1. THE TEXAS TENORS
The Fresno Philharmonic ends its season with a twang. The Texas Tenors, who shot to fame on “America’s Got Talent,” have been touring the country for four years now, and they’ve developed quite a specialty performing in pops concerts with local orchestras. I talked to JC Fisher — the “country boy” of the act — for Friday’s 7 section. The 8 p.m. Saturday concert, which will feature a mix of country, classical and Broadway/pop tunes, should be a whoop and a holler. [Details]
I’ve been to the Fresno Philharmonic dozens of times, but recently I got to experience it in a different way. As part of a recent column I wrote about the importance of new experiences, I picked four Bee readers who had never experienced Fresno’s local orchestra to accompany me to the ensemble’s “Russian Romantics” concert.
I loved it. I offered a detailed account in my Sunday Spotlight column, from my visit with my four new friends (Barbara Nurmi and Walt Lingo of Reedley, and Roseann and Jim Van Nest of Hanford) to Maestro Theodore Kuchar’s home for an impromptu music appreciation course to the concert itself. I was so tickled to be able to experience the event through these newcomers’ eyes — and was excited to be able to introduce them to Venezuelan concert pianist Gabriela Martinez after the performance.
Now that I have this “New Experience” behind me, I’m anxious to consider another. I think some of my Beehive colleagues are, too. So, any great ideas out there? As I envision it, these kinds of stories could work a couple of ways: I or one of my colleagues could be persuaded to try something new with the help of a reader expert. (Kind of like how I went to my first heavy-metal concert, the subject of the first column mentioned above.) Or one of us could do something similar to my Fresno Philharmonic installment, with us acting the role of tour guide. Think about it. Could be fun!
If you’re looking for a rousing evening of beautiful music, this is it. The Fresno Philharmonic gets big and Romantic on us this weekend with a program featuring Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony, Borodin’s “Overture to Prince Igor” and Venezuelan artist Gabriela Martinez playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. I have FOUR pairs of tickets to give away to Saturday’s 8 p.m. concert at the Saroyan Theatre. They’re all very nice orchestra seats.
To enter, leave a comment on this post. This is going to be a quickie contest: The deadline for entry is 5 p.m. today (Thursday). I’ll be informing winners by email this evening, so please check. You’ll be able to pick your tickets up after 7:30 p.m. the night of the concert at the Saroyan box office. Rules are on the jump.
I have a grand proposition for you. In my most recent Sunday Spotlight column, I waxed philosophical about the joys of opening yourself up to new experiences in life in terms of culture — of getting out of your comfort zone. My example was going to a “hair metal” concert in the 1980s: Go Winger!
Here’s my proposal: If you’ve never been to the Fresno Philharmonic, I want to hear from you. I’m looking for a person or two — maybe even a family — to come with me as my guests to listen to the orchestra’s last concert of the season.
There’s an added bonus: Before the April 27 concert, which features pianist Gabriela Martinez (pictured above) and music by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, I’ll arrange with my guests to meet privately with the orchestra’s music director, Maestro Theodore Kuchar, who will offer a crash course in the music to be played and what to expect at a concert. There will be some other perks as well. And then I’ll put you in a story about the experience.
Tell us why you’d like to be considered in 500 words or less as a comment on this post. Please leave a working email address, because that’s how I’ll contact you. Entries must be received by April 18.
This should be fun!
The Bee didn’t plan it this way, but it certainly made for interesting timing. The Fresno Philharmonic’s first subscription concerts in the new Shaghoian Hall took place the same weekend that The Bee’s George Hostetter filled us in on the shaky finances of the city’s Convention Center.
That’s because the center includes the Saroyan Theatre, in which the Fresno Philharmonic used to perform exclusively. For its three performances of the Mozart Requiem this past weekend, the orchestra turned to the smaller Shaghoian on the campus of Clovis North High School. (The orchestra did perform previously in the hall in 2010 in a non-subscription concert.)
The opening word in Latin stabs like a dagger: “Rex!” the chorus sings. And again, and again: “Rex!”
