Audra McDonald to join Fresno Philharmonic for Memorial Day weekend concert

A hometown concert by Audra McDonald is rare — and always big news.

The Fresno Philharmonic will get that opportunity on May 26, when the Fresno-raised McDonald — who has won more Tony awards than any performer — will stop at the Saroyan Theatre on a West Coast swing of her concert tour.

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Audra McDonald will perform with her hometown orchestra on May 26. Photo / ©Autumn de Wilde

Andy Einhorn, a longtime musical collaborator of McDonald’s, will conduct.

Tickets for the general public will go on sale Dec. 18 and may be purchased at www.fresnophil.org or by calling 559-261-0600. Fresno Philharmonic subscribers and donors have the opportunity to purchase tickets from Dec. 8-17. Ticket prices range from $35-$95.

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Win tickets to Fresno Philharmonic’s holiday concert

Conductor Rei Hotoda and orchestra celebrates the holidays with an acclaimed baritone soloist, the Fresno Master Chorale and more

UPDATE: Congratulations to winners Christina JG Connelly and Lisa Gluskin.

ORIGINAL POST: The Fresno Philharmonic has an appealing holiday concert planned for you this weekend. Guest artists for “Home for the Holidays” include the acclaimed baritone Jubilant Sykes, who has appeared in such venues as the Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Also joining conductor Rei Hotoda will be the Fresno Master Chorale, directed by Anna Hamre, and the Alta Sierra Intermediate School Chamber Choir, directed by Gail Barbour.

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Jubilant Sykes is guest soloist at “Home for the Holidays.” Photo / Fresno Philharmonic

A special treat will be Mark Standriff (who recently played Mushnik in StageWorks Fresno’s “Little Shop of Horrors”) narrating the classic “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

The concert is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Saroyan Theatre.

And guess what! I have a pair of tickets to this popular concert to give away to a reader of The Munro Review.

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Getting to know Rei Hotoda

In an extensive profile, get a glimpse behind the scenes of the busy life of the Fresno Philharmonic’s new music director

The first few rehearsals between a symphony orchestra and an unfamiliar conductor can be magical. And perhaps a little nerve-racking. Everyone’s on their best behavior. If things go well, the rehearsals can feel fresh and pitched with possibility, offering hints of great things to come. Or they can be dreary affairs, stolid and workmanlike, an exercise to simply get through and then move on to more encouraging opportunities.

They’re like a first date.

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Three generations: Rei Hotoda, center, with her son, Constantine Janello, and mother, Sachiko Hotoda, in the Saroyan Theatre lobby after the conductor’s first concert as Fresno Philharmonic music director. Photo / The Munro Review

At this afternoon rehearsal in October, as Rei Hotoda stands on the podium in front of the musicians of the Fresno Philharmonic, preparing for her very first concert as the orchestra’s newly named music director, there’s little chance for the dreary option.

After all, Hotoda was notably successful during the initial wooing process — her tryout week in Fresno back in March — when she charmed players, patrons, media and audience members alike. (And, most important, members of the orchestra’s search committee, which unanimously selected her out of six highly qualified finalists.)

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Win tickets to Fresno Philharmonic’s tribute to veterans

Program includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5

I’m looking forward to the Fresno Philharmonic’s concert on Sunday for a couple of reasons.

For one, it’ll be Rei Hotoda’s second time on the podium as the orchestra’s new music director. She has a moving program titled “Homage” planned that includes Beethoven’s famed Symphony No. 5 and returning guest artist Orion Weiss, who will playing Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

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Secondly (and more personally), I’m actually going to be an official part of the afternoon! I’ll be guest-hosting the pre-concert lecture, “Words on Music,” at 2 p.m. in the Saroyan Theatre. On stage with me will be Hotoda. She and I will talk about the program — which has a Veterans Day theme — and also a little about her as a person off the podium, based on a profile I’m writing that will be posted later this week.

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A stellar launch as music director

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

CONCERT REVIEW

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.

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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.”

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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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May the force not always be with us

Are the new security measures at Saroyan Theatre the new normal? I hope not

The Bee’s Rory Appleton has an interesting piece about something new for audience members at the Saroyan Theatre: bag checks and metal detectors. The practice is part of a larger trend of increased security at the Save Mart Center, Selland Arena and other local venues.

Appleton writes:

A series of unrelated events both in Fresno and abroad have led many of the local venues to tighten up their bag policies. Some also have added metal detectors to their entrance routines. Both are a byproduct of 2017 life, but both have led to long entrance lines for everything from rock concerts and symphony performances to San Joaquin Valley Town Hall events.

My first encounter with the Saroyan’s new security policy was the long line to get into the Fresno Philharmonic’s opening pops concert of the season on Saturday night. When I arrived at about 7:20 p.m., 10 minutes before the concert was to begin, the line to get into the south entrance stretched almost to the parking garage.

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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

CONCERT REVIEW

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.

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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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