’s concert. You can listen to the story here.

Details: 3 p.m. Sunday, March 18, Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St., Fresno. Tickets are $25-$79.

Win tickets: I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to Sunday’s concert. To enter, leave a comment on this post answering this question: Do you know what a concertmaster does? (Or if you’re too shy, just tell us why you’d like to go.) Deadline to enter is noon Saturday. I’ll pick random winners that afternoon, so keep an eye on your email. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at Will Call.

Tap dancing and Woody Allen

bullets 2The College of the Sequoias theater department has a central San Joaquin Valley premiere for us: the musical “Bullets Over Broadway,” based on the Woody Allen film of the same name. James McDonnell directs this big production, which features a 40-person cast, 15-person crew, and 25-piece orchestra.

I asked COS theater professor Chris Mangels, the show’s scenic designer, for a few details on the show:

Q: How’d you nab the Central Valley premiere?

A: We saw that it had just become available last spring as we were were finalizing season selection. James was a huge fan of the show on Broadway and he really wanted to do it. We didn’t angle to be the premiere, but we are the first in the area (to my understanding) to produce it.

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Q: Visalia native Betsy Wolfe originated the role of Ellen on Broadway. Who’s playing the role in the COS production? Does she think those are big shoes to fill?

A: Kayla Seffing is playing Ellen for us. She has had several roles at COS in the past including starring roles in “White Christmas” and “Animal Farm.” She is really excited to sing such wonderful numbers and follow in Betsy’s footsteps. The music is incredibly challenging but I think Kayla is more excited than nervous and just wants to do the part justice.

Q: Tap is an important element of the show. Anything to share?

A: Our new choreographer/dance instructor, Imara Quinonez, is an incredible tapper and she is thrilled to be working on it. She has worked very hard to balance the performers who are new to tap dancing (including one of the leads who taps!) with her veteran tappers. I think the final product will really impress our audiences. I know that I personally LOVE the big Act I tap number, “Taint Nobody’s Business If I Do.”

Q: Did you ever think you’d be involved in a musical written by Woody Allen?

A: I think that James has always been HUGE fan of this kind of humor. I don’t know that anyone ever expected a musical to come from the original film, but it’s certainly a fun evening of musical comedy.

Here’s more on the COS production from the Visalia Times-Delta.

Details: “Bullets Over Broadway” opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 16, and runs through March 25, College of the Sequoias Theatre, Visalia. Tickets are $24-20. Info: 559-730-3907.

PBS star at Tower

ethan bortnick

Ethan Bortnick is recognized by Guinness World Records as the Youngest Musician to Headline a Solo Concert. He’s a familiar face on PBS, where his “Generations Of Music,” a TV concert special that features songs and performers spanning multiple generations and genres, is used for membership campaigns.

Now you have a chance to hear the 17-year-old performer live. He’s appearing at the Tower Theatre on Sunday, March 16, in a show that includes members of the Bach Children’s Choir and local contestants for the new TV show “Celebration of Music” on PBS, which has an “American Idol” feel.

I reached Ethan’s father, Gene, via email to ask a few questions about the event. Ethan will perform covers, his own music and selections the “Generations of Music” special. He also will perform with the Bach Children’s Choir ensemble, and the local winner of the talent search, who will be featured on a nationally televised version of “Celebration of Music,” will be announced.

Ethan does between 35 and 50 concerts for PBS affiliates per year, according to his father.

Suzanne Kimball, executive director of the Bach Children’s Choir, was contacted by Valley Public Television to participate in the event. “This is a great opportunity for us,” she told me.

One thing that Ethan Bortnick likes to do is give an inspirational talk to the choirs that back him up at these local events.

“He will talk about what it’s like to perform around the world starting at a young age, music, arts, his PBS TV show, giving back and what it’s like to have worked and continue to work with music legends,” his father says.

Details: 7 p.m. Sunday, March 18, Tower Theatre, 815 E. Olive Ave., Fresno. Tickets are $35-$55.

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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 (4)

  • Tamara

    We would love to see our Concertmaster (the anchor of the strings, and many orchestras) performing as the soloist. What a treat!

  • Jasmin Kloos

    This sounds like a great chance to see the Philharmonic shine, I’d love to attend!

  • Elizabeth Evans

    I’d love to see the new conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic. The concertmaster is the first violin who coordinates the play of the violin section.

  • Mike

    Concertmaster: One of the things Stephanie does best! Somebody has to keep the entire orchestra in line so that the conductor has something with which to work.


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