The lyric in Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor is one of those moments in choral music that cuts to the bone. Though the words of the “Rex tremendae” movement speak of a “King of awesome majesty who freely saves those worthy of salvation,” the moment is not one of happy praise but of desperate submission — of urgent beseeching — from a piteous sinner. There is eternity at stake, and you feel the tension. I imagined the slightest of chills descending upon the Shaghoian Hall as the internal temperature of each audience member notched down a fraction of a degree. The opening phrases of the movement are that cold and beautiful.
The moment was one of my favorites in Friday’s all-Mozart program featuring the Fresno Philharmonic and the Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale. With passion and precision, the orchestra and singers in the Requiem — the major work on the program — delivered an inspiring rendition of the iconic piece. The concert is repeated 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
I adore Zadie Smith. Which explains why I’ve been waiting to use this amazing passage from her glorious novel “On Beauty.” The central family in the book attends a free outdoor concert of Mozart’s Requiem. (One of the main characters in the book is a professor who rails against “beauty” and doesn’t like Mozart, but he’s dragged there reluctantly. He also cheated on his wife.) Here’s how the wife describes the experience of the music:
Mozart’s Requiem begins with you walking towards a huge pit. The pit is on the other side of a precipice, which you cannot see over until you are right at its edge. Your death is awaiting you in that pit. You don’t know what it looks like or sounds like or smells like. You don’t know whether it will be good or bad. You just walk towards it. Your will is a clarinet and your footsteps are attended by all the violins. The closer you get to the pit, the more you begin to have the sense that what awaits you there will be terrifying. Yet you experience this terror as a kind of blessing, a gift. Your long walk would have no meaning were it not for this pit at the end of it. You peer over the precipice: a burst of ethereal noise crashes over you. In the pit is a great choir, like the one you joined for two months in Wellington in which you were the only black woman. This choir is the heavenly host and simultaneously the devil’s army. It is also every person who has changed you during your time on this earth: your many lovers; your family; your enemies, the nameless, faceless woman who slept with your husband; the man you thought you were going to marry; the man you did. The job of this choir is judgement. The men sing first, and their judgement is very severe. And when the women join in there is no respite, the debate only grows louder and sterner. For it is a debate — you realize that now. The judgement is not yet decided. It is surprising how dramatic the fight for your measly soul turns out to be.
I’ve read a lot about the Requiem, but something about this prose is so affecting, so intense, so specific yet universal, that it almost made me gasp. It is beautiful writing, which is fitting for a novel so titled.
The Fresno Philharmonic and Fresno Community Chorus tackle the monumental work at the Shaghoian Hall tonight, Saturday and Sunday. I’ll be there tonight. Can’t wait.
The Shaghoian Hall, with its acclaimed acoustics and intimate setting, is a wonderful place to hear choral works. That’s one reason why people are so excited to hear the towering Mozart Requiem this weekend featuring the Fresno Philharmonic and the Fresno Community Chorus. There are performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but you have to remember that the Shaghoian is about a third the size of the Saroyan Theatre, where the orchestra usually plays. Saturday and Sunday’s performances are nearly sold out, while I’m told that a few seats remain for Friday’s 8 p.m. show.
Which is why it’s so fun to be able to give away a whopping 10 tickets to Friday’s performance. I’ll give a pair of tickets each to FIVE lucky Beehive readers. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite choral work with orchestra. (If you don’t have one — no problem. Just tell us why you’d like to see this concert. I’ll five comment at random. The winners each will receive four tickets. No repeat entries, please. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to come down to The Bee’s front lobby by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up. Deadline to enter is 4 p.m. Wednesday. Be sure to check your email between 4 and 5 p.m. that day, because that’s how I’ll inform winners. Complete rules are after the jump.
I’m still catching up with my busy weekend. (So much Kai to distract me!) There are two events I attended I want to acknowledge:
‘RAIN’ AT THE SAROYAN
If you’d told me before going into the weekend that I’d end up liking the touring Broadway in Fresno production of “Rain,” featuring four Beatles impersonators, more than the Fresno Philharmonic’s homage to the Rat Pack, I’d have said you were floating in the sky like Lucy and her diamonds. But that’s the case. The singing in this vigorously competent show was good, the energy was high, and while I’m definitely not Beatles-obsessed, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the crowd’s reverent boisterousness.
