Donald’s list: Weekend choices (July 20)

Cambridge choir makes a stop at Fresno’s St. James Cathedral. Plus: It’s the kickoff of California Opera’s summer festival, “Angels in America” hits the big screen, and Inner Ear poetry does its thing at Bitwise.

There are two Thursday evening events this week I want to make sure you know about, so I’m offering this version of “Donald’s List” a little early. Here’s a rundown on promising cultural events for the weekend:

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California tour: The Selwyn College Cambridge choir performs Thursday, July 20, in Fresno.

Cambridge choir

If you love choral music, you don’t want to miss the Thursday performance of the Selwyn College Cambridge choir visiting from England on a West Coast tour. The ensemble sings a concert titled “One Equal Light: A Celebration of European Choral Music” at St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Fresno.

Sarah MacDonald conducts the choir, which is made up 29 singers (16 female and 13 male), who are undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Cambridge. She is the first woman to hold the post of director of music in an Oxbridge Chapel. MacDonald is a longtime friend of Fresno State opera professor Anthony Radford — they were both in the Ontario Youth Choir when he was 20 — and when she knew she was coming on tour to California, she wanted to visit Fresno.

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Donald’s notes: Summer Arts, Week 1

Saturday update on the CSU Summer Arts program at Fresno State: tonight’s event is an evening with Vicki Lewis

This is a roundup of news, reviews and notes from the opening week of the CSU Summer Arts program, which is back at Fresno State after a five-year absence. I’ll be updating this post as the week progresses. If you have Summer Arts tidbits or thoughts on a performance you’d like to share, email me at donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com. For the public calendar of events, click here.

An evening with Vicki Lewis

vickilewissummerartsSaturday’s public event (7 p.m., John Wright Theatre) features actress Vicki Lewis, who is teaching in “The Voice Actor’s Ultimate Toolkit” Summer Arts class. Known for her roles on the TV series “NewsRadio,” “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” Lewis is also an accomplished Broadway veteran and voice actor.

At Saturday’s event, Lewis will be doing something similar to an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” format with a discussion of her career, video clips and an opportunity for questions.

(Updated 1 p.m. Saturday, July 1)

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Donald’s Book Club: Southern discomfort

In two books focused on the American South, a look at the Red/Blue State divide both in the present day and in a dystopian future

I love books. And because The Munro Review consists of things I’m passionate about, it seems only natural to share at least some of that love with my readers. Thus I thus offer my first “Donald’s Book Club,” an occasional feature. I’ll be writing about books that I’ve read recently — some that lots of people are talking about, others that maybe had their moment in the sun long ago. (John Updike, anyone?)

Book cover of 'Strangers in Their Own Land'

I call it Donald’s Book Club for a couple of reasons. One is that I hope that after reading what I have to say, people will share books they recommend. You can do so in the comments for this post. Some of the best book recommendations I’ve gotten are from readers.

The other is that I’d like to do a series on book clubs in the central San Joaquin Valley. My idea: I will join different book clubs on a temporary basis, read one book and gather with the club members for the discussion. Then I’ll profile the club and my experience. If you have a book club you want to nominate, send me an email (donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com).

Let’s get on with the books.

I’m focusing on two today: “American War,” by Omar El Akkad; and “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Both are predominantly about the American South, and I happened to read one right after the other, which added to the thematic impact.

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Strangers in Their Own Land

By Arlie Russell Hochschild. New York: The New Press, 2016

The author is an acclaimed UC Berkeley sociologist who set forth on an earnest mission to bridge the gap between the Blue and the Red in this country. To do so she took an intensive, deep-immersion fact-finding tour of various parts of Louisiana. She didn’t disguise herself as anything but a liberal West Coast type (lots of good-natured hippie jokes), but she also didn’t try to push her own views. Instead she listened and participated — at potlucks, church services, political rallies — in an effort to get out of her liberal bubble and climb over what she calls the “empathy wall” to really get into the mindset of her fellow U.S. citizens.

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An important review for Mai Der Vang

The New Yorker praises Fresno poet’s ‘Afterland,’ a piercing look at the Secret War in Laos

Let’s take a moment and revel with Fresno’s Mai Der Vang, whose poetry continues to get the kind of career-boosting national attention that could amplify her into a major voice. The latest pronouncement is a laudatory review in the New Yorker.

Critic Dan Chiasson makes Vang’s new book, the haunting and powerful “Afterland,” the leading item in a roundup of two “remarkable, virtuosic collections from young poets.” Vang’s book, published by Graywolf Press after she won the 2016 Walt Whitman Award, the nation’s most valuable first-book prize for a poet, is a complicated reflection on the “Secret War” in Laos during the Vietnam War era.

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A featured spread in The New Yorker. Photo / Shane Moreman

When I interviewed Vang in April when “Afterland” was released, I asked her if the title alludes to ancestors in the Hmong perception of life after death. Or does it have to do with refugees traveling to a new home?

Her reply:

I think “Afterland” can be any place, terrain or geography in the aftermath of a crisis or conflict. It can be an individual experience or a collective experience rooted in a people’s historical memory. It certainly has to do with the after-place of the refugee, but it also has to do with the after-place of that post-war country from which the refugee has just fled. And in the obvious sense, I found myself also exploring the after-place of the spirit.

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We are Fresnito

Juan Felipe Herrera celebrates the end of his term as U.S. poet laureate with a memorable Fresno State concert

CONCERT REVIEW

The event: Fresno’s Juan Felipe Herrera, the 21st poet laureate of the United States, was back in town Tuesday with the Fresno State Chamber Singers to reprise the closing concert at the Library of Congress that marked the end of his term.

The man of the hour: Herrera has a special knack when dealing with official occasions and the various rituals afforded an artist of his stature. He knows how to never underplay the dignity of a ceremonial moment. He can come across as refreshingly relaxed and informal, but there’s a certain gravitas and authority there, too, a reflection of his ability to get along with the establishment but also give it a bit of a hard time. On this evening at the university’s Concert Hall, he’s dressed in a casual bone-colored sports jacket, bright plaid shirt and a cheerful white hat.

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Juan Felipe Herrera with the Fresno State Chamber Singers at the Library of Congress on April 26, 2017. Photo / Facebook

The format: Most poets treat a reading as something to do in a single voice. Herrera wanted a choir. Benjamin Boone and Kenneth Froelich, both Fresno State music composition professors, teamed up with the poet, setting the words to music. Then the university’s Chamber Singers, under the direction of Cari Earnhart, brought the resulting songs to life at the Washington, D.C., concert. “This is a dream that I had as a child,” Herrera tells the audience before the Fresno event begins. “It’s about standing up, facing the people, giving a voice to the people.”

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