Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Opera and Philharmonic: You can do it all

It’s a huge weekend for classical music fans in Fresno. Both the Fresno Grand Opera and Fresno Philharmonic are performing: the Phil for three performances (Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinee); the opera for one performance (Sunday matinee).

The amazing thing is that these two institutions — which haven’t exactly been BFFs over the years — are actually cooperating. From Friday’s 7 section:

In a spirit of cooperation, Fresno Philharmonic Sunday ticket holders can exchange their tickets at no charge for Friday or Saturday’s performance. Also, people who have purchased tickets to either Fresno Grand Opera’s “Streetcar Named Desire” or the Fresno Philharmonic’s “New World” can purchase tickets to the other organization’s performance this weekend at a discount (20% off single ticket prices).

“Both the Fresno Philharmonic and Fresno Grand Opera want to make sure that music lovers have every opportunity to attend both of these events this weekend,” says Stephen Wilson, executive director of the orchestra.

I have two fun previews in Friday’s 7 section: I talk with Carrie Hennessey, who plays Blanche in Fresno Grand Opera’s “Streetcar”; and the Fresno Philharmonic’s Theodore Kuchar, who chats about his “From the New World” concert.

I’ve arranged this weekend to see both productions: the orchestra tonight, and the opera on Sunday. Still to come that day: my column on Fresno Grand Opera’s new direction.

Pictured: Dan Klempson as Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

CONCERT REVIEW: Fresno Philharmonic’s Latin dances

The setting: A packed house in the Saroyan Theatre on Sunday afternoon for a big, robust Fresno Philharmonic concert focusing on dances of Spain and Latin America. Guest conductor Jose-Luis Novo picked four pieces — a difficult task, he told the audience, out of the hours of music that could have been played —  that offered a sweep of styles, tempos and moods.

The best-known work: Ravel’s famous “Bolero,” which Novo guided with a driving, precise enthusiasm. Nice job. Alas, I am so bored of “Bolero.”

Tango time: Piazzolla’s “Tangazo” remained at arm’s length for me in terms of passion, but I appreciated the dexterity of the orchestra.

Far more pleasing: Guest soloist Charles Ramirez gave a stirring performance on guitar in Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” The second movement of this piece is well-known — you’ve heard versions in movie soundtracks and commercials — for a simple reason: The theme is lush, gorgeous and steeped in movement. It reminds me of clouds racing across a deep blue sky. Ramirez offered the requisite pyrotechnics on his guitar when called for, but it was his softer moments that really clung to me. Each carefully strummed note suggested a drop of dew welling up before finally releasing. The orchestra under Novo sounded nimble and inspired.

Pictured: Gabriela Lena Frank in a pre-concert talk with Benjamin Boone.

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A merry time for Fresno Pacific’s Walter Saul

Some of us get a few days off for the holidays and zone out in front of the TV with Netflix.

Then there’s Fresno Pacific University music professor Walter Saul, who has been in Kiev, Ukraine, this past week listening to his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra being recorded by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine.

It’s just one of the pieces that will make up a CD on the Naxos label of Saul’s compositions. The recording sessions have featured two familiar Fresno names: Theodore Kuchar, music director of the Fresno Philharmonic; and James Buswell, the eminent violinist who wowed audiences with his rendition of the Barber Violin Concerto at the opening Fresno Philharmonic concert of the season. The Ukraine orchestra is also recording Saul’s “Rhapsody for Oboe and Orchestra,” featuring Rong-Huey Liu, the Fresno Philharmonic’s principal oboist. The 2014 piece is a meditation on the recent events in Ukraine as well as the overall history of Kiev from its founding. The other four works recorded for the CD are Saul’s “Metamorphosis” (1974), “From Life to Greater Life” (1978), “A Christmas Symphony” (1992), and “Overture for the Jubilee” (1998). 

I caught up with Saul in Kiev via email to ask about the experience of hearing his music recorded for posterity.

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UPDATED: Fresno Phil’s Theodore Kuchar to step down in 2016

UPDATED 11/14: When I received word yesterday about Theodore Kuchar stepping down, I posted right away. Then I followed up with interviews with Kuchar and Stephen Wilson, executive director of the Fresno Philharmonic. My story for today’s print and online editions includes this news:  A major concern of Kuchar’s is that he feels his role as music director has been diminished recently. Here’s the updated story.

