Remembering Andrew Massey, former Fresno Philharmonic conductor

In the 65 years of the Fresno Philharmonic’s existence, a small but mighty band of men (and now a woman!) have served as music director. We lost one of them recently. Andrew Massey, who led the orchestra at various times from 1983 to 1991, died earlier this month at his home in Vermont at the age of 72.

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Andrew Massey’s long career in classical music included a stint as music director of the Fresno Philharmonic.

Mr. Massey went on to do some wonderful things after his time in Fresno, including serving as conductor of the Toledo Symphony, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the Green Mountain Mahler Festival and the Middlebury College Orchestra. The college reports that his career included stints as associate conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony and New Orleans Symphony, and a conductor or leader of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Oregon Mozart Players, the Milwaukee Symphony, the Racine Symphony, and the Indonesian National Symphony Orchestra in Jakarta.

He was born in England and studied at Oxford University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In 2002, he became a U.S. citizen.

Mr. Massey is remembered fondly by musicians who played with him in Fresno.

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As FOOSA heads back to Disney Hall, composer Mason Lamb is in for a thrill

Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy will perform in Los Angeles, then return on Sunday to Fresno for a finale concert

Exactly a year ago, on this Friday morning, I hopped on a bus bound from Fresno State to the stunning Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. On board were some of the most talented young musicians I’d ever met, along with their equally talented (and renowned) teachers. This was the annual FOOSA (Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy) pilgrimage to perform at Disney Hall. And I was lucky enough to be invited.

For these musicians, who descend on Fresno State each summer from around the world, getting to step inside Disney Hall is a treat. Getting to be part of a concert there is on an entirely different musical level. I detailed the experience in an in-depth post about the trip. I had a lot of fun writing it.

Composer Mason Lamb’s ‘Solstice’ will receive its world premiere at Disney Concert Hall.

Now the FOOSA folks are repeating the experience. The orchestra will perform Symphony No. 2 by Italian composer Alfredo Casella (1883-1947), described by the academy’s executive director, Julia Copeland, as “little known but suddenly hot,” and the always popular “Der Rosenkavalier Suite” by Richard Strauss.

Also on the program is the elegiac Kol Nidrei, by Max Bruch, performed by the great cellist Lynn Harrell. (At FOOSA, the teachers — who represent some of the nation’s finest orchestras and institutions of higher learning — perform alongside the students, adding to the thrill.) And there’s a world premiere: a piece titled “Solstice,” written for this occasion by Fresno-based composer Mason Lamb.

Related story: A Disney Hall concert for the ages: Fresno State’s FOOSA Summer Orchestra Academy takes a road trip to Los Angeles and makes beautiful music in the process (June 2017)

The Disney Hall concert is tonight (8 p.m. Friday, June 22), and I know that most of us can’t make it. But never fear: The FOOSA crew will hop back on their buses and return to Fresno for a free finale concert (7 p.m. Sunday, June 24, at Peoples Church).

I caught up with Lamb, the composer, to talk about the experience of writing a piece that will receive its premiere at one of the most famous concert halls in the world. We also talked about his travels, his family, and even his “surly, unappreciative beagle.”

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At FOOSA’s faculty recital, the musical talent will be off the charts

The Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy at Fresno State puts the spotlight on its teachers

Classical music fans, here’s a weekend event you don’t want to miss:

The concert: FOOSA (Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy) faculty recital.

The details: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 16, in the Fresno State Concert Hall. Admission is free with donations accepted.

The backstory: A faculty of acclaimed musicians gathers each June at Fresno State to teach in a vigorous and elevated musical environment. This year’s academy started Sunday, and students from around the world have been attending intense lessons and rehearsals. (And probably practicing up a storm, too.) They’re working toward a big wrap-up concert featuring students and teachers at none other than Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (8 p.m. Friday, June 22). But before that happens, a highlight of the academy’s first full weekend will be the annual faculty recital.

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Robert Nielsen is retiring from Fresno Community Concert Band, but not without one last ‘Bash’

After 25 years as conductor (and co-founder) of the Fresno Community Concert Band, Robert Nielsen is stepping down from the podium. He’s going out in style. “Bob’s Big Bash” — in the form of two concerts on Sunday, May 27 — promises to be a vibrant and poignant experience. There’s even a world premiere by Fresno City College’s Mike Dana (who, coincidentally, just retired). And just to give things a family spin, Irene Klug Nielsen, an accomplished flutist, will be featured soloist under her husband’s baton.

Robert Nielsen

Bob Nielsen took time to ruminate on the past 25 years and expound on the virtues of music made for the sheer love of it.

Q: Set the scene for us. It’s your very first rehearsal as conductor of the Fresno Community Concert Band. What year was it? Did they have electricity back then? (Just kidding.) Give us a sense of the time and place.

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From Gershwin to Elton John, pianist/singer Tony DeSare brings keyboard magic to Fresno Philharmonic

You can win a pair of tickets to Saturday’s pops concert at the Saroyan Theatre


With his recordings and busy touring concert schedule, Tony DeSare has lots of admirers. But it’s easy to figure out his No. 1 fan.

