We can be thankful for Broadway, cellists, art postcards, Meg Clark and forgetting the mute button
Welcome (back) to the second volume of “The Quarantine Chronicles,” a compendium of items related to our infernally long shelter-in-place existence. In this edition, we will catch up with some of the wonderful artists in our midst, remind you of some worthwhile causes, give a few news updates and provide entertainment tips for those who need some new digital diversions.
First off, though, I have to ask: How are you? Are you sick of talking about it? All of it? You know what I mean: COVID, death rates, vaccines, Zoom, no graduation, masks, why there are no freakin’ Clorox wipes on this side of the planet? (Seriously, if anyone has an extra stash of 409 disinfectant, I am down to my last, few, precious ounces. I promise I’ll take you to a play when the world starts again.)
Jump to more ‘Chronicles’ below
Don’t miss the first volume of ‘The Chronicles’
I’ll tell you what I’m most tired of, however. The prognostication. Everyone — everyone! — has a take on what’s going to happen. The country will crumble. The country will thrive. We’ll run out of food. In a new and improved world, all our groceries will be delivered. We’ll need an immunity visa just to get into Don Pepe’s. Every potential scenario, it seems, has been outlined and catalogued for me, and most of them are heavily peppered with doom and gloom, two spices that are not hard to find at Save Mart.
From my reluctant research, a sample of what our future holds:
• The virus will eventually infect 100% of us, and those of us who survive will hold great, orgiastic-like gatherings in which we will shake hands and embrace and laugh in each other’s faces. Licking will be the new black. Instead of red X’s on the sidewalk in front of Whole Foods, we will all stand together on one big group-hug heart. Not only will salad bars make a comeback, we will use our hands instead of tongs.
• The virus will disappear. It’ll just vanish one day, like Macaroni Grill or Kevin Bacon’s sex appeal. Merriment and rejoicing will ensue.
• The virus will linger. Moms in Red states will hold cupcake birthday parties with COVID frosting. Moms in Blue states will require hazmat suits for an outing at Chuck E. Cheese.
The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.
• A vaccine will be discovered. It will work beautifully. In July we all will agree that the past three months were a bad dream.
• A vaccine will be discovered. Unfortunately, 25% of the American public, convinced that the lizard people have devised a way to turn the shots into a mind-control device, will refuse to take it. The virus rages. Repeat cycle ad infinitum.
• A vaccine will never be discovered. Fresno State will eventually hold all classes in the football stadium, with students spread out every twelve seats. Faculty will be issued megaphones. President Castro and Timeout will entertain at halftime.
• Our economy will collapse. Those of us with the foresight to stockpile large quantities of tuna and 409 will become the new overlords.
• Our economy will explode! There will be so much pent-up demand for fountain pens and going to Disneyland that all job losses will be erased.
Take your pick.
Before we move on to the rest of the “Chronicles,” a few quick recommendations from yours truly:
Book I’m reading: “The Last Emperox,” by John Scalzi. A breezy sci-fi escape by the former Fresno Bee movie critic (from a long, long time ago; we aren’t that far from “Old Man’s War”- status, John.)
Link I love: In “Open States, Lots of Guns. America Is Paying a Heavy Price for Freedom,” New York Times opinion writer Charlie Warzel worries that we as a country will become resigned to the number of people we lose to COVID-19, much like we are numb to the 36,000 people killed each year by guns. A sense of scale has never been a strong point of humanity. We can collectively grieve over one celebrity death but can feel anesthetized to 2,000 Americans dying each day of a virus.
TV I’m loving, Part 1: “Veep” on Amazon Prime. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, you’d be vice president and queen, if it were up to me.
TV I’m loving, Part 2: “The Expanse,” also on Amazon Prime. More sci-fi escapism. If you think people will dress better in the future … ha. In the slums of the solar system’s asteroid belt, the cinematography is grim and the in color is grime.
Food I discovered that makes quarantine almost worth it: Grillo’s fresh dill pickles. Packed in a cold water-marinade of garlic, vinegar, dill, salt and grape leaves, these crisp, flavorful spears make other store-bought varieties seem flaccid and mediocre in comparison. Yum. Best pickles ever. Available at Whole Foods.
