Review: John Hagstrom and his trumpet dazzle at Fresno Philharmonic concert


There’s a very important primary election coming up soon, and I have the perfect candidate for you in the race for best trumpet: John Hagstrom.

Pictured above: John Hagstrom performs Sunday at the Saroyan Theatre. Photo: Fresno Philharmonic/Facebook

As a member of the famed trumpet section in the Chicago Symphony, Hagstrom is a virtuoso player, as was obvious from his first notes in the Arutiunian Trumpet Concerto in Sunday’s Fresno Philharmonic concert. His technique was exhilarating. His musicianship was stirring. His passion for the material was obvious.

And how to describe his tone? Let’s see. His tone was as smooth as silk. His tone was as smooth as butter melted by your grandmother. His tone was as smooth as a shake blended at the highest setting on a professional-grade Vitamix. His tone was as smooth as hitting 10 green lights in a row on Shaw Avenue.

At rush-hour.

But Hagstrom is also a terrific public speaker — which is what made me think of the candidate metaphor.


Speaking after he finished the Arutiunian piece, he offered a pithy short monologue from the stage. In just a few well-chosen words, he saluted U.S. veterans, paid tribute to conductor Rei Hotoda and their friendship (which began when they were both students at the Eastman School of Music), celebrated the quality of the Fresno Philharmonic, and thanked the Fresno weather for not being Chicago. Most of all, he expressed his gratitude to the audience for supporting the arts. He did it in a way that was heartfelt, light-hearted and authentic. Seriously, Hagstrom is a really strong speaker. He could have a second career as a politician.


For an encore, Hagstrom chose a crowd-pleaser: Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” It was wonderful.

The concert opened with Adolphus Hailstork’s “To Those Who Serve,” which intertwines snippets of the theme from the Navy Hymn, “Eternal father, Strong to Save,” with a musical palette that is by turns turbulent, introspective and celebratory. It was special to have the composer in the house.

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After the intermission, the orchestra returned for a rousing, extended tussle with Schubert’s Symphony No. 9. This piece seems to me in many ways more an endurance contest than an eloquent and emotional musical experience. (I can almost hear the spectators gathered at a crucial bend in the road, like at a championship bike race, as the orchestra finishes the third movement and launches into the fourth, the bystanders shouting: “You’re almost there! You can do it!”) Portions of the Schubert are as much of a slog as stomping through very thick mud, your boots hiccuping with little burps of suction every step of the way.

Hotoda and her musicians not only made it to the finish line but did it in style.

Still, it was Hagstrom and his trumpet who made the afternoon. Glorious stuff. He gets my vote.

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 (1)

  • Celeste DeMonte

    Spot-on description of Mr. Hagstrom and his exceptional musical talent and expressive speaking. It was a wonderful concert from Ben Boone’s pre-concert conversation with composer Adolphus Hailstork, through the transporting music, and finishing with the opportunity to hear more of John Hagstrom’s eloquence in his Stay Tuned post-concert interview with Maestra Hotoda.


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