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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Joan Schulze breaks new ground with quilting and collage

Fresno Art Museum’s Distinguished Woman Artist of 2017 celebrates 80-plus-1 years in a new exhibition. She’ll speak at the museum on Thursday

Eleven years ago, when the acclaimed quilt and collage artist Joan Schulze turned 70, she wrote a poem. This was not out of character. She considers herself both a visual artist and poet. Often for her the two art forms complement each other, blending into something greater than the sum of the parts. She ended her birthday poem with the lines:

Stay afloat
Who’s the wild one?

People seemed to get a kick out of that.

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“It apparently set everybody off thinking that 70 wasn’t such a bad thing,” she tells me.

I’m sitting with Schulze on a bench in the middle of her Fresno Art Museum exhibition, which she will talk about in an “Art in the Afternoon” lecture 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2. Schulze is the museum’s Council of 100 Distinguished Woman Artist of 2017, a slightly unwieldy title, but an important one. Around us are her artworks: on one wall, the triptych “Opus,” the largest collage she’s ever done; and on another a 15-work collage series titled “Mt. Fuji.” She has worked long and hard on this show, and she’s proud of it.

The title? “Joan Schulze: Celebrating 80.”

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Politics, art and marriage

Prompted by spirited discussions with her husband, Leslie Batty finds her political voice in “Redress” at the Fresno Art Museum

In “Redress,” Leslie Batty’s politically charged new exhibition at the Fresno Art Museum, there are no self-portraits. But you do get to meet the artist’s husband. A work titled “Man Descending Staircase” prominently features a nearly life-size Dustin Batty. He is depicted as a tall, handsome, elegantly dressed figure wearing a vintage dark suit at the top of a luxurious looking staircase. He’s as chiseled and dapper as a character in “Mad Men.”

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Five friends: Leslie Batty’s exhibition “Redress” includes a series of portraits of close friends modeled on Michelangelo’s sibyls from the Sistine Chapel. Photo / Michael Karibian

The painting — which the artist affectionately refers to as “The Dustin” — was first inspired by a photograph that she snapped of him in a Madrid apartment building they were staying at while on a European vacation. She loved the composition and the light.

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Hot, hot Norwegian repression

A freewheeling discussion between star Brooke Aiello and director Heather Parish of “Hedda Gabler”? We’ll drink to that

THEATER PREVIEW

It’s Hedda Gabler’s birthday morning, and she’s kicking off the celebration with a mimosa. The thing is, I’m so clueless about alcohol in the a.m. that I get to the end of a 90-minute breakfast interview at Irene’s Cafe before I realize that the grand dame of 19th century theatrical realism sitting across from me isn’t drinking straight orange juice. Champagne before 9 a.m.? I’m shocked. Aghast. This is no mere woman … this is a monster!

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Past fling: Ted Nunes is Eilert and Brooke Aiello is Hedda in “Hedda Gabler.” Photo / The New Ensemble

Actually, Brooke Aiello — one of Fresno’s most passionate acting talents — is nursing not one but four beverages as we talk about The New Ensemble’s new production of “Hedda Gabler.” There’s coffee from Irene’s, black tea from Starbucks, a glass of ice water and her tall, frothy birthday drink. There’s a method to all this, even though I don’t quite understand it: something about sweet followed by sweeter. Or is it sweet followed by bitter? It doesn’t matter; she has a process in mind. This is someone who has definite views on many things, including the liquids in her life.

“I’m going to be very well hydrated today,” she happily tells me.

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Sunsets and Vivaldi

At Festival Mozaic, I get the chance to experience three beautiful concerts at three even more beautiful San Luis Obispo County locales

SHANDON — The folks at Festival Mozaic know a thing or two about good timing. As the last rays of the sun scrape over an adjacent ridge, the professional chamber orchestra before me begins the final movement of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Music spills out the open doors of the small and spectacular Serra Chapel, a Mission-style building situated high atop one of the rolling hills a few miles outside Paso Robles, and into the tiled courtyard where I’m sitting. By the time the music has ended and the 500 or so people squeezed into the space have risen to applaud, the sky has darkened to black, the stars emerged and the broiling temperature has dipped to goose-pimple cool.

