A stellar launch as music director

Rei Hotoda’s inaugural concert as Fresno Philharmonic conductor is filled with passion, musicality and showmanship


She began her inaugural concert with a gracious smile and a long, deep bow. And she ended it with a dramatic stance: her left arm raised high in a power salute with baton pointed skyward, her other arm at rest by her side, creating an elegant asymmetry. It was a graceful yet assertive posture to end on, a follow-me pose, as if to say: I’m here to lead you to great things, and I’m going to do it in style.

Rei Hotoda knows how to make a memorable debut.


In her first concert Sunday afternoon as the Fresno Philharmonic’s newly appointed music director, Hotoda built on the momentum she started in her performance in April as guest conductor of the orchestra, when she was one of six candidates vying for the position. She wowed that audience with a combination of dynamic programming, crisp musicality, rapport with the musicians and a commanding sense of physicality on the podium that at times can be nearly balletic.

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Welcome to the podium

The Fresno Philharmonic celebrates a new era with the official arrival of Rei Hotoda as music director

Finally! After the long, hard haul of searching for a new conductor, the big day is finally here for patrons of the Fresno Philharmonic.

Rei Hotoda will officially take the podium on Sunday, Oct. 15, in her first concert as the orchestra’s new music director. She was the unanimous choice of the orchestra’s search committee after six finalists each conducted a Masterworks concert during the 2016-17 season.

Her debut marks a new era for the orchestra. So it’s fitting that the first piece played under her new tenure will be Aaron Jay Kernis’ “New Era Dance.”

Taking up the baton: Rei Hotoda’s first piece will be “New Era Dance.” Photo / www.reihotoda.com

She will be joined by guest artist Natasha Paremski, who will play the Grieg piano concerto. Paremski has played in many of the world’s great concert halls.

(I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to readers; see the end of this post for details on how to enter.)

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Oct. 12)

Options include a Fresno State lecture-recital about a memorable woman scientist, theater openings in Merced, Visalia and Reedley, and a photo exhibition about Afghanistan

Here’s a rundown on promising arts/culture picks for the weekend. (Note: I’m posting this a day earlier than usual because of a Thursday night option.)

Remembering Hypatia

Earlier this year I got to wander the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, and there I learned about a remarkable woman: Hypatia, who is said to be the first woman philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. She was renowned for her intelligence and scientific insights. But she got caught up in the religious battles of the times. Hypatia was a pagan, and she was (horribly) murdered by an angry Christian mob in the year 415 A.D.


Hypatia’s life story is the focus of a fascinating sounding interdisciplinary lecture-recital on Friday at Fresno State. The event is an exploration of the ways in which women use their voices and are silenced in male-dominated societies.

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For cello fans, a wonderful weekend

Fresno State’s cello festival and Fresno Musical Club offer concerts

There are two promising classical music events this weekend I’d like to share:

Cello festival

The 2017 Cello Fresno international festival features two gala concerts:

8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6: The Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and an all-star lineup of professional guest artists perform at the Fresno State Concert Hall under conductor Thomas Loewenheim. The program includes Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture,” Von Suppe’s “Poet and Peasant Overture,” and works for cello and orchestra by Bragato, Bruch, Dvorak, Elgar, Offenbach, Popper, and Saint-Saens. Tickets are $5-$15.

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4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8: The Youth Orchestras of Fresno, conducted by Loewenheim and guest conductor Emilio Colon, performs a program at the Shaghoian Concert Hall that includes the Pfitzner Cello Concerto, Paganini’s “Moses Variations” and winners of the concerto competition. Tickets are free.

The Sunday concert includes two notable highlights, Loewenheim tells me:

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Biegel returns to play with Sequoia Symphony

Jeffrey Biegel, who couldn’t hear or speak until corrective surgery at age 3, will play Grieg’s piano concerto. It will be his 2nd performance with the symphony in 2017

The Sequoia Symphony Orchestra, which recently changed its name from the Tulare County Symphony after 57 years, kicks off its 2017-18 season with a familiar guest artist.

