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San Antonio concertmaster has Fresno roots

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At the tender age of 22, Eric Gratz — an illustrious alum of the Youth Orchestras of Fresno — was last week named the new permanent concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony. From the San Antonio Express-News:

Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing welcomed a new concertmaster, the first in nearly seven years with the permanent title for an orchestra with a history of concertmasters who have distinguished themselves in the classical music world.

A moment later, the slender, 6-foot-2 first-chair violinist named Eric Thomas Gratz strode onto the Majestic Theatre stage to accept applause as the new representative of the 72 orchestra musicians. Gratz is 22.

No one from Fresno should be surprised at Gratz’s youthful success.

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Guest bloggers: An unforgettable concert at L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall

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For a week now, Fresno State has been the scene of some very talented singers and instrumentalists. The Fresno Opera and Orchestra Summer Academy – dubbed FOOSA for short — is a new initiative born of a collaboration between the Youth Orchestras of Fresno and Fresno State. According to press materials, the three artistic directors—Thomas Loewenheim (pictured above) and Anthony Radford of Fresno State and Scott Piper of the University of Michigan—dreamed of a summer festival that would feature the best aspects of summer orchestral programs and the best aspects of summer opera programs, allowing an unusual degree of interaction between singers and instrumentalists.

You can read my interview with Piper from Thursday’s Life section here. On Friday, the FOOSA horde traveled to Los Angeles for an appearance at the renowned Disney Concert Hall. Now they’re back in Fresno preparing for a big weekend event: performances 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday of the paired operas “Cavalleria rusticana” and “Pagliacci.”

The Beehive asked two students to write a couple of guest blogs for us about the experience. Meet Christina Swanson and Tomer Eres, both students at the University of Michigan studying with Piper. They’ll be back later this week on the Beehive with their thoughts about this weekend’s opera lineup. They wrote this entry from L.A.

Hello to everyone from the City of Angels! Despite having only two days to explore the greater LA area, we here at FOOSA have been having quite the blast. Yesterday, we stopped at the Santa Monica pier after the long drive from CSU Fresno to enjoy the sea and have a great dinner at Bubba Gump’s. We spent an hour exploring the pier, and taking in the sights and smells of the ocean. It was a truly humbling experience to spend time on the beach with my fellow studio mates and Scott Piper from the University of Michigan, along with the great Laura Pedersen. It’s amazing how our passions can connect us from across a country.

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Catching up with the weekend: ‘Rain’ and ‘Love Conquers All’

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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.

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Donald’s weekend picks

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]

CEK RATPACK

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Win tickets to ‘Love Conquers All’

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I give a big plug in Friday’s 7 section for the Youth Orchestras of Fresno’s second annual “Love Conquers All” Sunday concert at the Saroyan Theatre — and for good reason. Last year’s concert was great, and one of the major reasons — professional tenor Scott Piper — is coming back for an encore. (My take on last year’s concert is here.) He and soprano Laura Pedersen, backed by the Youth Philharmonic, will begin the concert with duets by Puccini and Verdi, then sing favorites from “West Side Story.”

I have four tickets to the 7 p.m. Sunday concert to give to one lucky Beehive reader. Here’s how this giveaway will work: Leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite song from “West Side Story.” I’ll pick the THIRD comment on this post as the winner. (Think of this like a call into a radio station contest.) I won’t publish any comments until we have our winner.

You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at Will Call on Sunday.

No repeat entries, please. Check your email soon after entering to see if you’re the winner. Complete rules are on the jump.

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Donald’s weekend picks

So many things to do, so little time … besides the following, be sure to check out our mammoth list of holiday-related concerts, plays and events …

1. HAVE YOURSELF A ‘WHITE CHRISTMAS’
Where can you get snowed on in Fresno? Best bet is Children’s Musical Theaterworks’ “White Christmas,” which opens Friday and continues through Dec. 15. This production is CMT’s annual community-theater offering with performers of all ages. Here’s a description from the company:

The beloved classic holiday movie comes to life onstage in this new musical sensation! Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, two iconic song-and-dance men, follow a sister act to Vermont, only to discover that the nearly-bankrupt lodge they were to perform at is owned by their former commanding general. White Christmas boasts such hits as “Blue Skies,” “I Love a Piano,” and “White Christmas” and is sure to be a Holiday treat for the whole family! All performances feature a “Snow Zone” in section “A” center seating audience members will be treated to a light snowfall. Directed by theater veteran Elizabeth Fiester, and featuring Nick Netzley, Dan Aldape, Heather Price, & Hannah Huyck. (Bee photo below by Craig Kohlruss) [Details]

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A stirring Youth Philharmonic Orchestra concert

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The scene: the Shaghoian Concert Hall on Sunday evening for the “Love Conquers All” dessert-auction fund raiser for the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. On stage: the 120 members of the advanced Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, looking elegantly older than their years in concert dress, with a nearly full house of family, friends and opera lovers in the audience.

On the podium: the always energetic Thomas Loewenheim, who manages to seem both crisply professional and indulgently paternalistic when it comes to contemplating his vast brood of budding musicians.

The entrance: First the orchestra performs the prelude to “Rigoletto.” Then, as the players strike up the opening notes of the famous aria “La donna e mobile” — if I could just hum a few bars in print I’m sure you’d instantly take up the tune — we hear the soloist, Scott Piper, from the back of the auditorium. He strides down the side aisle and then through the center of the house, voice booming, and as he passes directly in front of my seat, I swear I can actually feel the sound vibrations emanating from him. He’s like a human sub-woofer.

The energy: It’s palpable. Piper, an acclaimed professional singer, has a joyous, infectiously warm demeanor that makes clear he loves opera — and these kids. As for the musicians, accompanying opera singers is a tough business, and even when the orchestra sounds young in terms of musical texture and intonation, the attitude and self-confidence of the players is positively grown-up.

The diva: Layna Chianakas is on hand, too, making a fitting professional companion to Piper, pouring much more emotion and drama into her arias than you usually see in a concert setting.

The encore: After a boisterous finale of “Carmen,” Piper takes the stage one last time for the wildly popular “Nessun dorma.” He’s joined at the conclusion by Chianakas, ending the evening on a sweeping, extravagant note. For a concert built around an intermission bidding on fancy desserts, the folks with musical sweet tooths were the ones who walked out with the real sugar high.

Donald’s weekend picks

1. LOVE AND OPERA
Tenor Scott Piper headlines “Love Conquers All,” the fundraising concert by Youth Orchestras of Fresno. He’ll be joined by soprano Layna Chianakas and the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra for a program of arias and duets from favorite operas. 7 p.m. Sunday, Shaghoian Concert Hall. [Details]

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Donald’s weekend picks

So many events scheduled — how could you make them all?

1. TAKE A WHIRL WITH ‘THE TEMPEST’
This Fresno State production is top-notch. Here’s my full-length Beehive review; a condensed version appears in Friday’s 7 section. I know these are busy holiday times, but don’t miss it. There are just two performances left: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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For holiday and classical music, it’s a musical-marathon weekend

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It happens every year at this time: The first two weekends of December are stuffed with concerts and performances from virtually every musical ensemble in town. I wonder sometimes if all these groups are chasing the same audience, but that’s just the way it is. All you can do if you’re into this kind of music is prepare for a busy couple of days.

I have three stories recapping your holiday and classical options in Friday’s 7 section. The lead story is a conversation between San Joaquin Chorale conductor Roy Klassen and accompanist Kevin Memley, who composed an original piece for the ensemble’s Christmas concert.

If you’re looking for holiday-related concerts, my roundup lists five options:

  • The Fresno Choral Artists join with the Porterville College Choir for two full-scale performances of Handel’s “Messiah” with orchestra and soloists.
  • Soli Deo Gloria, a woman’s chorale, performs Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols.”
  • The Fresno Community Concert Band performs “A Most Wonderful Christmas.”
  • Musica Viva performs its annual Baroque Christmas program.
  • The Fresno State music department choirs present “Home for the Holidays.”