No opening-night jitters for ‘New Wrinkles,’ but plenty of love all around
After a couple of months spent mostly inside, I find it interesting how easy it is to accept this as the new normal: the view of my computer screen; the color of paint on my walls (a cheery light blue named “Modesto”); and awaiting the mail delivery with far too much enthusiasm. Humans are adaptable. We get used to things.
But something happened to me last night that jarred me out of my complacency. I got an invite to attend the private “New Wrinkles NOT Opening Night” reception on Zoom. When it popped into my inbox I thought: That’s right! “New Wrinkles” always opens on a Thursday night in late May. This would have been the day.
And it hit me: This is the new normal. No “Wrinkles.” No Fresno Philharmonic final concert of the season. No big May theater production at Fresno State. No Keyboard Concerts, no ArtHop, no Fresno Art Museum openings, no Good Company or Selma Arts Center plays.
For now. (We all have fingers crossed.)
I dropped in fashionably late to the Zoom party, just in time to watch a series of video testaments to director David Bonetto. (I learned several new things about Bonetto: that he wears dancer’s black in rehearsal, that he owns a very orange jacket, that he has an impressive hip swivel.) I watched talented performers lip-sync of “I’m Too Sexy for My Clothes” and “Dancing Queen.” I laughed at goofy jokes and appreciated the chance to hear Georgie Dayton, one of the cast’s grand dames, sing live.
I loved this revised version of the opening night of “New Wrinkles.” Not as much as I would have enjoyed attending the show itself, but just the act of sitting in the same (virtual) space as these people made things better.
Through it all, Bonetto kept up his encouragement of his cast. (Always the director.) There are fun things planned for the summer, including a series titled “New Wrinkles Got Talent.” Performers have to keep in shape, both mentally and physically. “When we are ready to take the stage, we’re going to be amazing,” he told all the other little Zoom squares. “We’re not going to count it as a lost season.”
Most important is keeping close to each other, just like in any family, he said.
Left unsaid was the fact that much of the cast falls into the highest-risk demographic for COVID-19. And many of the cast members live alone. (Dayton joked about how she isn’t used to being by herself; she wasn’t alone even in the womb, because she was a twin.) One of the great joys of “New Wrinkles” is the way it fosters a sense of community among older performers, and quarantine cuts many of those pleasures short.
Bonetto reminded his performers that they can call each other, Zoom each other, sing to each other. Care for another.
Good advice for all of us.
One comment in the Zoom chat seemed to sum it up. Trent Barry wrote: “I’m entranced—such talent, such wisdom, such humor, such love. I MISS EVERYONE and every moment we shared. SOON!”
I hope so, too.
— Posted May 29
What he’s listening to: Ryan Torres is game for ‘Mame’
The listener: Ryan Torres, recent Fresno State theater graduate and star of such productions as StageWorks Fresno’s “La Cage Aux Folles,” Fresno State’s “Cabaret” and Good Company’s “Paint Your Wagon.”
Munro quote from a review written long ago: “One performance stood out for me more than any other: Ryan Torres as Utterson, the old family friend who tries to counsel the increasingly rattled Jekyll as the doctor embarks on his dangerous experiment to separate good from evil in the human psyche. Torres is so convincing as a dignified older gentleman that I’m sure many people simply won’t believe he’s a Clovis High School student. With his rich voice, impeccable timing, sturdy stage presence and ability to connect emotionally with an audience, I’m convinced I’m looking at a major talent here.” (“Jekyll & Hyde,” Children’s Musical Theaterworks, 2012).
Cast album he’s hooked on right now: the “Mame” original cast album. “So, anyone that knows me knows that I love Christine Ebersole and adore her voice. I was wandering YouTube, as I do, and found out that she played the title character in Jerry Herman’s ‘Mame.’ ” (Update: Torres actually wrote this to me a few weeks ago. As we all know, Broadway-cast-album crushes can be quicker than a two-weekend showmance, so chances are that if you checked in with Torres today, he would not be descending a staircase doing a kick-step to the refrain from “Mame.” Been there, done that. Still, for purposes of this column, we will will continue with the conceit.)
What’s the show about: “Mame’s brother dies and leaves his 10-year-old son to her care. She introduces him to her crazy bohemian lifestyle in the midst of losing all her money in the depression. Then, she marries a Georgia plantation owner named Beauregard, who takes her on an “endless” honeymoon around the world. It ends when Beauregard has his untimely death. She returns to find that Patrick is grown up and about to marry a snob woman of a bigoted family and stops him just in time to introduce him to the woman he would actually marry. As the story wraps up, Mame is preparing to take Patrick’s son with her to India, in her bohemian fashion.”