I’m still ambivalent about tribute shows, and there’s something a little creepy to me about how the four onstage performers exactly copied mannerisms corresponding to the original footage of the Beatles projected on two big screens on either side of the stage. (“Ringo Starr’s” little head tosses and blistering grins while drumming made me think of androids taking over the planet.) But people seemed to love it.
I received a thoughtful note from Brigid de Jong, a Fresno State music professor:
Thank you for the fine article about our local players participating in the Fresno Phil’s pops concert on Saturday. Jazz is alive and well in Fresno.
I was disappointed, however, that you didn’t mention the connection that exists between Fresno City College and Fresno State. The fine teaching that the students receive at FCC can segue into a degree with a jazz emphasis at Fresno State, headed by Alan Durst (whose name you did mention, but perhaps you didn’t know he developed and runs our instrumental jazz major.)
Since you made a point of acknowledging the strong jazz program at FCC, I think it would have been good to point out that our local students can continue that fine beginning by earning a BA in music with an emphasis in instrumental jazz. As it is a relatively new option, this would have been a great opportunity to inform the community about it.
Thank you for your extremely thorough and thoughtful coverage of the arts in our area. You do the community a great service by constantly showing the people here that the arts are alive and well in the Fresno community.
My response is after the jump.
“The Rat Pack: A Symphonic Celebration” was not a good concert for the Fresno Philharmonic.
Saturday’s one-night only pops event, which featured songs by a trio of actors portraying Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., was marred by significant sound problems in the first half. The singers were amplified, of course, and the orchestra was miked as well. The patter between the three actors could be heard well enough, but the singing voice of the actor playing Sinatra was swallowed whenever the orchestra got loud and brassy.
The other two actors fared a little better when backed by the orchestra, but they still sounded tinny and subdued from my seat in row “L” of the orchestra, as if they were singing out of a big hole. At intermission, people sitting in the loge and balcony were complaining that they couldn’t hear the performers at all.
The sound did improve significantly in the second half of the show, at least from where I was sitting, but that’s almost more disturbing than the sound issues in the first place, because it means that adjustments could have been made to improve the experience for the audience before the concert began. Using the first half of a show as an extended sound check is not acceptable.
But sound wasn’t the only issue. While the orchestra sounded great — especially when conductor Theodore Kuchar had the chance to crank up the big band sound — the three actors did a poor job of establishing a “Rat Pack” presence and rapport. While all are Broadway veterans and have impressive performance credentials, the trio failed to connect.
1. CELEBRATE THE RAT PACK
The Fresno Philharmonic will have some fun Saturday night with its “Rat Pack: A Symphonic Celebration” at the Saroyan Theatre. Here’s my cover story in Friday’s 7 section. In it I highlight the contributions of Fresno City College to the local jazz scene, as well as check in the three Broadway veterans portraying Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. Pictured below: Mike Dana, Larry Honda and Craig Von Berg of City College. (Bee photo by Craig Kohlruss.) [Details]
You gotta love it, Baby. With the Fresno Philharmonic’s “The Rat Pack: A Symphonic Celebration” pops concert, you’ll get the chance to hang out with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. (Or at least some very fine Broadway veterans paying tribute to them.) The orchestra is augmenting its roster with some of the best local jazz players around. It should be a lively evening.
Here’s the best part for Beehive readers: I have FOUR pairs of tickets to give away to Saturday’s 8 p.m. performance. These are very nice orchestra seats in row “L.”
To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post answering this question: If you could hang out with Frank, Dean or Sammy, which one would it be, and what question would you ask him? I’ll pick four comments at random. Each winner will receive two tickets. No repeat entries, please. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to come down to The Bee’s front lobby by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up. Deadline to enter is 4 p.m. Wednesday. Be sure to check your email Wednesday afternoon or evening, because that’s how I’ll inform winners. Complete rules are on the jump.
