Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Dec. 8)

The Youth Orchestras of Fresno goes all out in its annual holiday concert, including dancers

I’ve already told you about two of this weekend’s big events: the Central California Ballet’s “Nutcracker” at the Saroyan Theatre, which runs for three performances; and Soli Deo Gloria’s Christmas concert at University Presbyterian Church on Friday evening. Here are other promising options:

Youth Orchestras of Fresno

All three ensembles of the Youth Orchestras of Fresno — more than 250 musicians in all — offer a holiday concert that includes works by Sibelius, Stamitz, Dvorak, and Gounod.

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The Youth Orchestras of Fresno perform in a Memorial Day weekend concert. Photo / The Munro Review

A highlight of the program: Dancers from Shirley Winters Ballet will complement the advanced Youth Philharmonic’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite:

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For cello fans, a wonderful weekend

Fresno State’s cello festival and Fresno Musical Club offer concerts

There are two promising classical music events this weekend I’d like to share:

Cello festival

The 2017 Cello Fresno international festival features two gala concerts:

8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6: The Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and an all-star lineup of professional guest artists perform at the Fresno State Concert Hall under conductor Thomas Loewenheim. The program includes Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture,” Von Suppe’s “Poet and Peasant Overture,” and works for cello and orchestra by Bragato, Bruch, Dvorak, Elgar, Offenbach, Popper, and Saint-Saens. Tickets are $5-$15.

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4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8: The Youth Orchestras of Fresno, conducted by Loewenheim and guest conductor Emilio Colon, performs a program at the Shaghoian Concert Hall that includes the Pfitzner Cello Concerto, Paganini’s “Moses Variations” and winners of the concerto competition. Tickets are free.

The Sunday concert includes two notable highlights, Loewenheim tells me:

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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.

Photo of conductor leading orchestra in Disney Hall.
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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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (June 23)

It’s opening weekend for the Blossom Trail Players. Plus: a new show in Oakhurst, star gazing near North Fork, cabaret night at “35MM” and the kickoff of Summer Arts.

On my list for promising cultural weekend options:

‘Bye Bye Birdie’

Put on a happy face and experience the season opening production of Sanger’s Blossom Trail Players. The Broadway classic “Bye Bye Birdie,” which spins a thinly veiled tale of an Elvis Presley-type character drafted into the military, includes such well-known songs as “Honestly Sincere,” “The Telephone Hour,” “How Lovely to be a Woman” and, of course, the iconic title tune.

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All shook up: Greg Guerra makes the girls swoon as Conrad in the Blossom Trail Players production. Photos / Madlyn Esquer

The show opens Thursday, June 22, and runs through July 1.

There are more than 40 in the cast and an orchestra of 20 — let’s hear a cheer for live musical accompaniment! — in this production directed by Brittany Zenz and choreographed by Shannon Pelletier. (Andrew Esquer is music director.)

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Let the river of music run

The Youth Orchestras of Fresno offers an impressive program, including an appearance by violin virtuoso Vadim Gluzman, in a memorable (and crowded) Memorial Day weekend concert

CONCERT REVIEW

The Youth Philharmonic Orchestra had just finished up the first half of Sunday’s rousing Memorial Day weekend concert. I could still hear fiery tones of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto resonating in my head. Before walking into the lobby for intermission, I glanced at the stage. It was crowded with the 100 members of the ensemble, which features the oldest and most experienced players among the Youth Orchestras of Fresno’s three groups.

Impressive.

More than 300 young players crowd onto the Saroyan Theatre stage.
Spilling into the audience: Youth Orchestras of Fresno overwhelmed the Saroyan Theatre stage in a Memorial Day weekend concert. Photo / Donald Munro

When I returned after the break, there were even more players. Members of the younger Youth Symphony Orchestra and Youth Chamber Orchestra had joined in with the Youth Philharmonic musicians for the second half of the program. And because there wasn’t enough room on the stage to pack one more player in, the members of a fourth ensemble — beginning violinists with the organization’s highly successful Accent on Access program — were squeezed in front of the Saroyan Theatre’s first row on the floor of the auditorium itself. The visual effect was striking: It was as if a sea of young musicians, more than 300 total, had spilled off the stage into the audience.