Favorite song: “If He Walked into My Life.” In this tune, Mame reflects upon how she might have done things differently raising Patrick, and whether she has the wisdom now to raise him better if she had it all to do again. “It is a wonderful example of how people always look back on things we’ve done, at times with guilt and regret for the things we said or did and how we deal with that.
Obsession factor: “Between this song and the title number, I may have played them upwards of 40 times in the last two weeks! In fact, I even choreographed a song to the title number for a dance class that I took this semester. Soon they will be played to death, but they’re still hanging on in my playlist, for now!”
How this album makes him feel: Uplifted. It is a good distraction from the strangeness of the world and what’s going on, he says.
Childhood insight: “There has always been a part of me who loves to run around my house pretending to be a brassy Broadway Dolly, Mama Rose, or Mame.” Oh, and also his mom. (See below).
Star role: The best numbers in all three of the shows are where the whole cast sings about them and how great they are, or about themselves and how great they are, and in turn it makes the audience just go crazy at the end of these songs: “Hello, Dolly,” “Mame,” and “Rose’s Turn.”
Final thoughts: “I have never seen this show and I have never heard of anyone doing it. It needs someone rather well known to play the lead, otherwise it isn’t really that good of a show to begin with. Without the star quality, it sort of falls apart. Basically everyone comes on and sings about how great Mame is, and one reviewer of Christine Ebersole’s 1999 production said that we never find out why she’s so great. Still, the music is fantastic and it appeals to a story between a mother and a son, so putting myself in my mother’s shoes to play Mame when I’m in my house has been a revelatory experience.
Here’s Torres’ full “Fresno Famoso” performance:
— Posted May 28
For Limor Toren-Immerman, quarantine means quality time with her violin
In which we check in with various Fresno-area arts folks (and former ones, too) and ask how they’re sheltering-and-placing.
The shelterer: Limor Toren-Immerman.
Where she’s sheltering: At home with her husband, Andrew Immerman.
Why she’s a big deal: Toren-Immerman is a professor of violin at Fresno State, a regular with the Fresno Philharmonic and a founding member of Trio Accento.
First three words she thinks of when she mentions the word quarantine: “Family, home, and focused quiet time, which I realize are three words.”
Is she able to get in more practicing now that she’s home all the time?
Over these past few months, I’ve invested far more time preparing for and teaching my students. It remains my hope that they are inspired and able to make advancements even greater than they had previously. It’s also my hope that all the momentum they develop will continue to grow well into their futures. I’m very proud of my students. As for practice time, I look forward to a saner practice schedule once the semester comes to a close. Most of all, I hope to resume my performance schedule in the very near future.
What’s your daily routine in quarantine?
Generally, I’m either preparing for or teaching lessons from 8 a.m. through 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. Whenever possible, I try to fit in a relaxing lunch break around noon, though I often find myself having a quick meal and returning to my home office or taking calls early. When my schedule has an opening during the day, I try to fit in some focused practice time. When that’s not possible, I practice in the evenings.
When I’m very lucky, my husband and I can take a lunch break together. I very much look forward to those days. We generally have dinners together as a family (my mother-in-law is a spectacular chef). After dinner, and if I’m not practicing, I often join my husband in his home office, where I work or read when his work days extend into the night (he’s been keeping longer hours these last few months).
In general, I have been spending more quality time with family and friends, even if much of it has to be virtual. These unfortunate circumstances are a great reminder of just how special and meaningful the close relationships in lives are.
What was it like to teach via Zoom? What did she miss most about teaching in person?
Digital instruction with video conferencing is certainly challenging. Setting aside the occasional disruptions from audio/visual distortions and disconnects, all musical collaborations depend on nuance, subtleties, and timings that cannot be fully shared in the absence of an in-person presence. That said, I very much believe in social distancing and believe that the risks of contracting and spreading COVID-19 far outweigh the relatively minor downsides to musical collaboration, especially while treatment courses seem so very limited. On the flip side, I’m very proud of my students, most of whom prepare well and work hard to make our lessons as productive as possible. All that said, I do miss the energy and warmth of in-person interactions with my students.