(Note: The concert will be repeated 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Saroyan Theatre. For details, go to fresnophil.org.)
The scene Saturday night for the “Beloved Beethoven” Fresno Philharmonic concert: Lively, to say the least. There was a big audience at the Saroyan Theatre, and two other events next door — a hockey game and winter formal — created a big traffic bottleneck. Cars were backed up on Highway 41 waiting to exit (there was a rear-end accident to the side of the road just before the offramp, which I’m assuming was related to the backed-up traffic), and a chunk of people didn’t make it to their seats in time for the orchestra’s first piece, Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture.” In fact, traffic was so bad that guest artist Elena Urioste barely reached the hall in time for the start of the concert. Just a few minutes before 8 p.m., she was seen sprinting toward the stage door wearing street clothes.
The music: Inside the hall, however, all was much more pleasant. The “Coriolan,” with its boisterous martial theme mixed with more tender and lyrical interludes, was a rousing way to start a program of what conductor Theodore Kuchar later explained was a focus on Beethoven’s important “middle period,” which sparked a classical music revolution. That was followed by Beethoven’s stirring Violin Concerto, which showed off Urioste’s virtuosic talents. The second half of the program: the massive Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica,” at a running time of nearly 50 minutes.
1. BEETHOVEN, WE LOVE YA
The Fresno Philharmonic delivers a feast of Beethoven this weekend. Guest artist is the career-on-fire Elena Urioste, who will play Beethoven’s violin concerto. Also on the program: the Coriolan Overture and the 3rd Symphony (“Eroica.”) I talk to Urioste and delve into the issue of the Fresno Philharmonic trying to expand its demographic reach in a big cover story in Friday’s 7 section. I’ve included an image of today’s cover — one of my favorites, thanks to a stunning photo. Concerts are 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 Sunday. [Details]
December is fast approaching, which means that holiday-themed entertainments will shortly be clamoring for your attention. One of the biggest is the Fresno Philharmonic’s “Home for the Holidays,” which will play 8 p.m. Saturday at the Saroyan Theatre. I’m giving away three pairs of tickets to the event. These are very nice seats, rows L and O. Here’s a description of the concert:
Guest conductor Carl Topilow (pictured) will lead the Fresno Philharmonic in an evening of favorites that include selections from the “Nutcracker Suite,” “Polar Express,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” The orchestra will be joined by the Master Chorale of the Fresno Community Chorus directed by Anna Hamre for seasonal favorites including the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah, “Silent Night,” “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and more. Dan Pessano of Good Company Players will join the Philharmonic onstage for ” ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite Christmas song. I’ll pick three comments at random. Each winner will receive two tickets. No repeat entries, please. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to come down to The Bee’s front lobby by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up. Deadline to enter is 4 p.m. Wednesday. Be sure to check your email Wednesday afternoon or evening, because that’s how I’ll inform winners. Complete rules are on the jump.
1. LISTEN TO CHAD HOOPES SHOOT AND SCORE ON VIOLIN
The Fresno Philharmonic welcomes young violin virtuoso Chad Hoopes back to Fresno. Don’t miss my interview with Hoopes in today’s 7 section. [Details]
UPDATE 10/25: Congratulations to our winners: Amy Querin, Nicolas Barajas, Kathy Juarez, Lee Garcia and Derek Fridolfs. Hope y’all enjoy the concert.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Wow. I get to give away FIVE pairs of tickets to the Fresno Philharmonic’s upcoming Saturday concert at the Saroyan Theatre featuring young violin sensation Chad Hoopes. I’m hoping to feature an interview with Hoopes later this week, but in the meantime you can read a little about the concert in my Sunday Spotlight column [first item].
These are all really nice tickets, with the pairs ranging from Rows A through N of the orchestra section.
The concert is 8 p.m. Saturday. To enter our giveaway, leave a comment on this post. I’ll pick five winners at random who each will receive two tickets. Deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday. If you enter, please remember to check your email, because that’s how I’ll be notifying winners. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to come down to The Bee’s front lobby during business hours by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up.