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Donald’s weekend picks

1. A SMOOCH FROM THE YOUTH PHILHARMONIC
Valentine’s Day weekend is jam-packed with worthwhile events, many of them benefits. (Mike and I write about eight of the options in Friday’s 7 cover story.) One concert that looks especially promising is “Love Conquers All,” a fund-raiser for the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. Guest artist and acclaimed tenor Scott Piper joins the orchestra in a selection of favorite romantic arias. A dessert auction following the concert will give you a chance to satisfy your sweet tooth as well. Below, Piper works with Henry Woolf and Sophia Liang.

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Notes from the arts and theater beats

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Lots of stuff to pass along to readers:

OFF TO BRAZIL: Andreas Werz, artistic director of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State, is one of nine judges at the 2010 Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition, which will be held Oct. 21-30. He writes:

The 20 pre-selected competitors come from the US, Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, and other countries around the world. I am looking forward to hearing many high level performances and am pleased to announce that the first prize winner will appear in recital during the 2011-2012 season of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series.

The next Keyboard Concerts performer is Barry Douglas, who performs Oct. 31.

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NOCO NEWS
: Amy Querin and her Fresno Dance Collective, or NOCO, have been busy recently. The company in September performed at the i-Dance Festival in Dallas where it premiered one of Querin’s new works, “Lilac Tree,” a rough-draft version of which was previewed at NOCO’s August event at the Fresno Art Museum. In October, Querin traveled to Cincinnati, where she set her newest work, “Intermittent Restraint,” on the Mam-Luft & Co. Dance company. There will be a double premiere of this work on Nov. 6, when Mam-Luft performs at a festival in Louisville, Ky., while NOCO performs in Fresno at the Central Valley Dance Festival at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

The next public NOCO performance is 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Fresno Art Museum when it presents a lecture/demonstration titled “Games You Can Dance To.” Tickets are $6.

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Mahler Symphony No. 1: more photos

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Young musicians don’t usually get the star treatment in the newspaper — that honor is most often reserved for high school and college students who demonstrate prowess with a football, not a bassoon — so it’s my pleasure in Sunday’s Spotlight section to devote four pages (including the cover) to the 150 elite musicians taking part in tonight’s massive Mahler concert at the Saroyan Theatre. The combined Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and the Fresno Youth Philharmonic (part of the Youth Orchestras of Fresno) will perform under the baton of Thomas Loewenheim. We didn’t have room in the paper for all the nice shots that Bee photographers John Walker and Darrell Wong took for the story, so I thought I’d post some here. Enjoy!

Above: violinist Annelise Bins.

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To-Do Tonight: Cirque de la Symphonie

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I just checked the Fresno Philharmonic’s ticket site, and there still seems to be a smattering of seats available for tonight’s big Cirque de la Symphonie show. This is the first time the orchestra has partnered with a Cirque-style acrobatic company before, and it should offer a welcome twist on the traditional holiday-concert format. I’ll be hoping that Ted Kuchar pulls some nifty Cirque moves himself — perhaps bungee-jumping from the balcony to the podium for his stage entrance?

Lots of other cultural offerings as well tonight and through the weekend, of course, including mucho theater. I’ve got a busy-busy-busy three days planned. Here’s my tentative schedule: Cirque de la Symphonie tonight, “Grasmere” at Fresno City College Saturday afternoon (and in just a few moments I’ll be posting a ticket-giveaway for that production), Christmas Tree Lane walk Saturday night, “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” at Fresno State Sunday afternoon, and the combined Fresno State Symphony/Youth Philharmonic Mahler concert Sunday evening. Then on Monday I recover from culture-overload-diabetic-shock.

Anyone else have a cultural mini-marathon planned this weekend?

New executive director named for Fresno Youth Orchestras

A local music news tidbit:

The Youth Orchestras of Fresno, a youth music organization that has served the Central Valley under various names for the past 59 years, announces the appointment of Julia Copeland as executive director. Copeland comes to Fresno from the Musical Arts Youth Orchestra in Bloomington, Ind., where she served in the same capacity

The first concert of the season will be a performance of the Mahler First Symphony combining the 100-strong Youth Philharmonic Orchestra with the 50-member Fresno State Symphony Orchestra. The concert is scheduled for Dec. 6 at 7:00pm at the Saroyan Theatre.