This time must be really tough for musicians who rely on gigs with professional orchestras around the state for the majority of their income. What are you hearing from your friends/colleagues who are in that situation? How are they holding up?
Musicians are a resilient bunch: many have found creative ways of supporting and growing their digital studios, many are making recordings from their homes, and many are volunteering with their communities, while others are using this time to hone their skills. In short, we’re all trying to stay positive, with some days easier than others. And, of course, we’re very grateful for any opportunity to make and promote music.
Two particularly interesting trends I’ve been enjoying: incredibly well-done musical collages, with near seamless transitions between musicians featuring distinct passages; and, ensembles, even as large as orchestras, that record and combine individual parts. Here are two of my favorite examples:
In fact, I’m excited to report that our very own Dr. Thomas Loewenheim of Fresno State brought the Fresno State Orchestra, Youth Orchestras of Fresno (YOOF), and Fresno Opera & Orchestra Summer Academy (FOOSA) together (in isolation) to record Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. Dr. Loewenheim’s great passions for our community, education, and music, combined with his incredible and inspiring dedication and determination always produces the most extraordinary results. I almost can’t wait to hear and share the final recording.
For those who aren’t familiar (and didn’t see our interview on “Fresno Famoso”), tell us a little about Trio Accento. How did the three of you meet?
Nora Chiang Wrobel, Garik Terzian, and I attended graduate programs at the University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music together. Friendship, mutual respect, and camaraderie developed easily for the three of us. And, we always had fun together. Nora is a rare gem in the music community: a virtuoso pianist with a passion for collaboration and chamber music, while Garik, with his extraordinary and aristocratic musicianship, offers musical ideas and foundations that many of us thought had passed with the great musical generation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nora, Garik, and I often feel as musical soulmates. Our connection is a joy to experience and to share.
What sets Trio Accento apart from other chamber groups?
Among the most extraordinary aspects of music is its ability to transcend all cultural, social, and economic boundaries. It conveys emotions we all experience, it inspires and uplifts, it tells stories, and it offers catharsis, all the while being accessible to us all. With this in mind, our Trio Accento tries to dedicate itself to diversity. We steer away from any one style, type, or period, and enjoy every opportunity to experience what others have. We hope to discover and convey what was so very special in the lives and intents of those who took the time to express themselves through composition. Most of all, we strive to share these journeys with our audiences (in a five-star experience, of course).
Give us a brief pitch for “Extant Blues,” your album:
For years, we have been blessed with enthusiastic and encouraging audiences. With so many post-concert requests for recordings, and having developed a single, expressive, and special voice, we were excited to produce this premier recording. With “Extant Blues,” it was our hope to reach wider audiences for us and for this extraordinary generation of composers. “Extant Blues” features works by the extraordinarily talented and award winning composers: Kenneth Froelich, Juhi Bansal, Gernot Wolfgang, Russell Steinberg, and Jeff Beal. Even more exciting was that we collectively have known and collaborated with these amazing individuals. We were very inspired to record and share their music.
Ken’s work “Polarized” features a wonderful vitality, brilliant rhythms, and an inspiring message of unity (and, I am proud to say, was dedicated to Trio Accento). Juhi’s composition “Wings” is an exotic, worldly, and breathtaking work that conveys her deep connection with nature through the freedom and exhilaration of soaring flight. Gernot’s work “Jazz and Cocktails” uses jazz as a perfect backdrop for the flirtatious pursuits of social gatherings for romance, friendship, entertainment, and opportunity. Russell, with his “Paleface,” is a tribute to the works of famous New York “psychological pop” artist Jerry Kearns, both of whom explore humanity’s search for heroism and leadership in religion, culture, and media. Jeff, with his “Almost Morning,” whisks us into a playful ballet as an expression of energy and life (with, of course, restful moments to enjoy the present).
We hope that our enthusiasm, passion, and deep respect for this music inspires the same in our listeners.
How can people buy it?
For all things regarding our trio, please visit TrioAccento.com. Not only can you learn about our ensemble and the music we feature, you can also purchase CDs signed by all three members of the trio here. Alternatively, you can buy our recording from Amazon here, from iTunes here, or from Spotify here.
What are you missing most during quarantine?
