5 Things to Know about Kenneth Froelich

With the Fresno State professor’s “Spinning Yarns” featured by the Fresno Philharmonic, get to know the composer. Plus: Win a pair of tickets to Sunday’s concert

You think the job market in your field is tough? Try being a composer. Not only are you competing against other living composers out there to have your works appreciated and performed, you’re also up against an even bigger pool of dead composers whose pieces are revered. It’s quite common for a typical professional symphony orchestra program to feature a lineup of composers who are all long gone. For the flesh-and-blood variety, it can be hard to be heard.

But that’s exactly what Kenneth Froelich, a Fresno State music composition professor, is achieving this weekend. At Sunday’s Masterworks concert, the Fresno Philharmonic will perform Froelich’s “Spinning Yarns.” (The program also includes guest soloist Awadagin Pratt in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, along with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.) To mark this notable event in Froelich’s career, here are 5 Things to Know about the piece and the composer — plus a bonus item about the rest of the concert. And go to the end of this post to learn how you can win two tickets to the event.

ken froelich
Kenneth Froelich’s “Spinning Yarns” is featured in Sunday’s Fresno Philharmonic concert.


“Spinning Yarns” is inspired by a jazz concept. And it’s not the kind of yarn you might think.

In jazz, the term “trading fours” refers to a point in which the horns and drummer each improvise four-bars of music at a time, exchanging back and forth in a rather transparent musical dialog. The title “Spinning Yarns” evolved from this idea.

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New exhibitions take roost at Fresno Art Museum

David Tomb’s “Rockfowl and Other Wonders” and Marcos Dorado’s “Immigrant Me” are part of a powerful winter/spring lineup

With its new round of winter/spring exhibitions, the Fresno Art Museum is taking flight.

I got the chance to preview three of the museum’s five new shows, which open Saturday, Jan. 27. There’s a lot to appreciate. From radiant depictions of birds in their natural habitats to an intimate series of portraits saluting immigrants, these new exhibitions can be startling, evocative, aesthetically impressive and infused with tenderness and meaning.

I’ll be writing about each of the exhibitions at greater length as they continue, but here’s a sneak peek.

Winged wonder: a detail from David Tomb’s mammoth work “Rock and Rockfowl.” Photo / Fresno Art Museum

Bird extravaganza

In David Tomb’s “Rockfowl and Other Wonders,” the San Francisco artist transports the viewer to various locales around the world, all of them the homes of some of the rarest birds in the world. Tomb has had a fascination with nature and science ever since he was a kid, and he has managed in recent years to intertwine his fine-art skills with his love of nature. If “big” in art impresses you, chances are you’ll be amazed at the size alone of some of these works, including the centerpiece “Rockfowl” mixed-media piece, depicting a rainforest in Ghana, which at 27 feet wide and 11 feet tall makes you feel you’re about to enter a jungle.

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In quick and witty ‘Sense,’ Jane Austen meets the 21st Century

Good Company Players production of “Sense and Sensibility” at the 2nd Space Theatre is a breezy adaptation


I’ve had the pleasure of watching Mary Piona and Patricia Hoffman portray many characters in 2nd Space Theatre productions over the years, but on this night they’re playing a type of role I’ve never seen them do before:


You read that correctly. In one of dozens of charming bits of theatricality you’ll encounter in the new Good Company Players production of “Sense and Sensibility,” Piona and Hoffman literally play furniture. They’re human manifestations of a late 18th Century bedroom set.

Tight-knit Dashwood family: Julia Reimer, left, as Mrs. Dashwood; Na’vauge Jackson, as Marianne, Gigi Dickerson, as Margaret; and Jessica Knotts, as Elinor.

In a comic tableau that upends the audience’s point of view, it’s as if we’re looking down from the ceiling upon the marital bed of the noxious John and Fanny Dashwood, who are staying up late figuring out new ways to treat John’s half-sisters badly. (One of the key plot points of Jane Austen’s classic tale of love and money is that after the death of their father, John inherits the whole estate while Elinor and Marianne, his wonderful sisters, get booted out of the family home.) If you’ve seen “Hairspray” on stage, you’ll recognize the visual perspective: It’s just like when a propped-up Tracy Turnblad in the opening scene is depicted lying in bed as she belts out “Good Morning Baltimore.”

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Jan. 19)

Options include annual Fresno State faculty concert, a special recital at Fresno Pacific, and a “Super” event by the Fresno Community Concert Band

Classical music lovers, this weekend is for you:

Faculty concert

How big is this year’s Fresno State faculty concert? There are so many performers they can come together as a symphony orchestra. Faculty members participating (in alphabetical order) are Rachel Aldrich, Teresa Beaman, Michael Chang, Andrew Quiring, Matthew Darling, Larry Gardner, Richard Giddens Jr., Thomas Hiebert, Ed Hull, Thomas Loewenheim, Aaron Marcus Luna, Nathan Sobieralski, Limor Toren-Immerman, and Andreas Werz. They’ll be joined by selected students.


