With a new and emotional season, Hotoda strives to redefine the Fresno Phil
Rei Hotoda returns this weekend to open her third season — don’t the notes fly by? — with the Fresno Philharmonic. During her summer break, she’s been flitting around the world conducting other ensembles, as music directors of her caliber do, but it’s also good to return to her home orchestra.
“I love coming back to California,” she told me in a Wednesday interview. “The sun is different here. It makes me feel different. Getting off the airplane yesterday afternoon, I was revitalized.”
Here’s a rundown on Sunday’s concert and the rest of the season:
The title: “We’re calling this fabulous concert ‘Curtains Up,’ and you could say that this program encapsulates the season for me,” Hotoda says.
The title fits into a larger theme for the season that the orchestra is calling “Symphony Redefined.” After Hotoda explains the idea to me, here’s my interpretation:
There are many ways to listen to orchestral music, whether it’s in terms of style, approach, venue, and more. Our great-granddaddys’ concept of going out to listen to a symphony orchestra — an evening of buttoned-up collars and high heels, of listening only to centuries-old music, of formality and a ritual for everything — isn’t going to cut it if there’s going to be a future for the art form.
Throughout the new season, Hotoda has programmed new music and old. And there will be variety in terms of the types of music presented. She wants to show how many ways an orchestra can be enjoyed.
The program: Sunday’s concert features music from Broadway (Bernstein’s “Candide”), opera (Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” suite), a living composer (Vivian Fung’s clever “Earworms,” written just last year), and a beloved piano concerto (Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2).
The guest artist: Filipina pianist Cecile Licad is a powerhouse on the international concert scene.The Saint-Saëns concerto is a rousing piece. (“She might be moving the piano as she’s playing,” Hotoda says of her upcoming performance, “because she’s so powerful. She gets quite a sound from it.”) Licad’s recording of the concerto, with André Previn conducting the London Philharmonic, was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque Frédéric Chopin in 1985, in the piano and orchestra works category by the Chopin Society.
The newest piece: Fung’s “Earworms” is inspired by the composer’s recent experiences as the mother of a young boy. After long days of teaching at Santa Clara University and family time, Fung found her head filled with “other music” at the end of the day when she’d sit down to write her own songs. That music was the kind that young parents can relate to: snippets of kid-oriented tunes such as “Wheels on the Bus” and the “Shark song,” plus a “mystery” pop song, Hotoda says. Fung’s piece is a tribute to those earworms that can burrow into your head and not give up.
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Looking ahead at the Pops series: The season is weighted slightly more toward pops offerings this season compared to last. (There are five Masterworks concerts and four Pops concerts this season — although the Pink Martini concert is not officially part of the Pops series and is instead considered a “special event” — compared with six Masterworks concerts and three pops concerts last season.)
“We’re switching it around a little,” Hotoda says.
She hopes that October’s concert, a performance of Danny Elfman’s soundtrack to “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” accompanying a screening of the movie, reminds people how important orchestral music is to film. In December, Hotoda will conduct the annual holiday concert, which will have a special spiritual focus with guest artist Steve Bell. The popular musical ensemble Pink Martini comes in March to join with the orchestra in a “rollicking around-the-world musical adventure.” And in May, to close out the season, musical theater star Lisa Vroman offers “Broadway Diva.”
Looking ahead at the Masterworks series: As I’ve already written, Hotoda will make her Saroyan Theatre premiere at the piano keyboard, which should be an exciting occasion. (That all-Beethoven concert is in January and will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.) In November, John Hagstrom, the principal trumpet for Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is featured in Arutiunian Trumpet Concerto. (That concert also features Schubert’s Symphony No. 9.)
In February, pianist Barry Douglas (a favorite of Keyboard Concerts) performs Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Escaramuza” will be a highlight. In April, the orchestra, joined by the Fresno Master Chorale, devotes an entire concert to the world of opera, including selections from “Il Trovatore” and “Aida.”
The takeaway: With this varied programming, Hotoda hopes to connect with audiences on a number of levels, but the most important is the emotional component. “This music,” she says, “does something to us.” As this new season unfolds, it will be a pleasure to discover what that is.