I was planning to visit my parents for my father’s birthday. Sadly, and like so many others, I was forced to cancel my travel plans. With that disappointment so recent, close and quality time with my parents is what I miss the most (there’s a lot of laughter when we’re together). Thereafter, I’d say spending care free time with and hugging family and friends I don’t live with (I still hug my husband, when he’s being well behaved). Also, travel – I very much miss traveling.
We all have great intentions of self-improvement. In a perfect world, if you could develop a skill, start a new hobby, learn something new or improve yourself in some other way during quarantine, what would accomplish?
For the past decade or so, I’d fantasized about learning to fly a small airplane and earning a private pilot certificate.
Fill in the blank: I would be most thrilled if ____________________ rang my doorbell, stood 6 feet away and said, “Happy quarantine, Limor!”
I have mixed feelings on this subject. There are so many people I’d love to see and spend time with. That said, I think it’d be heartbreaking to be surprised by a special visitor and not be able to hug them, not to be able to sit close to and share a drink with them, and to worry that I might unknowingly transmit something to them. When social normalcy is restored, I’ll look forward to such surprises and may even do the same myself.
— Posted May 28
I make my first meme!
One of the great local arts experiences of the quarantine so far was the reunion of The Fools Collaborative production of “S’will” on Zoom, featuring the original 2018 Rogue Festival cast in a major comic rewrite of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The gimmick: One hour prior to the performance, one actor in the cast was chosen as the evening’s drunken fool, thus required to ‘swill’ alcohol until showtime, then perform while intoxicated.
Camille Gaston, playing Olivia, was chosen by readers as the designated boozer. You think sober people have problems on Zoom remembering to unmute themselves? Try pounding down a few drinks.
My goal is for this meme to sweep the world and be remembered for centuries to come as an icon of our crazy times. Please share accordingly.
The entire performance, complete with loads of Fresno-area references, is a hoot from beginning to end, by the way. And it lives forever on the Fools’ Facebook page.
Dealt a tough quarantine hand, Robert Weibel puts his art in the cards
In which we check in with various Fresno-area arts folks (and former ones, too) and ask how they’re sheltering-and-placing. If you have a nominee for this feature, let me know!
The shelterer: Robert Weibel.
Where he’s sheltering: At home with his wife, Rene, in Fresno.
Why he’s a big deal: The artist is a figurative artist and printmaker who is particularly well known over the years for his “gunpowder drawings.” He’s had solo shows at such venues as 1821 Gallery & Studios, Vernissage, the California Contemporary Art Collective and more. I wrote about Weibel for The Munro Review in 2018.
How he’s spending quarantine: Now this is a cool story. I found out about it when fellow “Fresno Famoso” producer Teresa Flores asked Weibel to be a guest on the show. Confined to home, Weibel started making postcards for anyone who makes a request on social media and sends him an address. On the picture side he does an original painting/artwork, and on the message side he includes a hand-lettered inspirational greeting along with the address. He spends about an hour on a card and individually numbers each one.
The art: There’s definitely a nautical theme. My postcard (No. 184) is of a seagull with a face mask. I love the eyes, which appear to be saying, “You think it’s hard for you to go shopping with a mask on? Try diving for fish.” I also am drawn to the smudged sun in the upper right hand corner, which stands out against a gray, moody sky. Most of Weibel’s postcard images depict variations of a craft on open water which ties to the message. Years ago during a difficult time in his life, an acquaintance whom he thought he barely knew gave him a bag of coffee beans with the message “Stay buoyant on the sea of change.” Surprised by the support, it touched him deeply. That sentiment seemed to fit our times and in some way, he says, he wants to pass some of that along.
How many cards he’s mailed: He began on March 20. Every day he mails at least one, and usually three or four. The most he’s done in a day is 16. As of this interview, he was taking Nos. 190-194 to the post office. “When I began I didn’t imagine I would create this many individual multimedia images and messages and mail them out. I vaguely thought about making postcards until I ran out of ideas or grew tired of it. Today I think I have more ideas.”
VIDEO: A CHAT WITH ROBERT WEIBEL
How much he charges: Nothing. Nada. Yes, he sends them for free. “I’ve been asked many times about price, and about buying a number of postcards,” he says. “It keeps it so much more simple when they arrive free. Soon they will be in the most prestigious museums and private collections. There will be a huge market for these little postcards. They will each sell for four or five figures and it will restart the world economy hugely. Everyone will prosper.”