See complete rules on the jump.
UPDATE: Congrats to our winners, Christine and R. Henderson. Check your e-mail!
ORIGINAL POST: The Fresno Philharmonic opens its 59th season this weekend with a special concert featuring Kelley O’Connor. O’Connor is a local girl who still lives here, but is also a world-traveling opera singer who has won a Grammy.
In an interview with O’Connor, Donald Munro writes:
In an entertainment world built upon a constantly shifting terrain of pop culture, it takes a lot for a mezzo-soprano to be noticed. That’s the case no matter how effusive her reviews or how shiny her 2007 Grammy Award, which she won for a recording of the world premiere of contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov’s opera, “Ainadamar.”
“Actually I think I am very incognito in Fresno,” says O’Connor.
Well, Beehive readers, we’ve got a chance for you to enjoy her Philharmonic performance for free. We’ve got two pair of tickets to the 8 p.m. Saturday show at Saroyan Theatre. (there’s another at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, btw). Ticket info here.
For a chance at our free tickets, leave a comment below. Deadline to enter is noon on Friday. Winners will be notified via e-mail, so please leave a real address and PLEASE check it. You’re ineligible if you’ve won something from us in the past 30 days. Complete rules below.
The Fresno Philharmonic announced today that it has hired a new executive director: Stephen Wilson, who comes to Fresno after a 12-year stint as executive director of the Binghamton Philharmonic in New York State.
The Fresno Philharmonic has been without a permanent executive director since the departure in October of Don Reinhold. David Gaylin served as interim executive director. Wilson will begin his position in mid-July.
During his tenure in Binghamton, Wilson oversaw the search for music director JosÃ©-Luis Novo, the establishment of the orchestra’s first endowed chairs and the appointment of the orchestra’s first composer-in-residence. He worked as a fundraiser with the Binghamton Philharmonic for three years prior to his appointment as executive director, and before that .
“The Fresno Philharmonic has a wonderful legacy of excellence, providing terrific performances under the artistic direction of Music Director Theodore Kuchar,” Wilson said in a statement. “I am inspired by the devoted support of the Board and community of supporters, and am eager to be an integral part of the Fresno Philharmonic’s future.”
UPDATE: Our winners are Janine Christl, Janice Lewis and Michele Falk. Congratulations.
ORIGINAL POST: We’re rapidly coming up on the last concert of the Fresno Philharmonic’s 2011-12 season — a performance April 21 and 22 dominated by the sure-to-be-combustible “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff. With the orchestra backed by the Fresno Community Chorus, the Fresno State Concert Choir and the Fresno City College Choir, expect more than 250 musicians on stage.
To mark the occasion, I’m handing out 12 tickets, my biggest Philharmonic giveaway yet. Three Beehive readers will receive four vouchers each.
Here’s how these vouchers work: You can reserve your seats ahead of time by taking the vouchers to the Fresno Phil’s Shaw Avenue box office at 2377 W. Shaw Ave. #101 — or you can redeem them at the Saroyan Theatre box office an hour before the concert begins. (You’d be out of luck if the concert is completely sold out, but that’s rare.) If you win the vouchers, I can either drop them in the mail to you, or you can come to The Bee’s front lobby to pick up the vouchers during business hours.
To enter, leave a comment on this post. Deadline is noon Friday. A few important things: Winners will be notified by e-mail, so please leave a real e-mail address and please, please, please check your e-mail at around 1 p.m. Friday. I reserve the right to pick another winner if I don’t get a response to my e-mail by 1:30 p.m. Friday. One entry per person. You’re ineligible if you’ve won something from us in the past 30 days. Complete rules after the jump.
