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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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (April 13)

Highlights for this busy weekend include “Guys and Dolls” (a collaboration between Fresno Pacific University and the Selma Arts Center), a concert for all proud band geeks, the not-to-miss StageWorks Fresno cabaret, and the tantalizingly titled play “Nana’s Naughty Knickers.”

‘Guys and Dolls’

You know her as a powerhouse actress who last gave us a walloping Hedda Gabler. Now Brooke Aiello, an adjunct theater professor at Fresno Pacific University, is making her directorial debut with “Guys and Dolls.”

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A scene from rehearsal in “Guys and Dolls.” Photo by Karen Vargas / Fresno Pacific University

For the first time, the university is collaborating with the Selma Arts Center for a one-weekend run of a musical. The production includes students, community members and a special guest artist: professional actor Chris Carsten. (He just happened to play opposite Aiello in last summer’s New Ensemble production of “Hedda Gabler”). He will play a cameo as Arvide Abernathy, who sings the touching song “More I Cannot Wish You.”

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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.

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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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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Dec. 1)

Options on a busy weekend include “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” “Just a Book Club” and the Fresno Community Concert Band

Soft rock radio stations in dental offices might call this “the most wonderful time of the year,” but there’s another truism when it comes the local cultural scene: It feels like the busiest time of the year. Especially the next two weekends, in which nearly every arts organization seems to schedule a concert or opening.

I’ve already told you about Fresno State’s production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Children’s Musical Theaterworks’ production of “Annie,” CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s production of “Plaid Tidings,” River City Theatre Company’s production of “Miracle on 34th Street” and the Fresno Philharmonic’s big holiday concert. (And don’t forget the final weekend for Selma Arts Center’s fine “Hunchback of Notre Dame.”) Now here are some more options for the weekend to consider:

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Oct. 20)

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

Drive-through

All eyes on Saturday will be on the Fulton Mall — whoops, Fulton Street, and it will be a while before I can train myself to automatically say that — for the official ribbon-cutting and opening celebration. This isn’t just an event; it’s an historic occasion. I remember when I came to Fresno more than 25 years ago for my job interview, and my future boss took me to lunch at the Downtown Club, pointed in the direction of the mall, and told me, “We hope this can be revitalized soon.”

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Photo / Downtown Fresno Partnership

So, decades later, change is in the air. I’m crossing my fingers.

Bethany Clough has a nice list in The Bee of pop-up stores and restaurants that will line the street for the 3 p.m. ribbon cutting at Fulton Street and Mariposa Mall. Most will be open until 10. (It’s nice to see the Fresno Art Museum on the list with a wine/shopping option.) There will be two beer gardens and three stages for live music.

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Nielsen stepping down from community band

Robert Nielsen
Robert Nielsen: final season.

After serving on the podium since 1994, Robert Nielsen will give his last concert as conductor of the Fresno Community Concert Band on May 27.

Nielsen, one of the co-founders of the band along with Larry Huck, will pass the baton on to Sandy Headrick and Bruce Weinberger, who will take over as co-conductors in the 2018-19 season.

The band, which regularly plays to standing-room only audiences, is made up of a mix of some professionals, retired professionals and “many exceptional amateurs,” Nielsen says.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (May 26)

Youth Orchestras of Fresno offers season-ending extravaganza, the Fresno Community Concert Band celebrates Memorial Day, ‘Nights at the Plaza’ kicks off at Arte, and don’t forget ‘New Wrinkles’

On my list for promising cultural weekend options:

Famous violinist, famous violin

Youth Orchestras of Fresno is known for ending its seasons with a (timpani) bang, and this year is no exception. The concert “Coming Home,” which will be performed Sunday, May 28, at the Saroyan Theatre, features a professional guest artist with a big name in classical music: violinist Vadim Gluzman, the Russian-born pianist known for his many recordings and appearances with the world’s major orchestras.

Vadim GluzmanPhoto: Marco Borggreve
Violin superstar: Vadim Gluzman performs Sunday with the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. Photo / Marco Borggreve

I caught up with Gluzman by phone the day before he got on a plane to Fresno, and we talked about 1) why he’s coming to Fresno to perform with (very talented) students; 2) the famous Tchaikovsky concerto he’ll be playing; and 3) the equally famous violin he’ll be playing it on. You can read more here.

But Gluzman isn’t the only draw of the Sunday concert, which features three orchestras and 300 young musicians. A highlight will be a newly commissioned work titled “Coming Home” inspired by William Saroyan’s novel “The Human Comedy.” Four Fresno State composers — Alexander Bianco, Chris Carreon, Mason Lamb, and Matthew Wheeler, working with music composition professors Benjamin Boone and Kenneth Froelich — reference themes in Saroyan’s novel, in which home is a thinly disguised Fresno.

Boone explains the process:

The multimedia project was a collaboration between music and mass communication/journalism students. They chose a culture other than their own (Armenian, Japanese, Hmong, Hispanic, or African-American), examined their biases and interviewed people representing those cultures. The music students composed a movement for orchestra inspired by the culture, and the MCJ students selected clips from their recorded interviews for an audio montage to be used along with the composition.

The program includes Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.” And the concert will close with “Conga del Fuego Nuevo” by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez. Thomas Loewenheim conducts.

Details: 4 p.m. Sunday, May 28, Saroyan Theatre. The concert is free, but “your much-appreciated $15 or $20 (or any) donation is welcome at the door.”

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