Why he loves letters: When Weibel was in the service, he became addicted to letters from hope. The very best, he says, were letters from his wife written on pale blue stationery. He wouldn’t rip them open right away, but first he would hold it against his cheek and close his eyes. Chanel No. 5.
His daily routine during quarantine: 6 or 7 a.m., he’s up with coffee, brief meditation, finish and finalize details of postcards, maybe breakfast, maybe not. Takes his little dog for a walk to the post office, back home. Maybe news, little house chores, internet, studio for a couple of hours. Lunch,sSiesta, afternoon read, studio, sit outside and imagine, or just sit. Dinner, Zoom meeting three times a week. TV, read and through the day touch base with his wife, Rene.
If he could develop a skill, start a new hobby, learn something new or improve yourself in some other way during quarantine, what would he accomplish? “I was encouraged and supported by Phillip Levine and Peter Everyone when I wrote poetry many years ago. I’d like to return to writing poetry longer than 17 syllables.”
Fill in the blank: I would be most thrilled if ____________________ rang my doorbell, stood 6 feet away and said, “Happy quarantine, Rob!” His answer: Yuval Noah Harari and Mary Magdalene.
Note: If you’d like a postcard from Weibel, go to his Facebook page and send him a message.
What She’s Listening to: Catching up with Meg Clark
The listener: Meg Clark, local theater singer and Good Company Players employee.
Cast album she’s hooked on right now: the “Hadestown” original cast album. “I’ve loved this album for a while now, but my interest was piqued again after I watched ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ a few weeks ago. It’s a gorgeous film and has some significant references to the same myth Hadestown is based upon. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. (Thanks, Meg — you gave us a bonus pick!)
What’s the show about: “ ‘Hadestown’ tells a version of the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus and Eurydice fall in love, one thing leads to another, and he tries to go rescue her from the underworld. I won’t give any more away … but the myth is thousands of years old, so you probably know how it ends.”
Favorite song: ”Wait for Me (Reprise)”. The music is so intricate to her, and each vocalist conveys urgency and longing so beautifully, that it gives her chills every time.
Have you ever been known to play your favorite song 11 times in a row until it’s so embedded in your brain that it goes through your head the entire day? (Or am I projecting?) “I am right there with you playing my favorite songs a million times in a row! That’s how you know a song is really special — when it still packs a punch even when you have heard it so many times.
How this album makes her feel: lots of heavy feelings, it’s kind of hard to describe. It’s gritty, yet delicate; heartbreaking, yet hopeful. “I guess it’s giving me the catharsis I need during this crazy time.”
For more: Watch my interview with Meg below, recorded live, from “Fresno Famoso.” She sings a song from the musical “Dogfight.”
GoFundMe for local theater
Speaking of Good Company Players, a fundraising campaign is in full swing to help the company, along with Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, survive shelter-in-place limbo. Organizer is Jim Irvine, a longtime GCP fan. As of this writing, more than $15,000 has been raised.
More updates: GCP scored a PPP (Payroll Protection Program) forgivable loan from the federal government in the second round of funding.
I checked with Roger Rocka about the dinner theater. He told me: “After a lot of research, discussion and pondering, we concluded that the Employee Retention Credit was a better fit for the theater than the PPP. We also applied for but have not yet received an Economic Injury Disaster Loan.”
Remembering Lynn Harrell, cellist extraordinaire and Youth Orchestras fan
The world lost one of its great cello players last month. Lynn Harrell, who won the inaugural Avery Fisher Prize and played with most of the great orchestras of the world, died at age 76. (He didn’t die of COVID-19, but his death was obscured in the midst of coverage of the pandemic.) He performed as a soloist with the Fresno Philharmonic, but Harrell had an even deeper connection to Fresno. The moment I heard of his death, I knew it would hit Thomas Loewenheim hard. As an accomplished cellist, conductor of the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Youth Orchestras of Fresno, Loewenheim knew how freely Harrell had shared his musical gifts with local audiences.
I checked in with Loewenheim for some memories:
Q: How long did you know Mr. Harrell?
A: I first heard Lynn Harrell play with the Israel Philharmonic when I was a child back in Israel. Way back then my mom bought me a cassette tape of his Schumann and Saint-Saens concerti, which I still have to this day. I got to meet him for the first time when he was honored at the 28th Eva Janzer Memorial event in Bloomington, Indiana, in 2006. The event, hosted by my former teacher, Prof. Janos Starker, was held at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and honored each year two cellists who have had a significant impact on the cello world. Lynn came and gave a master class, and I was lucky to sit next to him in one of the events and he simply started talking to me.