The concert will include Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, the Sextet from Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte” featuring our voice faculty and two of their top students. The orchestra will close the concert with Gliere’s “The Red Poppy Suite.”

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KVPR family stunned by Mariam Stepanian’s death

Mariam Stepanian. Photo / Valley Public Radio

There’s sad news today for employees and supporters of Valley Public Radio: General manager Mariam Stepanian, whose name became synonymous with KVPR, died Thursday, Jan. 18, following complications from an illness. It’s no exaggeration to say she was a pillar of the central San Joaquin Valley’s cultural scene.

The radio station’s staff was informed Friday morning.

Stepanian had worked at the station since 1980, first serving as development director. She soon became general manager. You can learn more about her storied career on the KVPR website:

Under Stepanian’s leadership, Valley Public Radio became one the region’s leading providers of news and cultural arts media. With NPR and classical music programming, Valley Public Radio’s audience grew and eventually encompassed two stations, serving both the Fresno and Bakersfield markets.

Most recently, Stepanian led the effort to raise funds for the construction of a new state-of-the-art broadcast center in Clovis. The 10,000 square foot facility opened in mid-2016, and is a lasting reminder of her vision for the station and the community.

I’m planning to write a follow-up appreciation of Stepanian. If anyone has memories or other details to share, please email me at donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com, or leave a comment below.

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Win tickets to Visalia production of ‘Janka’

For many in the local arts community, Janice Noga has become synonymous with the name “Janka.” The Fresno actress for more than a decade has been perfecting her role in the one-woman show about her mother-in-law, Janka Festinger Speace, who survived a Nazi concentration camp. Noga’s husband, Oscar Speace, wrote the play about his mother using original source materials, and the pair have toured with it across the nation and around the world. In 2015, I got the opportunity to follow “Janka” to New York City, where Noga and Speace fulfilled a lifelong dream of having the play produced in the nation’s theater capital with a professional director and designers.

janka poster

Now’s your chance to see the newest version of the play — which was extensively reworked in its off off Broadway run — in the central San Joaquin Valley. It will be performed in Visalia and Fresno. You can even win free tickets.

In this post I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to the 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, performance at The 210 Performance Space (210 W. Center St., Visalia). This performance is presented by The Janka Project and the California Holocaust Education & Resource Center. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post explaining why you’d like to see the show. Deadline to enter is 9 a.m. Thursday.

Another performance is planned a few weeks after that: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, at the 2nd Space Theatre. (Be on the lookout for free tickets for that, too.)

I wrote extensively about the “Janka” production through the years for the Fresno Bee. One reason her story was so compelling is that theater lovers in the central San Joaquin Valley helped raise money (through a partnership with the Fresno Arts Council) to send the show to New York. A relatively few number of people got to see that New York production, however. This time you won’t have to buy a plane ticket.

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Are you a flute lover? Prepare to be serenaded with Moment Musical

Chamber music ensemble will perform a piece by a great 18th century flutist

We’re looking at another relatively quiet weekend on the local arts scene. (And I’m hearing that tickets are quite scarce for Sunday’s double-bill of “Calculus: The Musical” and “Curie Me Away,” which I previewed on my January CMAC show, so if you’re looking for something to do, you might be out of luck there.) Which gives me a chance to lavish some attention on Moment Musical and its “Sunday Serenade” concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

michel blavet

This faithful chamber music ensemble has been around since 1989. The top-notch musicians who regularly contribute their talents to the loose-knit group are among the best in town. One of them is Janette Erickson, principal flutist for the Fresno Philharmonic. She’s excited to showcase the French composer Michel Blavet (1700-1768), known as the best flutist of his day.

Erickson, accompanied on cello and piano, will perform Blavet’s Sonata in G minor, one of six flute sonatas written by the composer. All were dedicated to well-known women. I wanted to learn more about this piece from Erickson, the expert:

Q: Tell us a little more about Michel Blavet. Did you learn about him in school?

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Jan. 5)

As January’s cultural scene slowly begins to ramp up, here are two weekend picks for you:

Keyboard Concerts

If you’ve never heard a professional organist play the Elizabeth V. Lyles Pipe Organ in the Fresno State Concert Hall, you owe yourself the experience. (Fun fact: The impressive instrument was built by the Martin Ott Pipe Organ Company in St. Louis and installed in 1996.)

Kimberly Marshall, organist
Acclaimed organist Kimberly Marshall performs Sunday, Jan. 7, at the Fresno State Concert Hall. Photo / Keyboard Concerts

You’ll get that opportunity when Kimberly Marshall, who has an illustrious performance and academic background (at one point she was dean of postgraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music), returns to the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series on Sunday, Jan. 7.

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