Follow-up on the Fresno Phil: Let’s unpack the most recent Masterwork concert surprise ending

Tractors and upside-down drum majors: all in a concert’s work for the Fresno Philharmonic. Andrea E. Hale was the animator.

By now you’ve had the chance to watch the Fresno Philharmonic’s most recent virtual concert, “Vive la France,” which premiered March 20. In the final movement of the last piece on the program, Jacques Ibert’s “Divertissement,” music director Rei Hotoda springs quite a surprise on the audience.

Now that you’ve had a good 10 days or so to watch the concert on YouTube, I offer a cheerful and hearty spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet viewed it. I repeat: If you still want to be surprised, stop reading and, well, just go ahead already and watch the concert. (Because, really, if you haven’t done it by now, you’re just procrastinating.)


Here’s what happens in the video. You’ve made it through most of the concert. The orchestra is merrily bopping along playing “Divertissement,” a romp of a piece written by Ibert in 1930. In terms of editing, the shots come briskly, as befitting the brisk, jangly tempo and absurdist mood of the piece. We cut to pianist Jason Sherbundy slowing down dramatically, as if to prepare for a big finish. A drum rolls and the screen shifts to black.

And suddenly it’s a cartoon. A small, animated gray ball falls through the void, its momentum interrupted by bouncing off a series of short bars that remind me of the mechanical flippers you’d find in an old-fashioned pinball machine.

When I watched the concert the first time, I was momentarily disoriented — had someone hacked my YouTube account? But then I saw how each bounce of the pinball corresponded to a piano chord. This was obviously meticulously planned.


Then things go wild: We’re immersed in a visual cacophony of bouncing shapes, racing horizontal stripes, polka dots, proliferating squares and more, interspersed with wacky old video images (scratchy clips of a conductor waving a baton, a drum major blowing a whistle, vintage tractors rumbling through fields), some presented kaleidoscope-style.

Finally, we are presented with cows. Many cows. They are joined by trumpet players in a square-grid configuration that looks like a bovine-and-brass Zoom meeting.

And, then, we’re back to the real musicians of the Fresno Philharmonic at the Shaghoian Hall for the final, rousing moments of the piece.

VIDEO: Fresno Philharmonic offers a diversion

Credit for this nifty nugget of entertainment goes to Andrea E. Hale, a Seattle-based animator recruited by video editor Tal Skloot for the project.

What I like so much about Hale’s work is the way the 70-second burst of animation follows the terrain of the music — not just the tempo and syncopation, but the mood. It’s brash and busy. I laughed, especially when the drum major blows a whistle. I’ve always thought whistles were funny.

So that’s the big revelation. Unexpected, yes. And that’s the appeal of it. Hotoda and the orchestra wanted to throw in a bit of a digital bonus. Once again, the pandemic has stretched our creative impulses in ways we couldn’t have imagined a year ago.

Oh, and a small preview for the final Masterworks concert in the season, “Bach to the Future,” which debuts April 17: Be sure to stick around for that whole experience, too. You never know what surprises lurk.

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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 (2)

  • Steph

    Seriously, when Maestra Hotoda really gets going she becomes ten feet tall and could easily command the entire 101st Army Battalion. She’s stunning.

  • Doreen Nagle

    We loved it!


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