Besides going to our super-fantabulous Beehive Birthday Party, of course …
1. SWING WITH THE PHILHARMONIC
From Benny Goodman’s “Bugle Call Rag” to Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” this collaboration between the five-member singing group Five By Design and the Fresno Philharmonic traces the history of jazz and swing starting in the late 1930s and running up to the early 1950s. I have an interview with Five By Design member Terrence Niska in Friday’s 7 section. The show is 8 p.m. Saturday at the Saroyan Theatre. [Details]
An important reminder: The current strike against the Fresno Grand Opera doesn’t affect this performance in any way. The Fresno Philharmonic is covered by a different contract with the local professional musicians union. The Philharmonic office has been receiving calls from patrons asking to clarify this since the strike began.
UPDATE: Our winner is Brandon Hill. (Our second winner didn’t respond to our email, so those vouchers will go back in the kitty for the last Philharmonic giveaway of the season.)
ORIGINAL POST: The Fresno Philharmonic’s next pop concert is called “Club Swing,” and it features the tight vocal harmonies of the group Five By Design backed up by the full orchestra. From the Philharmonic:
From the frenetic-paced opening of Benny Goodman’s “Bugle Call Rag” to the show’s blockbuster finale of Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” Club Swing celebrates the songs, events and personalities that defined American popular culture during the Swing era.
I have four vouchers to give away: a pair to two readers. Here’s how these vouchers work: You can use them for any of the two remaining concerts of the 2011-12 season. You can reserve your seats ahead of time by taking the vouchers to the Fresno Phil’s Shaw Avenue box office at 2377 W. Shaw Ave. #101 — or you can redeem them at the Saroyan Theatre box office an hour before the concert begins. (You’d be out of luck if the concert is completely sold out, but that’s rare.) If you win the vouchers, I can either drop them in the mail to you, or you can come to The Bee’s front lobby to pick up the vouchers during business hours.
To enter, leave a comment on this post. Deadline is 4 p.m. Wednesday. A few important things: Winners will be notified by e-mail, so please leave a real e-mail address and please, please, please check your e-mail. I reserve the right to pick another winner if I don’t get a response to my e-mail by 9 a.m. Thursday. One entry per person. You’re ineligible if you’ve won something from us in the past 30 days. Complete rules after the jump.
I had mixed feelings about the Fresno Philharmonic’s Friday evening pops-concert brush with “photochoreography,” a multimedia marriage of live music and still images projected on three screens hanging above the musicians. On one hand, it was an interesting way to listen to some beloved pieces, including Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and “Billy the Kid.” As the images flitted by, it was relaxing to watch Gary Westwater, who ran the three projectors, match his photos to what he considered to be the mood of the pieces.
On the other hand, I found the content of the photos themselves fairly safe and predictable — and a little boring. (His three photo essays offered views of a cowboys on a working ranch, a variety of nature photos and a glimpse at the lifestyle of a working farm.) There wasn’t anything surprising or artistically daring in the bunch, and while Westwater had some nice scenic shots, they remain fairly conventional examples of the genre.
The divas were OK. The sound was pretty bad.
The Fresno Philharmonic has had an uneasy relationship with amplification in the Saroyan Theatre over the years. It’s not as if the orchestra has to worry most of the time. Most concerts don’t use amplification. But among those that do — usually involving miked vocalists — I’ve heard some concerts with decent amplified sound, and I’ve heard some in the not-so-decent category. Saturday’s performance of “Wicked Divas” unfortunately fell into the latter.
It was sad, really. Here the Philharmonic went to the expense of flying in two “Wicked” veterans and building an entire concert around their vocals — and yet there were times it sounded as if we were in a high school gymnasium with a hapless principal barking into a microphone from the Reagan administration. From where I was sitting in row K of the orchestra, in the middle of the house, the sound reverberated to the sides and behind me like I was in a pinball machine. (Most frustrating: the shadow “whisper” that echoed many of the lyrics.) You name it, the sound problem was there: crackling noises, tinny vocals, volume issues. In such tunes as Emily Rosek’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” and Nicole Parker’s “Back to Before,” the singers’ supple tones were diminished by sound issues. I almost lost Rosek’s voice completely in “My Heart Will Go On.”
And to be clear here: This isn’t something to be blamed on the acoustics in the Saroyan, which are quite good if decent equipment and expertise are put to use.