ORIGINAL POST: I just received word from the Fresno Philharmonic that Theodore Kuchar, its acclaimed music director, will step down at the end of the 2015-16 season. By the end of his tenure, he will have completed 15 years at the helm of the orchestra.

In a press release, Kuchar says:

I am extremely proud of numerous memorable performances we have given. Many of these, such as major works of Beethoven, Bruckner, Dvorak, Mahler, Martinu, Nielsen, Revueltas, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky will always remain as standards in my memory. The collaborations with distinguished guest artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Chang, Joshua Bell, Lynn Harrell and many others continue to be discussed today while some of the popular initiatives such as Cirque de la Symphonie will always remain a part of our legacy.

During the past several years, the Fresno Philharmonic has also presented innovative music education initiatives, including being one of the first sites for the San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score program and becoming a national partner of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute in presenting Link Up: The Orchestra Sings. I have no reservation in saying that the Fresno Philharmonic and I have often delivered performances that are not typical of a regional American orchestra but those of a standard to be expected in a major musical capital.

J.D. Northway, president of the board of directors, had this to add:

We are grateful for the outstanding work Maestro Kuchar has done here in Fresno over the past thirteen seasons. The orchestra sounds better than ever. By informing us of his decision now, Maestro Kuchar has given us plenty of time to ensure a smooth transition in the artistic leadership of the Fresno Philharmonic.

This is a big deal. Kuchar’s expertise, connections (all important in the world of classical music) and — most of all — his enthusiasm have all contributed mightily to the orchestra’s recent successes. His shoes will be hard to fill.

Details on the search process for a new Fresno Philharmonic music director will be “forthcoming soon,” orchestra officials say.

Fresno Philharmonic recap

I enjoyed the Fresno Philharmonic’s intimate concert over the weekend. (I attended the Saturday evening performance at the Shaghoian Hall.)

The good: Zuill Bailey, master cellist, wowed the audience with his cello acrobatics in Prokofiev’s difficult Sinfonia Concertante. Bailey was cool yet intense as his runs exploded at thrice-roller-coaster speed and his fingers skipped over the fingerboard so quickly they blurred. The composer threw in every trick other than making the soloist stand on his head while playing. It was an impressive performance. Another highlight: the orchestra’s Brahms Symphony No. 4 was strong, from Janette Erickson’s rousing flute solo to Maestro Theodore Kuchar’s emotive conducting.

The so-so: Perhaps it was where I was sitting in the auditorium, but the orchestra’s well-known opening piece, Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture,” seemed out of balance to me, with the percussion overwhelming other instruments in some parts with a clangy, tinny dominance.

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Maestro’s car broken into during opening orchestra concert

After a warmly received first concert of the season, Fresno Philharmonic music director Theodore Kuchar was probably in a pretty good mood late Sunday afternoon as he walked to the Fresno Convention Center parking garage afterward. Then he got the bad news. He shares in an email this morning:

For your information, as this indirectly impacts many of your “followers”, I returned to my car in the parking garage immediately after the concert yesterday. Car window was smashed in parking garage during concert and wallet, credit cards, drivers license, etc. kaput! People pay $7.00 for the safety of having their cars in the same condition after any Convention Center event as when they arrived. My car was parked in virtually the first parking spot after paying the attendant. I can also let you know that this was not the first instance of a Philharmonic member’s car being vandalized recently.

It’s sad to think that while Kuchar was in the midst of making memorable music with guest soloist (and last-minute savior) James Buswell, who wowed the audience with a virtuosic performance of the Barber violin concerto, some loser was smashing his windshield. This begs an important question: Doesn’t the fee paid to ACE Parking Management for a space in the garage imply some assurance of security during an event? And if it doesn’t, why not? When your own conductor’s car gets broken into while he’s on the podium, that’s pretty embarrassing for a city.

Pictured: James Buswell signs CDs in the Saroyan Theatre lobby during intermission of the opening Fresno Philharmonic concert of the season.