In 2013, Prof. Emilio Colón and I invited him as our first honorary guest artist for the Cello ǀ Fresno International Cello Festival at Fresno State, where we were also able to celebrate Harrell’s 70th birthday. A couple of years later he joined the FOOSA faculty and became an honorary and revered member of our music family here in Fresno.
Q: What do you think made him such a great cellist?
A: Without a doubt – his sound and his personality, which both were larger than life. Lynn came from a family of musicians, and his father was a famous opera singer. From his father, Lynn got this incredible sound concept that truly only he had. Combined with his grand and theatrical personality, he was an incredible storyteller, which he did through his cello and his incredible stage personality.
Q: How many times did he perform with you in Fresno?
A: Lynn came to Fresno five times since I moved to Fresno. He was the honorary guest of the Cello ǀ Fresno International Cello Festival in 2013. A couple of years later he then came to perform a chamber music concert with Fresno State string faculty members and guests, performing the string sextets by Brahms and Tchaikovsky. I remember vividly how a few days after that concert I was sitting on the floor in my son’s room, wondering who should be invited as cello faculty for FOOSA. The phone rang. It was Lynn on the other end. Apparently, he had heard a lot of wonderful things about the FOOSA Summer Orchestra Academy, held here in Fresno as a collaboration between the Youth Orchestras of Fresno and Fresno State, and he himself asked if we might need a cellist to join the festival.
In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined that Lynn would be available to join our festival, and it was truly a dream come true to have him join us. I remember how he started the conversation, saying in his deep authoritative voice: ”You know, Thomas, I was principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell when I was 19 years old. We played Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 with him, and that makes me absolutely qualified to lead the FOOSA Philharmonic next summer.”
We did perform Mahler’s 6th Symphony that summer with Lynn as our principal cellist. It was such a huge honor to have him with us, and I remember as if it was yesterday, how the whole orchestra’s sound changed once he played the first note with us in the rehearsal. It was simply magical. Lynn also came and performed with the Fresno Philharmonic. I was honored to be the principal cellist at that concert, when he played the Schumann Concerto, in which the soloist and the principal cellist have a sensitive duet in the second movement.
Q: What was he like as a teacher?
A: Lynn was a natural storyteller. Each story he told got embellished and was told in the most lavish manner possible. Since he had so many life experiences as a musician, and had met most of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, his lessons were like a time travel through his memory lane.
He loved sharing his experiences and stories with the students and always inspired them, helping them understand the background of the piece they performed for him. He would share interesting anecdotes with them, making the pieces they were playing come to life. I know my students were always inspired after each lesson they had with him.
In addition, he was a student of two American cello icons: Leonard Rose and Orlando Cole, and was happy to share their teaching, as well as his own pedagogical ideas, with students and faculty alike.
Q: Do you have a favorite Harrell memory?
A: Each moment one spent with Lynn was memorable because he made it that way. As I mentioned before, he was filled with stories he loved to share, and listening to them was always so inspiring and fun. One would imagine that my favorite moment with him would be sharing a stage with an idol of mine since childhood, but actually my favorite moment was from the first rehearsal we played the Brahms Sextet together.
I kept referring to him as Mr. Harrell, since he was my idol and such a famous personality. He kept asking me to call him Lynn as we are now colleagues, but out of habit, I continued to refer to him as Mr. Harrell. he last time I did that, he just stopped the rehearsal and yelled at me: “For God’s sake, Thomas, my name is Lynn!!! You are my dear friend so please just call me Lynn…” He did that with the biggest smile, and I never called him Mr. Harrell again.
Never-before-seen footage of Brunch
For the April episode of “The Munro Review on CMAC,” the improv comedy group Brunch dropped in for a very fun interview. We showed one of the games we played — a version of “The Dating Game” in which I rejected a Martian as a mate (sorry, Laurie Pessano) — but we had to cut the second game because of time. Now, because you know you have an extra 40 minutes in your day — what else do you have to do, go to a baseball game? — you can watch the special extended version. Plus, you just have to listen again at the beginning to Emily Pessano’s “Brady Brunch” introduction song.
Thanks again, Brunch, for a good time.