For a couple of years now, I’ve been mildly teasing Fresno Philharmonic music director Rei Hotoda: When will she conduct the orchestra from the piano? It’s a feat I’ve been intrigued with ever since she got the job in 2017. When, I’d ask, would we get to see her do it here, and why is it taking so long? (And how does she tell the orchestra what to do if she’s already using both her arms? Does she have a chiropractor on call?) As an accomplished concert pianist, Hotoda has conducted from the piano in other places but not yet in Fresno; she’d often hint to me that the experience was coming but couldn’t tell me when.
I’m excited to say it’s now definite: One of the highlights of the 2019-20 season, which was announced today, will be Hotoda conducting Beethoven’s Triple Concerto from the piano in collaboration with concertmaster Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio and cellist Julie Albers. The Jan. 19 concert celebrates the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven.
The season’s theme is “Symphony Redefined,” and it explores the wide range of places where orchestral music is experienced, from Bernstein’s Candide Overture, to Danny Elfman’s music for the screen, to operas by Verdi and Wagner.
According to the season announcement, highlights of the Masterworks series include:
• Introducing the audience to music by three of today’s leading American composers: Vivian Fung (“Earworms”), Adolphus Hailstork (“An American Port of Call”) and Gabriela Lena Frank (“Escaramuza”) demonstrating the diverse range of styles and influences in contemporary music.
• Such works as Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier Suite,” Arutiunian’s Trumpet Concerto, Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C Major (The Great), Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica), Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2.
• A program of arias, choruses and interludes from the operas of Verdi, Puccini, Wagner and Bizet featuring the Fresno Master Chorale.
• Renowned pianists Cecile Licad and Barry Douglas and Chicago Symphony trumpet player John Hagstrom lead the season’s guest artist roster.
The pops series includes:
• Disney Concerts’ presentation of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” with the Fresno Philharmonic performing Danny Elfman’s beloved soundtrack live to the film.
• Hotoda leads the annual “Home for the Holidays” concert in December, with special guest Canadian singer-songwriter Steve Bell.
• Broadway sensation Lisa Vroman in an evening of musical theater favorites.
And in a separate special event: The genre-bending “little orchestra” Pink Martini presents a special concert with members of the Fresno Philharmonic. Pink Martini has performed repeat sold out engagements at Carnegie Hall, L.A.’s Disney Concert Hall, Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco and at major venues around the world.
The orchestra also continues its dedication to chamber music with its Proxima: Music for the Next Century series and its annual Bitwise concert.
For a full season lineup with dates and details, check out the orchestra’s updated website.