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Big changes for Fresno Philharmonic opener

There will be no didgeridoo on Sunday for the Fresno Philharmonic opener. Australian soloist William Barton, who was set to make a repeat appearance in Fresno, had to cancel because of illness. Music director Theodore Kuchar and the orchestra scrambled to find an impressive last-minute replacement. From the Monday announcement:

Instead the Fresno Philharmonic will perform American composer Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, a work completed in 1939. During the past 75 years, the concerto has become one of Barber’s most performed works. Acclaimed violinist James Buswell, who has recorded the work for Naxos, will join Maestro Kuchar and the Fresno Philharmonic for this intensely lyrical concerto. (Buswell received a Grammy nomination for his recording in 2003).

Still on the program is Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” along with Morton Gould’s “Stephen Foster Gallery.” The concert is 3 p.m. Sunday at the Saroyan Theatre.

A stirring ‘Summer Soiree’

Amy Querin, artistic director of NOCO (and one of this city’s most impressive creative souls), stood on the now-empty “stage” holding court after her dance company’s performance Sunday night at the Fresno Art Museum. She graciously accepted the compliments pressed upon her by the well-wishers surrounding her for “Summer Soiree,” but in a moment of self-deprecation, she lamented that she didn’t have more time to more effectively transform the performance space into “another world.”

I respectfully disagree. The space that Querin and her hard-working company created in the museum’s lobby/atrium for the production — which paired members of the company with a Fresno Philharmonic string quartet — indeed had an otherworldly ambiance. The audience sat on risers, and the wall behind the performance space was swathed with fabric that echoed the billowing feel of the centerpiece aerial rig. The colors of the beige fabric of the rig and its gold-colored metal support beams seemed perfectly in sync with the nude color of the draperies. Above the audience hung dozens of paper origami birds. The effect was muted and ethereal — a refined, stylish atmosphere.

It was entrancing.

So was getting to watch dance paired with live music. The string quartet gave a stirring version of Kevin Volans’ “White Man Sleeps,” whose “wild meters,” as Querin describes them, meshed well with the robust choreography.

Adding a poignant touch of the evening: Querin’s farewell to Jackie Aldern, the assistant director, and Hannah Cavallaro, the rehearsal director. They’re the company’s last two original company members. A new NOCO generation has begun. 

Best of all was the overall world that Querin — helped by gobs of people, including Fresno Phil executive director Stephen Wilson — helped create. For a few hours on a Sunday evening, it was as if the museum were transformed into an elegant oasis — a sophisticated cultural buzz-spot filled with people who want the local arts scene to just keep getting better. That’s a world worth believing in.

Weekend pick: NOCO’s ‘Summer Soire’

My Beehive colleague Joshua Tehee already flagged this as one of his “5 Things You Should Do This Weekend,” but I wanted to give it an extra boost.

It’s exciting to see collaborations between local arts organizations. And this Sunday’s “Summer Soire” at the Fresno Art Museum, featuring the Fresno Dance Collective (NOCO) and a string quartet representing the Fresno Philharmonic, sounds especially refreshing.

The Bee’s Sharon Martin writes about the event in Friday’s 7 section cover story:

The event, at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. First St., features aerial and contemporary dancers paired with live music from the Fresno Philharmonic string quartet. The quartet will perform Kevin Volans’ String Quartet No. 1, “White Man Sleeps.” This is the first time the Fresno Dance Collective and the Fresno Philharmonic have worked together.

The dance will feature aerialists both inside and outside the Fresno Art Museum. Performances include two aerial duets, two dance solos, one duet dance, one trio dance and one group dance.

I’m looking forward to it.

Pictured: Jackie Aldern of NOCO. Bee photo by Craig Kohlruss.

Five Things You Should Do This Weekend


Go find someone you love and hug them. It’s been a long week. Then …

1. Big Brother presents Strangelove
All I ever needed is here in my arms.

2. Logger’s Jamboree
Chopping, sawing and general wood play. You’ve got to love the smell of fresh wood chips in the morning.

