Weekend roundup: Hotoda and Bidini skydive with Mozart. Plus: Fresno City Dance wows with concert, and Keyboard draws audience member from Ukiah
A curated roundup of events from this past weekend:
Who picked the better evening on Saturday: the music lovers who attended the opening Masterworks concert of the weekend at Shaghoian Hall; or the faithful who flocked to the Fresno State football game? I know it’s not a fair comparison, but, let’s get real: The Philharmonic was the only Fresno institution that won. And attendees of the orchestra didn’t have to deal with $9 beer or a big fight in Row M. Seriously, while it might be hard to believe, there is overlap between the two audiences, enough that CEO Stephen Wilson jokingly thanked the audience — which did seem smaller than usual — for choosing woodwinds, brass and strings over the Bulldogs.
Related story: CONCERT PREVIEW: FRESNO PHILHARMONIC’S REI HOTODA JOINS GUEST ARTIST FABIO BIDINI FOR A 2-PIANO EVENING
And it really was a win of a concert, with the biggest play consisting of music director Rei Hotoda both conducting the orchestra and performing the role of one of the two daredevil keyboardists in Mozart’s iconic concerto for two pianos. Hotoda was joined by guest artist Fabio Bidini. They sat facing each other at two imposing, adjacent Steinways on the small Shaghoian stage in a configuration that reminded me of the way skydivers suit up for a tandem jump. The result: a crowd-pleasing, buoyant whoosh of musical intensity.
The Mozart two-piano concerto doesn’t get performed all that often, Bidini told me in a preview interview, not so much for technical reasons (yes, it’s hard, but concert pianists like a challenge) but simple economics: Importing two guest artists is more expensive than one. When your music director is also a concert pianist, however, like Hotoda is, it’s easier on the budget.
I loved watching them both play. Hotoda worked a double shift by conducting whenever her hands weren’t literally on the keyboard; sometimes, when she was using just one hand to play, she used the other to wave the beat, an audacious example of multi-tasking if I ever saw it. Bidini, meanwhile, had the facial expression of an utterly content kid curled up on a living-room sofa gorging on snacks and bingeing a favorite superhero series; a hint of a smile would emerge on his face at some of the piece’s more challenging moments of no rhythmic pulse and flurries of notes.
The concert started off with Bartok’s saucy “Romanian Folk Dances.” And I was quite taken with Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Elegia Andina,” which includes a remarkable section for two flutes whose inspiration from indigenous Peruvian music makes it feel more savory than sweet. The orchestra’s Janette Erickson and Pam Elzey turned it into a glorious moment.
By the end of the concert, the small but mighty crowd was enraptured and the applause long and sustained. Hotoda and Bidini beat the point spread, and then some.
FRESNO CITY COLLEGE DANCE
I didn’t make it to Fresno City College’s fall concert, but Benjamin Boone did, and he was impressed. Cristal Tiscareno choreographed a piece set to Boone’s “The Poetry of Jazz.” Here’s his Facebook shoutout:
Boone later wrote to me:
One dance about the effect of covid used bars from a cradle in a hyper effective way that had me in tears … It was fun to see them dance to my music and Phil’s reading. I was stunned by how good it was. Thought you’d want to know they are doing a fabulous job.
Andreas Werz, artistic director of Keyboard Concerts, was proud to pass the following email around the music community following the Friday, Nov. 6, performance of Alexander Malofeev, the young, hot-shot Russian musician who has taken the piano world by storm. It came from Marita McDonough of Ukiah:
I have just returned from the CSUF concert hall after listening to Alexander Malofeev play. It was an exhilarating experience. His depth of interpretation, easy virtuosity, and the compelling repertoire he chose had the audience continually on its feet from mid concert to the last encore. The excitement was palpable. I, myself, was transported. What the Philip Lorenz keyboard series offers is a treasure. Myself and my friend drove some 250 miles to hear Malofeev. It was well worth it. Being a small venue, the intimacy you are able to provide is unparalleled. We sat three rows up from the stage! The quality of musicians you attract is top level. I will be looking to attend future concerts. What is a five-hour drive compared to the joy I will carry with me for a very long time.
Now that’s a testament, indeed.