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel played with the Visalia-based orchestra in February, performing a piece by Claude Bolling.

A fan of Grieg: pianist Jeffrey Biegel.

Now the New York-based Biegel is returning on Saturday, Oct. 7, to play Grieg’s famed Piano Concerto in a Masterworks concert titled “Gods and Heroes.”

“It went so well, that I got a call for an immediate re-engagement,” Biegel says of his February gig.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Sept. 29)

Choices include ‘The Tempest’ at Fresno Soap Co., chamber music at Keyboard Concerts and ‘Scoundrels’ in Visalia

Here’s a roundup of promising cultural/arts picks for the weekend:

‘The Tempest’

Think you’ve already seen “The Tempest”? Probably not with an all-women cast. An enthusiastic band of actresses take on the challenge of Shakespeare’s island-adventure comedy in a production that opens Friday, Sept. 29, at the Fresno Soap Co.

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An all-women “Tempest”: Bridget Paul (Ferdinand), Casey Ballard (Prospero), and Paige Tucker (Miranda). Photo / provided

The performers bring to life all the characters in the play: men, women and all those famous other-worldly characters. (Plus, there’s one inanimate object making a debut: Stephano’s companion, Trinculo, is a hand-puppet.)

The cast includes Bridget Paul (Ferdinand), Casey Ballard (Prospero), Paige Tucker (Miranda), Patricia Fretwell (Alonso), Sara Smith (Antonio), Kayla Weber (Caliban), Tania Haigounian (Stephano with Trinculo) and Kathie Mollica (Gonzalo).

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Sept. 21)

Options include new exhibitions at the Fresno Art Museum and Armenian Museum, two chamber music concerts and a closing reception at Corridor 2122

(Note: I’m posting this a day earlier than usual because of a Thursday night option.)

The Fresno Art Museum has a venerable tradition: Each year a museum group called the Council of 100 selects an outstanding woman artist over the age of 60 to celebrate. The artist traditionally lives 100 miles or more away from Fresno. This year’s honor goes to a prominent Bay Area fiber artist who just had her 80th birthday. (What a way to celebrate!) The exhibition “Joan Schulze: Celebrating 80” opens with a reception on Friday, Sept. 22.

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Delicate quilting: Joan Schulze’s “Not So Long Ago.” Photo / Fresno Art Museum

There’s another exhibition opening as well: selections from the famed AIDS Memorial Quilt cared for by the NAMES Project Foundation. The show is a partnership by the museum and the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

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Fresno Phil does ‘Star Wars’ proud

In opening concert of the season, Fresno Philharmonic offers a successful pops salute to the music of John Williams


I honestly don’t remember if I ever saw “Jaws” the movie. I’m a wimp when it comes to such things, so I suspect I didn’t. But on Saturday night, as the Fresno Philharmonic breezed through a snappy rendition of the John Williams theme to the classic 1975 movie, I still felt my pulse rate tick up a little. Through the magic of popular-culture osmosis, I have absorbed the universal dread felt when hearing the “Jaws” music. With a motif of just two notes, Williams somehow captures the feeling of floating in the ocean with just your head above water, your arms and legs obscured and vulnerable, when suddenly you think what it would be like to see a flash of fin come toward you. I’m staying on the beach, thank you.

Saroyan stormtrooper: Intermission is over, and if you don’t get back to your seat, you’ll be sorry. Photo / The Munro Review

You could say that this cultural connection to Williams’ music — even when I didn’t see the movie in question — is the key to the rousing good time I had at the orchestra’s opening concert of the season, a pops offering that highlighted some of the best known pieces by the prolific composer. Time and again as the program progressed, the mere mention of the names of the films whose themes we were about to hear prompted yips of acknowledgement and sentimental sighs. From the martial energy of “Star Wars” and optimistic heroics of “Superman” to the tender humanity of “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial,” this wasn’t just familiar music: It was a series of aural mileposts on a cultural journey. You didn’t even need to remember specific moments from these and other films or even seen them to be invited to the party; what’s important is that somehow these famous musical moments have transcended the medium for which they were designed and become part of our societal vocabulary.

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