3. NOCO Summer Soiree
Aerial dance + classical music inside a museum. It’s a triple shot of culture.

4. Rock N’ Shop
Music and collectibles. Special appearance by a jaw-less zombie pet (or the dude who played one on TV anyway).

5. Ani-Jam
One word: Cosplay.

Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera scrap fall seasons

Wow. The arts news in Sacramento is dire. From the Sacramento Bee:

For the first time in its 17-year history, the Sacramento Philharmonic will not present any concerts during the fall season, and it remains unclear whether its musicians will return to the stage in the spring of 2015. The Sacramento Opera has also decided not to stage performances in the fall. The decision follows months of financial uncertainty for the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, the organization formed last year when the philharmonic merged with the Sacramento Opera.

Larry Gardner, president of the American Federation of Musicians Local 12 and principal bassonist in the Fresno Philharmonic, is quoted in the story:

He noted that smaller orchestras in smaller cities such as the Fresno Philharmonic and Modesto Philharmonic are presenting full seasons in 2014-15 after cutting back on offerings directly after the recession. “Those orchestras have turned a corner,” said Gardner. “When you look at the skyline in Sacramento and then look at Modesto or Fresno’s, you begin to wonder, ‘What’s going on in Sacramento?’ ” Gardner said. “It sure looks like there is money in Sacramento, but it doesn’t seem to be going to the orchestra or opera company.”

Let’s be thankful that things seem more stable in Fresno. The Fresno Philharmonic and Fresno Grand Opera both announced lively new seasons. 

Notes from the arts beat

Catching up on the arts beat:

The didgeridoo is back! The Fresno Philharmonic has announced its 2014-15 concert season. The orchestra will perform six Masterworks programs in the Saroyan Theatre and Shaghoian Hall. It also will present two Pops concerts and its annual Link Up education concerts for schools at the Saroyan. From the orchestra:

Masterworks season highlights include the return of Australian didjeridu virtuoso William Barton performing the nature-infused music of Peter Sculthorpe, cellist Zuill Bailey performing Prokofiev’s late masterpiece the Sinfonia Concertante paired with Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, a program of Spanish and Latin American dance music including Ravel’s Boléro, a weekend-long marathon performance of the Complete Piano Concertos of Beethoven with pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, and a special concert in April 2015 commemorating the Armenian Genocide centered on the world-premiere of Fresno based composer Serouj Kradjian’s Cantata for the Living Martyrs, a work specially composed for this occasion, with mezzo-soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian as soloist. This concert, one of many community events next year marking this tragedy, also features violinist Catherine Manoukian performing the Khachaturian Violin Concerto and choral works performed by the Fresno Master Chorale and the Fresno State Concert Choir.

You can find the full lineup at the Fresno Philharmonic’s website.

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The Beehive Interview: Carl Gardner


Back in January I told you about Carl Gardner, the winner of the first Fresno Philharmonic young artists concerto competition. (I helped judge.) Along with the title came the opportunity for Gardner to perform with the orchestra at Sunday’s“Side by Side” concert at the Saroyan Theatre. It’s all part of a collaboration between the Fresno Philharmonic and the Youth Orchestras of Fresno, of which Gardner is an alum.

I feature an interview with Gardner in Friday’s 7 section. Here’s the extended version of that interview.

Looking back at the concerto competition, what are your thoughts about that afternoon? Did you think you’d nailed it?

Leading up to my performance that afternoon I felt very confident about my playing. I have learned by this point in my life to be conscious of when I really KNOW a piece of music. I was confident that no matter what the results of the competition I would have put forth a very good effort. That’s a really good feeling to have when going into any audition. That way I was able to focus on myself and what my best effort was going to sound like rather than how my counterparts were going to sound.

I don’t remember much while I was playing, other than I was surprised at how it sounded to play in Shaghoian Hall. I was used to a small room where I did not need to worry about projecting as much as I needed to in the Hall.

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CONCERT REVIEW: Wu Man and the Fresno Philharmonic


The celebrated musician Wu Man on Friday introduced the pipa, the lute-like ancient Chinese instrument, to the Fresno Philharmonic audience.

It was exhilarating.