Even more impressive.

That idea of a concert hall filled to the brim with future players (and, hopefully, enthusiasts) of classical music is a nice way to acknowledge what Youth Orchestras of Fresno is doing to elevate this community’s cultural scene. Even if some of these kids never go on to play in orchestras when they’re older, they will always have nostalgia for the experience of performing in top-notch ensembles.

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5 Things to Know About Vadim Gluzman’s Fresno concert

Virtuoso brings his famous violin to a May 28 concert with the Youth Orchestras of Fresno

Vadim Gluzman joins the Youth Philharmonic, the top ensemble of the Youth Orchestras of Fresno, on Sunday, May 28, to play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in a concert titled “Coming Home.” It’s quite rare to have someone of Gluzman’s caliber play with an ensemble whose average age is 15. After getting the chance this week to chat with him by phone, here are five things to know about the violinist and the concert:

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Famous violin, famous violinist: Vadim Gluzman performs May 28 with the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. Photo / Marco Borggreve

1.

He’s a famous violinist. Gluzman has performed with the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, London Philharmonic … the list goes on. Besides performing all over the world, he’s a prolific recording artist on the BIS label. His latest album, an all-Brahms disc, was just released this month.

Gluzman was listed among the 30 greatest violinists in Jean-Michel Molkhou’s 2014’s “Great Violinists of the Twentieth Century, Volume 2.” In a concert review, the Detroit News wrote that “Gluzman recalls the late Isaac Stern in his prime. Gluzman possesses Stern’s rare passion, his physical strength and his electrifying propensity for altering rhythms and phrases.”

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (May 26)

Youth Orchestras of Fresno offers season-ending extravaganza, the Fresno Community Concert Band celebrates Memorial Day, ‘Nights at the Plaza’ kicks off at Arte, and don’t forget ‘New Wrinkles’

On my list for promising cultural weekend options:

Famous violinist, famous violin

Youth Orchestras of Fresno is known for ending its seasons with a (timpani) bang, and this year is no exception. The concert “Coming Home,” which will be performed Sunday, May 28, at the Saroyan Theatre, features a professional guest artist with a big name in classical music: violinist Vadim Gluzman, the Russian-born pianist known for his many recordings and appearances with the world’s major orchestras.

Vadim GluzmanPhoto: Marco Borggreve
Violin superstar: Vadim Gluzman performs Sunday with the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. Photo / Marco Borggreve

I caught up with Gluzman by phone the day before he got on a plane to Fresno, and we talked about 1) why he’s coming to Fresno to perform with (very talented) students; 2) the famous Tchaikovsky concerto he’ll be playing; and 3) the equally famous violin he’ll be playing it on. You can read more here.

But Gluzman isn’t the only draw of the Sunday concert, which features three orchestras and 300 young musicians. A highlight will be a newly commissioned work titled “Coming Home” inspired by William Saroyan’s novel “The Human Comedy.” Four Fresno State composers — Alexander Bianco, Chris Carreon, Mason Lamb, and Matthew Wheeler, working with music composition professors Benjamin Boone and Kenneth Froelich — reference themes in Saroyan’s novel, in which home is a thinly disguised Fresno.

Boone explains the process:

The multimedia project was a collaboration between music and mass communication/journalism students. They chose a culture other than their own (Armenian, Japanese, Hmong, Hispanic, or African-American), examined their biases and interviewed people representing those cultures. The music students composed a movement for orchestra inspired by the culture, and the MCJ students selected clips from their recorded interviews for an audio montage to be used along with the composition.

The program includes Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.” And the concert will close with “Conga del Fuego Nuevo” by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez. Thomas Loewenheim conducts.

Details: 4 p.m. Sunday, May 28, Saroyan Theatre. The concert is free, but “your much-appreciated $15 or $20 (or any) donation is welcome at the door.”

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