A fond adieu to 2017

I’ve already told you my Top 20 favorite cultural events for 2017. Now here are a couple of year-ender wrap-up lists that I can’t resist:

My favorite stories of the year

My criteria: It’s completely subjective. I just like how these stories came out. For some, it was the fun in reporting them, and for others the joy in writing them. (Note: Because of my hybrid year — working through May as the Fresno Bee’s arts reporter, and the remainder of the year in my new role at The Munro Review — you’ll find stories from both platforms.) Here they are in chronological order:

In the moment of totality: my photograph taken from Mary’s Peak in central Oregon on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Photo / The Munro Review

In Delphi, a mysterious past provokes navel gazing: In this travel piece from Greece, I visit the strangely moody location where the famed oracles changed the ancient world.

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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


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.


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.”

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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Hotoda puts her mark on Fresno Philharmonic season

New music director includes five living composers in the 2017-18 season

I just received my first press release from the Fresno Philharmonic with the words “Rei Hotoda, Music Director” in big, bold letters at the top. How exciting! It means a new era has begun.

The occasion is the official announcement of the orchestra’s 2017-18 season. We already knew the outline of the season a few months ago, including guest artists and major works to be performed, but the Fresno Philharmonic waited until now to give Hotoda the chance to put her own touches on the lineup.

Rei Hotoda Portraits

One of the most impressive developments: Works by five living composers will be featured, including Fresno State’s Kenneth Froelich.

Key quotation from Hotoda: “By combining exciting and innovative works by Aaron Jay Kernis, John Adams, Kenneth Froelich, Jennifer Higdon and Tan Dun with beloved pillars of the symphonic repertoire by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Debussy, we will demonstrate how the great orchestral tradition has evolved and been enhanced by new voices from the United States and around the world. We will embrace together these extraordinary works and champion them as new staples of the classical canon.”

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Fresno has a new maestro: Rei Hotoda

Orchestra picks Hotoda as the 8th music director and conductor in the organization’s long history

On a crisp Sunday in March, the final notes of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 floated into memory at the Saroyan Theatre. The audience broke out in tumultuous applause. Four standing ovations followed. Many people in the audience at the Fresno Philharmonic concert, including me, had just come to the same conclusion: Rei Hotoda nailed her audition.

That premonition was confirmed today when the orchestra announced that Hotoda is the eighth music director (and first woman) in Fresno Philharmonic history. Her name was revealed at a standing-room only event at Pardini’s.

Rei Hotoda Portraits
Looking ahead: Rei Hotoda is the eighth music director and conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic. Photo / Todd Rosenberg

Even though she was the fifth conductor candidate interviewed, Hotoda emerges as a person of many firsts in Fresno Philharmonic history. She is the orchestra’s first Asian American music director. She is the first woman. Most important, orchestra CEO Stephen Wilson told me that Hotoda was the unanimous choice of the orchestra’s board and its search committee — a first choice among six candidates.

It’s the cap to a lively season-long selection process that brought the finalists to Fresno for search-committee interviews, intensive rehearsals with the orchestra, meetings with subscribers, schmoozing with donors and — the big test — conducting a Masterworks concert.

“I’m just thrilled and excited to be the new music director,” Hotoda told me in a phone interview from her home in Morton, Ill., last week in advance of Tuesday’s announcement. “I’m so privileged and honored to be chosen.”

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