Great spirit at Summer Arts kickoff, but I’m disappointed in 1st performance

The scene: The opening Summer Arts performance on Monday at Fresno State. There’s always a fresh, optimistic feel on an evening like this: the heat of the day just starting to cool; the well-manicured empty campus giving off that lazy, inviting, vacation vibe; the clumps of newly arrived arts students wandering around getting their bearings. Community members in the audience — including the movers and shakers who are key to the support of the annual California State University festival — milled about before the performance begins, cooing and greeting. It’s nice moment.

A moment from Spectrum Dance Theater’s “H.R. 3244,” performed Monday at Fresno State. Photo / Todd Sharp, CSU Summer Arts

The introductions: Rachel Nardo, the Summer Arts director, welcomed the community members in the audience. Honora Chapman, associate dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, likewise gave her pitch for the arts (which I always love to hear: Every student at Fresno State takes classes in the college, and it’s the one opportunity to smear some culture on them before they go on to their tightly defined job worlds).

The performance: The Seattle-based Spectrum Dance Theater offered “H.R. 3244,” choreographed by Donald Byrd, which received its world premiere April 5 in Seattle.

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As FOOSA heads back to Disney Hall, composer Mason Lamb is in for a thrill

Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy will perform in Los Angeles, then return on Sunday to Fresno for a finale concert

Exactly a year ago, on this Friday morning, I hopped on a bus bound from Fresno State to the stunning Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. On board were some of the most talented young musicians I’d ever met, along with their equally talented (and renowned) teachers. This was the annual FOOSA (Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy) pilgrimage to perform at Disney Hall. And I was lucky enough to be invited.

For these musicians, who descend on Fresno State each summer from around the world, getting to step inside Disney Hall is a treat. Getting to be part of a concert there is on an entirely different musical level. I detailed the experience in an in-depth post about the trip. I had a lot of fun writing it.

Composer Mason Lamb’s ‘Solstice’ will receive its world premiere at Disney Concert Hall.

Now the FOOSA folks are repeating the experience. The orchestra will perform Symphony No. 2 by Italian composer Alfredo Casella (1883-1947), described by the academy’s executive director, Julia Copeland, as “little known but suddenly hot,” and the always popular “Der Rosenkavalier Suite” by Richard Strauss.

Also on the program is the elegiac Kol Nidrei, by Max Bruch, performed by the great cellist Lynn Harrell. (At FOOSA, the teachers — who represent some of the nation’s finest orchestras and institutions of higher learning — perform alongside the students, adding to the thrill.) And there’s a world premiere: a piece titled “Solstice,” written for this occasion by Fresno-based composer Mason Lamb.

Related story: A Disney Hall concert for the ages: Fresno State’s FOOSA Summer Orchestra Academy takes a road trip to Los Angeles and makes beautiful music in the process (June 2017)

The Disney Hall concert is tonight (8 p.m. Friday, June 22), and I know that most of us can’t make it. But never fear: The FOOSA crew will hop back on their buses and return to Fresno for a free finale concert (7 p.m. Sunday, June 24, at Peoples Church).

I caught up with Lamb, the composer, to talk about the experience of writing a piece that will receive its premiere at one of the most famous concert halls in the world. We also talked about his travels, his family, and even his “surly, unappreciative beagle.”

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At FOOSA’s faculty recital, the musical talent will be off the charts

The Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy at Fresno State puts the spotlight on its teachers

Classical music fans, here’s a weekend event you don’t want to miss:

The concert: FOOSA (Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy) faculty recital.

The details: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 16, in the Fresno State Concert Hall. Admission is free with donations accepted.

The backstory: A faculty of acclaimed musicians gathers each June at Fresno State to teach in a vigorous and elevated musical environment. This year’s academy started Sunday, and students from around the world have been attending intense lessons and rehearsals. (And probably practicing up a storm, too.) They’re working toward a big wrap-up concert featuring students and teachers at none other than Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (8 p.m. Friday, June 22). But before that happens, a highlight of the academy’s first full weekend will be the annual faculty recital.

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In a potent ‘Streetcar,’ Fresno State explores the Williams classic with finesse


Long before the #MeToo movement, audiences were perplexed by Stella, the younger sister in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” (Yes, that Stella, memorialized in one of the most famous lines in theater history.) Why, a viewer might ask, would Stella put up with her domineering husband, Stanley, whose misogynistic impulses are magnified when he drinks? Stanley can be aggressive and volatile. He considers himself “king” of his household. He sometimes belittles Stella.