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Hilltop serenade: The audience at Festival Mozaic before the July 22 concert at Serra Chapel in Shandon begins. Photos / The Munro Review

It’s a glorious way to conclude a concert of classical music.

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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

Pierce Yamaoka first pledged allegiance to the trumpet when he was 11. That was 18 years ago. Unlike many musicians who gently disengage from a musical instrument when they hit their 20s, his commitment to all-things-trumpet has only intensified. Now a graduate student at Indiana University’s world-renowned music school, Yamaoka is completely caught up in the world of his instrument: the insider references to pedagogical technique, the arcane trivia about professional players and their latest gigs, the devotion to hours of practice in the desire to stand out amongst a crowd of brassy hopefuls.

To him, world-class trumpet teachers are rock stars.

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On stage at Disney Hall: Thomas Loewenheim leads the FOOSA Summer Orchestra Academy in rehearsal. Photo / The Munro Review

On this Friday morning, Yamaoka is a passenger on one of three nondescript white touring buses pulling away from a Fresno State parking lot bound for Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. It’s another trip in what has become an annual tradition for the FOOSA Summer Orchestra Academy, which under the direction of Thomas Loewenheim has been growing in recent years in prestige and reach. Advanced younger students, emerging professionals, and faculty from some of the nation’s best music schools come together for two weeks of intensive instruction. The academy culminates in a concert that not only celebrates Fresno State — the university’s administration is keen on building alumni outreach (and, one would assume, helpful donor rolls) in the Southern California area — but also offers a level of difficulty and musicianship appropriate to the world-class venue the Los Angeles Philharmonic calls home.

On the program for the evening, among other works is the fiendishly tough (and long) Mahler’s 6th Symphony.

“I have people all the time tell me, ‘I can’t believe you’re making kids play this,’ ” Loewenheim says.

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Restyling memories

A gorgeous new retrospective of work by Nancy Youdelman at the Fresno Art Museum captures the spectacle and solemnity of one of the Fresno area’s top artists

Near the end of Edith Wharton’s bleakly beautiful 1905 novel “The House of Mirth,” the main character — a financially struggling socialite named Lily Bart — rummages through a trunk of her old clothes. Inside are expensive dresses she wore to various elegant events when she occupied a higher rung on the social ladder. Now they are musty and forlorn.

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Nancy Youdelman’s ‘Speaking in Colors, 2015.’ Photo / Michael Karibian

As Lily looks at the extravagant gowns, Wharton writes, the scenes in which she wore them rise vividly before her. Each one transports her, if only for a moment, somewhere other than the drudgery of the present. These aren’t just clothes; each one is like a sort of personal archaeological artifact. Wharton writes: “An association lurked in every fold: each fall of lace and gleam of embroidery was like a letter in the record of her past.”

Nancy Youdelman, one of the Fresno area’s most important and best known artists, loves that line in “The House of Mirth.” It’s one of her favorites in all literature. The quotation helps explain the way she can take a discarded dress or shoe and with a practiced eye and flash of creativity turn it into a compelling sculptural object.

One of the highlights of her long-awaited and richly deserved new retrospective at the Fresno Art Museum, titled “Fashioning a Feminist Vision,” is seeing how Youdelman’s techniques have evolved over almost 50 years. She encrusts the garments she uses — all of them second-hand, many purchased on eBay or local thrift shops — with a variety of found objects, resulting in meaningful mixed-media creations. Buttons, dried flowers, costume jewelry, broken pieces of glass and anonymous vintage photos figure prominently in her later works. She’s perfected the technique of using encaustic, a natural resin reheated on a pancake griddle, to transform flimsy fabric into works of rigidity and permanence. The pieces feel as if they could hang on museum walls for hundreds of years.

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