“My mother,” says the celebrated pianist, singer and songwriter, who headlines Saturday’s final Fresno Philharmonic pops concert of the season, titled “Great Balls of Fire.” (I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to the event; details are below.)

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Tony DeSare performs Saturday, May 12 with the Fresno Philharmonic.

It’s only fitting that on this Mother’s Day weekend, he will play one of his mom’s favorites, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” he tells me in a phone interview. Here’s a rundown on the concert:

The program: Along with Gershwin, DeSare will join with the orchestra to play songs by such favorites as Elton John, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Jerry Lewis and Irving Berlin. You can look forward to boogie-woogie, ragtime, straight-out pop and rock ‘n’ roll. “It’s for people who really love piano music,” he says. “I based the program on what I loved when I was a 10-year-old kid.”

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Feel the beat. No, really feel the beat.

The Lively Arts Foundation presents Drum TAO’s national tour of ‘Drum Heart’ at the Saroyan Theatre. You can win a four-pack of tickets

If you think you work long hours in your job, consider a typical day in the life of a Drum TAO company member on tour:

Meet in the hotel gym at 6:30 a.m. to hit the machines. After a vigorous workout of cardio and strength training, take a shower and eat breakfast. If it’s your first day in a city, arrive at the theater by 10:30 a.m. In Drum TAO, you do your own load-in — you unpack the trucks, carry in the equipment, set everything up on stage, tune the drums. Lunch is at 2 p.m. Continue pre-performance prep, any needed rehearsals, warm-ups. Shows are usually at 7:30 or 8 p.m. After the vigorous, high-octane production is over, you help strike the set and load the trucks. You’re back in the hotel after midnight.

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Drum TAO presents “Drum Heart” on Saturday, May 5, at the Saroyan Theatre.

Next day: Meet in the gym at 6:30 a.m. to hit the machines.

“We manage to keep in shape,” says Taro Harasaki, who has been in Drum TAO for 14 years.

You can win a family four-pack of tickets to Saturday’s performance of “Drum Heart” (7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 5, Saroyan Theatre). To enter, leave a comment on this post telling why you’d like to go. Deadline to enter is 10 p.m. Friday, May 4, so this is a quick turnaround. I’ll pick the winner at random. Please don’t enter if you won’t be able to use the tickets. I’ll be informing the winner by email, so check yours Saturday morning.

That’s an understatement. Then again, the promotional image for the tour pretty much says it all: Most of the company members are clad in costumes baring their washboard abs. These guys and gals are not gorging on American fast food.

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The power of voice: Fresno Master Chorale bids adieu to season with stirring tribute to Bernstein


Catching up from the weekend:

When I listen to the Fresno Community Chorus, I often think of the raw, primeval, guts-and-all, human power of choral music. Sure, our ingenious brains have made possible the creation of musical instruments of all shapes and styles. Those instruments add immeasurably to our lives. But the voice came first. It remains special in terms of emotional connection.

I was reminded of this at the chorus’ spring concert on Sunday, which featured three of its illustrious ensembles — the Master Chorale, Coro Piccolo and a new group, Quintus — at Shaghoian Hall, along with a fine orchestra, all under the nuanced baton of Anna Hamre. Four pieces by Leonard Bernstein, in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth, were performed. In keeping with that “birthday” theme, several other celebratory pieces by other composers joined the program as well. Here are a few of my thoughts:


Festive air: The opening piece, Henry Purcell’s “Come ye Sons of Art,” had a bright and chipper air, especially the rousing final movement, “See Nature Rejoicing.” Purcell wrote the piece in 1694 in honor of Queen Mary’s birthday. (And what a gift. It certainly lasted a lot longer than a new taffeta gown or a balloon bouquet.) This could have just been an overly mechanical, anachronistic exercise, but Hamre and her singers brought a warmth and spontaneity to the piece that gave it a special zest. As I listened, I could imagine the queen sitting there in a festive tent, colorful pennants fluttering in the breeze, everyone wearing lots of wool (ah, how that must have smelled when it got wet), as she presided over an intimate lunch for, say, a few hundred of her closest friends.

Five guys singing: Quintus is the chorus’ male quintet, featuring Aaron Burdick, Thomas Hayes, Joe Camaquin Vigil, Nick Olsen and Riley Garcia. Their voices blended beautifully on Bernstein’s “One Hand, One Heart” and “Pirate Song.” Still, there was a bit of a tentative feel to their performance, almost a sluggishness to the beat (especially on “One Hand”), as if they need a little more confidence singing together.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (April 27)

Whether it’s cutting-edge chamber music or the classic play “The Crucible,” there are lots of options for the weekend. I’ve already filled you in on Good Company’s “The Heiress,” Jeremy Denk performing with Keyboard Concerts and the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra in separate concerts, and the Fresno Community Chorus spring celebration of Leonard Bernstein. Here are even more choices:

‘The Crucible’

Don’t you love the poster for the new College of the Sequoias production? (Kudos to the designer.)

crucible poster

“The Crucible,” of course, is Arthur Miller’s 1953 classic play about the Salem witchcraft trials, but it can also be read as a searing allegory about McCarthyism or more generally mass hysteria in times of political unrest. The new production is set in a post-World War II small town that “feels eerily close to our own.”

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