From the physical to the celestial, the Fresno Philharmonic reaches for the sky

You can win a pair of tickets to Sunday’s ‘Of Heaven and Earth,’ a program close to conductor Rei Hotoda’s heart

“I love the title ‘Of Heaven & Earth’ for this concert,” Rei Hotoda tells me. “It touches on the physical realm of where we are on this Earth, but also on the spiritual world of the heavens.”

As I’ve gotten to know Hotoda, who is finishing up her first season as music director of the Fresno Philharmonic, I can count on her to exude enthusiasm when talking about upcoming programs. (“Every time I get on an airplane to Fresno, I get so excited,” she says.) But I can tell there’s something extra special about Sunday’s (April 15) concert, the last Masterworks offering of the season, which will be performed at 3 p.m. at the Saroyan Theatre.

phil heaven and earth

For one thing, it includes several pieces that Hotoda is just wild about. Of Debussy’s “La Mer,” for example, she says: “I can’t say how much I love this piece. It’s one of the most incredible symphonic works ever written. If I could eat a piece, this would be the piece I would eat.”

Win two tickets to the Fresno Philharmonic’s “Of Heaven & Earth” concert. To enter this giveaway, leave a comment on this post telling us if you’ve ever let your cell phone go off in a concert or theater event and how you reacted. (Or, if you don’t want to ‘fess up, just say why you want to attend Sunday’s concert.) Deadline to enter is midnight today (Friday, April 13). Two pairs of tickets will be given away. The winners will be picked at random and notified by email.

She’s excited, too, about the diversity of the program: There are two living composers (Jennifer Higdon’s “blue cathedral” and Tan Dun’s “Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds” are featured), and two of the pieces (“La Mer” and “Passacaglia”) are examples of Asian-influenced music, one of Hotoda’s passions. Poulenc’s choral work “Gloria” is a remarkable version of the traditional Latin Mass.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (March 23)

At the top of my list for promising events this weekend are two prominent arts offerings — and one so-cute-it-barks dog event, just for the heck of it: The Orpheus chamber ensemble offers “Four Centuries of Beautiful Music” in a Friday night concert at Fresno State. The annual Danzantes Unidos Festival’s Showcase Concert Series features more than 40 Mexican folk dance groups from across the U.S. with a variety of weekend events.

And don’t forget a celebration of puppies on Friday at Bitwise.

Here’s a roundup:


orpheus logo

In just 90 minutes, you’ll be able to travel through the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. “Four Centuries of Beautiful Music” features the talents of pianist Christoper Guerrerio, flutist Teresa Beaman, violinists John Morrice and Cynthia Stuart, cellist Nancy Skei and accordionist Daniel Cantrell.

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Mariachi gets a makeover: Omar Naré offers new spin on a proud tradition

‘Nuevo Mariachi’ concert at Bitwise is a weekend highlight.

Groundbreaking artists are impatient. They aren’t content to do things the same old way. They push and pull and stretch. They are never quite satisfied with the status quo.

With his style of “Nuevo Mariachi,” Sanger native Omar Naré gives a makeover to the beloved musical artform of his youth. He isn’t against what he calls “pure mariachi,” but he wants his version — which he describes as a blend of “sophisti-pop and mariachi traditions” — to crackle in modern times. For that, he’s getting attention. A recent public radio story on Naré delved into his fascinating life story and musical innovations. (A mention of and link to that piece, which I recommend you give a listen, even made it into the New York Times.)

Omar Naré Poster Feb 2018

You can hear Naré’s music at a Bitwise concert on Saturday, Feb. 17. I caught up with him for a fascinating discussion.

Q: Your grandfather was a farmworker. You’ve worked in the fields yourself. What connection does mariachi have to the land?

A: I like to imagine that my grandfather packed clothes, blankets, and a box of Pedro Infante records when he drove from Mexico to California with my abuelita! Mariachi has always been the music of the land. The earliest mariachi musicians would wander from hacienda to hacienda picking fruit and training horses. At night, they would play their violins and guitars. Later, the music became organized, hip and urban — think Mexico City in 1936 — but it has always maintained its folk identity, even till today. It’s always been music of the land.