There are those, I’m sure, who would tend to steer away from a concert like this — Chinese music is just too “weird.” But I strongly encourage people with that avoidance mindset to take a chance and broaden their horizons. Wu Man’s performance of Tan Dun’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa was a mesmerizing and joyful romp encompassing two musical cultures. Beyond Ms. Wu’s polished expertise, it was almost as fun watching the members of the orchestra stray beyond their own comfort levels, joining enthusiastically in a performance that included stomping, plucking, tapping and vocalizing. The customary cool orchestral detachment melted away, giving us something that hinted at the primal.

What’s more, all this takes place in the intimate Shaghoian Hall, where you’re close enough to the musicians to really feel the impact. You have two more chances to experience this unforgettable concert, one of my favorite all-time Fresno Philharmonic experiences: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. (My only regret about Friday’s event that there wasn’t a bigger crowd.)

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Win tickets to Fresno Phil’s pipa concert


If you haven’t yet experienced the Fresno Philharmonic performing in the Shaghoian Hall, it’s a pleasurable experience. You feel so much closer to the orchestra in the intimate Shaghoian space, and the acoustics are great.

The orchestra’s last Masterworks concert of the season will be performed three times at the Shaghoian: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Along with performances of Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8, the concert features a fascinating guest artist: the Chinese musician Wu Man, whom Fresno Phil executive director Stephen Wilson calls “a real superstar of world music”:

In addition to being a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, she was the 2013 Musical America Instrumentalist of the Year, the first player of a non-Western instrument to win that recognition.  Her performance with us of Tan Dun’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Pipa will be the first performance ever by the Fresno Philharmonic of music by a Chinese composer.  Tan Dun won the Academy Award for his score to the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and is also known for his music for the film “Hero” and the 2008 Bejing Olympics.

Wu Man is considered the premier player in the world of the pipa, a traditional Chinese lute. On the jump of this post, along with the rules of our giveaway, you can watch a YouTube video of her performing.

I have two pairs of tickets to give away to the opening night Friday concert.  To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us if you’ve ever heard a pipa performed live before. Deadline to enter is 9 a.m. Wednesday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winner by email on Wednesday by noon, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Thursday morning, I reserve the right to pick another. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to come down to The Bee’s front counter by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up. Rules are on the jump.

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CONCERT REVIEW: Fresno Philharmonic plays Wagner

I like Wagner a lot — but could it be I do better with him in smaller doses? Perhaps I just wasn’t properly channeling my inner Valkyrie, but the Fresno Philharmonic’s lineup of Wagner’s greatest hits at Sunday’s concert didn’t wow me.

The first half of the concert was less satisfactory than the second. In what should have been the pull-out-all-the-stops offering, the overture to “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” the orchestra sounded a little mushy and sometimes listless to me, particularly the strings, even with Theodore Kuchar’s vigorous conducting. There were some fine, punchy moments, but not the fierce, red-hot vehemence I associate with Wagner.

Earlier, a flubbed instrumental opening of the Bridal Chorus of “Lohengrin” was an unfortunate way to introduce the singers of the Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale and Fresno State Concert Choir.

The second part of the concert was stronger. The prelude to Act III of “Lohengrin” had a lot of zip. “The Ride of the Valkyries” approached combustibility. And the gorgeous Pilgrim’s Chorus of “Tannhauser,” featuring the men of the choirs, built with a nuanced intensity. By the time the full chorus returned in the “Entrance of the Guests” finale to “Tannhauser,” I felt the orchestra was getting into the Wagner groove. But it took a while to get there.

Win tickets to the Fresno Philharmonic’s Wagner concert


The Fresno Philharmonic is going all-Wagner on Sunday, and I have four pairs of tickets to give away to Beehive readers. “Ride of the Valkyries: Wagner’s Greatest Hits” will feature selections from some of Wagner’s most beloved operas, including “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” “Rienzi,” “Gotterdammerung,” “Tannhauser,” “Lohengrin” and “Die Walkure.” The orchestra, under the baton of music director Theodore Kuchar, will be joined by the Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale and Fresno State Concert Choir, directed by Anna Hamre.

I have four pairs of tickets for the 2:30 p.m. Sunday performance to give away to Beehive readers.