Jalen Stewart, as Stanley, and Reshma Meister (Blanche) in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Photo / Fresno State

And, worst of all, he beats her.

Yet she stays with him. Why?

In the carefully crafted and emotionally potent new Fresno State production of “Streetcar,” which runs through Saturday, May 12, I found myself wrapped up in this question more than ever. Much of the reason, I realize, has to do with the times in which we’re living. Issues of sexual harassment and assault seem ubiquitous these days. Plot points that would have sailed smoothly by audiences in the 1960s, say, can feel jarring to contemporary viewers. “Streetcar” might be a fiercely period piece, steeped in the societal attitudes and expectations of the 1940s, but you can’t help but view it through a lens of today.

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All you ever wanted to know about Fresno State’s ‘Streetcar’

Journalism students cover the production in an in-depth special report

Fresno State’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” opens today (Friday, May 4) and continues through May 12. Normally I’d offer one preview story to my readers.

Today I’m giving you eight.

They aren’t written by me but by students in my Fresno State journalism class (MCJ 104). For our final group project, they each picked a different aspect of the production to write about. Director Kathleen McKinley, promotions guru Miguel Gastelum and various members of the cast and creative team graciously offered their time and assistance. The result is an in-depth report.

Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 8.08.40 AM


We went through every step of the editing and reporting process: brainstorming ideas; coming up with a story budget; editorial conferences and coaching; arranging interviews and visuals; peer editing; writing headlines and captions; and designing a standalone website that will continue, as far as I know, until the end of time (or until WordPress turns it off).

You can find that website here:

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Now streaming: the May episode of ‘The Munro Review’

It’s our most ambitious episode of “The Munro Review” yet! The May edition features three guest segments, including a musical song-and-dance number. (Not by me. Although that would have been a sight.)

Here’s what you can catch in this chock-full episode:

♦ Kathleen McKinley, director of the new Fresno State production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” fills us in on this ambitious and cutting-edge experience, which opens Friday, May 4. She’s joined by William Ramirez, a student in my Fresno State journalism class, who drops in to talk about our special class project covering “Streetcar” from a number of story angles. (It’ll be unveiled later this week.)

♦ Mas Masumoto tells us about the campaign to put a sales-tax-increase on the November ballot that will fund parks, recreation and arts programs for 30 years in the city of Fresno.

♦ And two very special guests from the Selma Arts Center give a preview of the upcoming “The Little Mermaid.” Maria Monreal and Joshua Plowman chat about the show and also perform.

As always, I also offer my roundup of what I’ve been covering this month online and give a sneak preview of coming May attractions. Share the link ( and enjoy!

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (April 27)

Whether it’s cutting-edge chamber music or the classic play “The Crucible,” there are lots of options for the weekend. I’ve already filled you in on Good Company’s “The Heiress,” Jeremy Denk performing with Keyboard Concerts and the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra in separate concerts, and the Fresno Community Chorus spring celebration of Leonard Bernstein. Here are even more choices:

‘The Crucible’

Don’t you love the poster for the new College of the Sequoias production? (Kudos to the designer.)

crucible poster

“The Crucible,” of course, is Arthur Miller’s 1953 classic play about the Salem witchcraft trials, but it can also be read as a searing allegory about McCarthyism or more generally mass hysteria in times of political unrest. The new production is set in a post-World War II small town that “feels eerily close to our own.”

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This weekend, it’s Jeremy Denk times two

Noted pianist (and MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow) performs with Keyboard Concerts and the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra

When you have an artist with the prestige and virtuosity of pianist Jeremy Denk come to town, why not double the impact? That was the thinking of Keyboard Concerts and the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra, which are both putting the spotlight on Denk in separate concerts this weekend.

Denk returns to the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series for an 8 p.m. performance on Friday, April 27, at Fresno State’s Concert Hall. The next evening, at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 28, in the same location, Denk will perform Beethoven’s famed “Emperor” piano concerto with the Fresno State orchestra.

Jeremy Denk, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
Jeremy Denk performs with Keyboard Concerts and the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra. Photo / © John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Denk is a winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the Avery Fisher Prize, and Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year award. He’s written for The New Yorker magazine and has a popular blog. His musical collaborators have included Joshua Bell and Steven Isserliss, and his recordings have reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Classical Chart.

How is Fresno lucky enough to have not one but two Denk performances?

Andreas Werz, artistic director of Keyboard Concerts, explains that the timing was fortuitous.

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