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5 picks for February ArtHop

Options include Dixie Salazar at Fig Tree Gallery, Suzanne Bertz-Rosa at Bitwise, and the new show “Kindred” at Arte Americas

Dixie Salazar turns her attention to a prominent issue in her new show at Fig Tree Gallery: global warming. It’s one of my picks for interesting sounding exhibitions in ArtHop, the monthly open house of galleries and exhibitions in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods.

I checked in with Salazar to get a preview of “Summer 2017: Fire and Water.”


Q: How many works are there in the show? Tell us about your approach.

A: There are four quite large painted collages. They are abstract but with much perceived water imagery and fire also. I also collaged burned paper onto the pieces. I was working on this piece in the summer of 2017 and was affected at some level by all the devastation caused by natural upheavals. I work intuitively, so much of this became apparent to me after I finished the work.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Nov. 10)

Options include Keyboard Concerts, the Fresno Film Festival and Fall Dances at Fresno City College. Plus: events at Bitwise and Sequoia Symphony

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

Keyboard Concerts

This highly regarded series has brought some of the world’s most famous, seasoned pianists to Fresno. But the series is also a way to experience some of the most accomplished young talent as well.

Daniel Hsu, pianist

That’s the case with Daniel Hsu, who will perform as part of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State. Hsu is winner of the bronze medal at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which made him an instant star. The 19-year-old Bay Area native on Friday will present a virtuoso program consisting of works by Schubert, Chopin, J.S. Bach/Busoni, Rachmaninoff, and Marc-André Hamelin’s Toccata on “L’homme armé.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Aug. 11)

Weekend options include metal-meets-mariachi at Arte Americas and a new musical arts series at Bitwise Industries

I’ve already told you about two of this weekend’s big theater events (“Hedda Gabler” and “R&J”). Here are a few more promising (and, for this blog, a little off-the-beaten path) cultural picks for the weekend.

Metalachi performs at Vinyl nightclub at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, NV
Different kind of mariachi: METALACHI performs Saturday at Arte Américas.

Mariachi meets metal

This concert has such an interesting premise that I can’t resist: METALACHI is the first heavy-metal mariachi band in the world. (I’m not sure if it’s the only heavy-metal mariachi band in the world — that would be a pretty small group, right?) And it’s returning to Arte Américas for a concert on Saturday, Aug. 12, in the outdoor Plaza Paz.

The ensemble uses traditional mariachi instruments to re-interpret songs by Metallica, Guns N Roses, Led Zepplin, Bon Jovi, and more. Add in painted faces, over-the-top costumes, raunchy humor, and raucous theatrics, and this isn’t exactly your grandfather’s mariachi concert.

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Donald’s list: weekend choices (May 19)

Cristobal Selamé performs at Bitwise, Bach Children’s Choir offers spring concert, and the Fresno Art Museum opens new exhibitions

On my list for promising cultural weekend options:

Classical guitar

Bitwise Industries is transforming the local technology industry, and it’s becoming a player in the cultural scene as well thanks to its 160-seat John W. Dodson Theater. The venue hosts Chilean classical guitar virtuoso Cristobal Selamé in a Sunday concert.

Cristobal image
Classical guitarist: Cristobal Selamé will play at Bitwise. Photo /

The event, which is sponsored by California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — Central Valley District, benefits the Helena Kennedy Memorial Scholarship for Fresno State dietetic and nutrition students. Selamé is Helena Kennedy’s nephew.

From the organizers:

The 21-year- old Selamé recently completed studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music under legendary Brazilian guitarist and composer Sérgio Assad, a Grammy Award winner who called his pupil an “upcoming new master.” Selamé has won a number of important classical guitar competitions and was recently accepted into the master’s program at the prestigious Academy of Music in Darmstadt, Germany, under the instruction of the world-renowned musician Tilman Hoppstock.

Sounds like a great opportunity for classical guitar fans, and it’s a worthy cause. (And no extra calories.) Details: 2 p.m. Sunday, May 21, Bitwise South Stadium. $15 in advance through Eventbrite and $17 on the day of the event if tickets remain.

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