To enter the contest, leave a comment on this post telling us if you’ve ever seen “Apocalypse Now” — and if you think the famous helicopter scene would have worked without Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” I’ll pick four winners, each of whom will win two tickets.

Deadline is 6 p.m. Wednesday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winner by email on Wednesday evening, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Thursday morning, I reserve the right to pick another. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to come down to The Bee’s front counter by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up. Rules are on the jump.

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Philharmonic’s Kuchar squeezes in tense visit to Kiev, Ukraine


It can be exhausting just keeping up with the Fresno Philharmonic’s globetrotting musical director, Theodore Kuchar. (He just emailed to tell me he’s in Istanbul in two weeks with the Istanbul State Symphony.) His travels earlier this month took him to Kiev, Ukraine, one of the globe’s most troubled hot spots.

Kuchar has a strong and abiding connection with the city, having served for many years as artistic director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. He was there Jan. 31-Feb. 7, first conducting the orchestra with violinist  James Buswell and then playing a chamber-music concert sponsored by the American embassy and attended by the American ambassador and much of the embassy’s senior staff.

I asked him how close he got to the continuing unrest in the city:

I walked on the Maidan, the center of all the present unrest, at least several times daily. I saw every small protest camp, where those “in residence” had their fires going, big pots of soup were the life support yet, in many cases, it was on offer to whoever was walking by and supporting the cause. The protesters were in massive abundance everywhere but the quality one was most aware of was how extremely dedicated these people were towards the cause but how peaceful and civilized things were at all times.

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Connecting kids with the Fresno Philharmonic

The Bee’s Eric Paul Zamora was on hand yesterday at the Saroyan Theatre for a fun (and very cute) outing: thousands of third and fourth graders from the Central and Fresno unified school districts playing recorders along with the Fresno Philharmonic.

More than 7,000 students participated Thursday and Friday in the two-day event, titled “Link Up: The Orchestra Sings.” The orchestra has long offered special performances for schoolchildren, but this was the first time students got to play with the Fresno Philharmonic rather than just listen.

The children prepared four songs, including Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony. The orchestra presented the program in partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weil Music Institute.

What a great way to immerse students in music — and give them a musical debut they’ll never forget.

Check out the video above. And here’s a gallery of photos.

Win tickets to ‘Cirque de la Symphonie’


“Cirque de la Symphonie,” the traveling acrobatic troupe that teams up with orchestras across the country, is so popular in Fresno that it’s returning for a third time.

The Fresno Philharmonic concert  features aerial flyers, acrobats, and strongmen performing their routines to great classical music played by the orchestra. The program includes works by Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Copland and Bernstein.

Maestro Theodore Kuchar will conduct, though there isn’t any word on if he’ll dangle upside down over his podium while conducting Bizet.

I have two very good pairs of tickets (Orchestra section, rows Q and S) to give away to Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. concert at the Saroyan Theatre.

To enter, leave a comment on this post answering this question: If you could have one Cirque “super talent” for a day, would you be 1) a strongman/woman contortionist; 2) a master juggler; or 3) an aerial fabric ballet wiz?

Deadline is 6 p.m. Wednesday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winner by email on Wednesday evening, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Thursday morning, I reserve the right to pick another. (I want to make sure these tickets go to good use.) These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to come down to The Bee’s front counter by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up. Rules are on the jump.

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A glittering Fresno Philharmonic gala


Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss was on scene Saturday night to photograph some of the Fresno Philharmonic’s most passionate fans at the orchestra’s 60th anniversary gala dinner. Above, conductor Theodore Kuchar visits with Roxie Moradian, one of the founding figures of the orchestra back in 1954. The gala was one of the year’s preeminent social-scene events, and I had fun ducking into the dinner and the dessert reception following the show to chat with some of the city’s philanthropic class.

Craig also got some nice new photos of Kuchar and the orchestra in action, although we weren’t allowed to get any photos of Chang on stage because of a stipulation in her contract. Be sure to check out his excellent photo gallery.

