VIDEO INTERVIEW: Bruce Kiesling and Visalia’s Sequoia Symphony spiff up the concept of digital concerts

Bruce Kiesling, music director of the Sequoia Symphony Orchestra in Visalia (formerly known as the Tulare County Symphony), knew he wanted to create a strong digital presence during the pandemic. He also knew he didn’t want to simply replicate a full-length concert online. People don’t have the time or attention span to watch the type of longer event they’d normally encounter in a concert hall, he says.

So he opted for a different plan: a 10-part series titled “Musical Uplink.” The first one premiered in October. The seventh made its official debut on Friday, Jan. 29. The musical selection in each episode is no longer than about eight minutes. So you might get a sampling of just one movement from a symphony, or the taste of a piece from just the overture. Kiesling introduces each episode in the spectacular setting of Sequoia National Park, bringing his well-known passion for the music and sense of humor to the proceedings.

Kiesling, in a shot from one of his ‘Musical Uplink’ videos, shows why he should win the award for Best Color Coordinated Conductor.

All of the released episodes are available for streaming at any time. By the end of the season, it’ll be like having access to a “mega concert” that you can experience all in one sitting, if you choose.

Many people in Fresno don’t realize that Visalia has a professional orchestra with a long and storied history. I’d always meant to do an in-depth interview with Kiesling, so I asked last week if he’d sit down with me (via Zoom, of course) to talk about the “Musical Uplink” series, his background as a conductor, his often irreverent attitudes toward classical music, and the orchestra itself.


Along with some musical snippets, we cover a wide range of topics in the 23-minute video, including:

• “American Overture” by Prokofiev, one of the composer’s lesser-known (and shorter) works, which is presented in the seventh and latest “Musical Uplink” episode.

• The arc of the entire series, which includes such composers as Walter Piston, George Walker and Aaron Copland.

• A preview of the three episodes still to come, including a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Fancy Free” that includes professional dancer Angelo Soriano (an El Diamante High School alum whose career includes “Aladdin” on Broadway) filmed on location.

• An introduction to Kiesling’s own “Musical Moments” video series, which can also be found on the orchestra’s website. Why do we so often think of composers as old and stuffy? Because in the photos we usually see of them, they’re near death.

• Oh, and Kiesling’s video-star dog during the interview chooses the perfect camera angle for maximum nap exposure.

One thing we do not talk about (because it hadn’t yet been announced) was recent big news for the orchestra: An anonymous donor a few days ago gave the largest gift in the history of the organization. James Ward of the Visalia Times-Delta writes:

The anonymous $800,000 donation will be deposited into the orchestra’s endowment fund, which generates interest that helps pay for each year’s budget expenses and also allows new creative opportunities. With the recent donation, the Sequoia Symphony Orchestra’s endowment fund stands at $1.2 million, Kiesling said.

This is great news and a big boost for the orchestra.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy my video interview. Kiesling is a great ambassador for classical music.

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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.

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