My take on the concert is featured in Monday’s Life section. I thought Sarah Chang’s performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto was full of strength:

There’s a fierceness to Chang as a musician, a sturdy and muscular confidence to her playing, that adds a level of complexity to the image of elegant fashionista crafted these days for so many women players by classical music’s marketing gurus. She tackled the Bruch not with daintiness but a brisk, vehement confidence. During breaks in her part, while the orchestra played, she often dropped her arms completely and held the violin in place with her neck and chin — a pose of strength and certitude.

After the concert, Chang changed out of her dazzling jewel-toned concert gown for a simpler black gown, and she greeted patrons at the dessert reception. I grabbed this photo of her with a family very excited to meet her:

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Win tickets to hear Sarah Chang with the Fresno Phil


The Fresno Philharmonic is officially marking its 60th anniversary in high style this weekend. The orchestra welcomes famed violinist Sarah Chang back as its big-deal guest artist. She’ll play the beautiful  Bruch Violin Concerto.

I have two orchestra seats (row Q) to Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. performance at the Saroyan Theatre to give away to a lucky Beehive reader. To enter, leave a comment on this post wishing the orchestra a happy birthday — or telling us what you think the Fresno Philharmonic has meant to the city for all these years.

Deadline is 6 p.m. Wednesday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winner by email on Wednesday evening, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Thursday morning, I reserve the right to pick another. (I want to make sure these tickets go to good use.) These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to come down to The Bee’s front counter by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up. Rules are on the jump.

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Carl Gardner wins concerto competition


On Sunday I had the privilege of helping judge the Fresno Philharmonic’s first ever young artists concerto competition at the Shaghoian Hall. I listened to 14 musicians (ages 22 and younger) compete. I have profound admiration for every one of the contestants. It takes a lot of aplomb to walk onto a big stage in a nearly empty hall, with the officious looking judges sitting behind plastic tables halfway back, and play under pressure. My fellow judge Ted Kuchar, music director of the orchestra, was warm in his welcomes but also brisk. Players were expected to be able to stop and skip to different movements in the pieces they were playing.

Our winners:

  • First prize ($2,500): Carl Gardner, bassoon
  • Second prize ($1,000): Samuel Primack, flute
  • Third prize (tie $250 each): Jennifer Broussard, trumpet, and Joshua Locher, saxophone

Gardner has been invited to play his competition concerto (Launy Grondahl’s Bassoon Concerto) with the Fresno Philharmonic, conducted by Kuchar, at the May 4 “Side by Side” concert in the Saroyan Theatre.

Gardner, a graduate of University High School, is the son of the orchestra’s principal bassoon, Larry Gardner — like father, like son — and is studying the instrument at Oberlin Conservatory, one of the nation’s preeminent music schools. He plays beautifully.

On the jump: a photo of Ted Kuchar and me at the Shaghoian, judges for a day.

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Win tickets to Fresno Philharmonic’s ‘Home for the Holidays’


When I was speaking to Stuart Malina, the guest conductor for the Fresno Philharmonic’s big annual holiday concert Saturday at the Saroyan Theatre, I asked him why he thought these types of events are so popular with audiences. His response: “Everyone has their holiday memories. In most cases, music has something to do with that.” (My advance interview with Malina is in Thursday’s Life section.)

Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that the orchestra’s annual concert is really popular. Which makes this a prime Beehive ticket giveaway. Two tickets to the 7:30 p.m. event will go to a lucky reader. The concert will have a little something for everyone, including  jaunty orchestral arrangements of popular secular holiday songs, big band vocals, sacred tunes and the Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

To enter our contest, write a comment on this post telling us your favorite holiday song. Or, if you’re prefer to be contrarian, tell us your least favorite holiday song — the one you wouldn’t be so crazy about hearing at the concert.

Deadline for entry is 5 p.m. today (Thursday). Yes, that’s only three hour from now, so this is a quick turnaround contest. I’ll be picking our winner at random and notifying him or her by email. (So watch yours at about that time.) If you’re our winner, you’ll need to come down to The Bee’s front counter on Friday to pick up your tickets, so please don’t enter if you 1) don’t think you can check your email at 5 pm and 2) won’t be able to pick up your tickets in person. One comment per person. Rules are on the jump.

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