On Sunday, April 24, he’ll do it for the last time as music director at a Masterworks concert. (He still has one pops concert, on May 15, to go.)
It’ll be a special day, no question.
One that he thought a lot about beforehand.
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“It’s all music that I believe in very strongly,” Kuchar says of the program.
Rather than a mere greatest-hits approach, the conductor – who prided himself on introducing to Fresno audiences more than just the basic classical-music repertoire – picked three pieces that each suggest something significant about his tenure. Here’s a rundown:
Kalinnikov’s Symphony No. 1
Your first thought might be, Kalinni-who? Kuchar isn’t closing out his tenure with a Beethoven or Brahms. Vasily Kalinnikov, a Russian composer who died in 1901, isn’t a household name.
“He is absolutely unknown to people of this generation,” Kuchar says.
That wasn’t always the case. Kalinnikov’s two symphonies used to be very popular in the first half of the 20th century.
Thus, the piece fits into Kuchar’s legacy in several ways:
▪ It’s a nod to Kuchar’s distinguished international conducting career outside his Fresno Philharmonic responsibilities – including his permanent posts over the years in Ukraine, the Orquestra Sinfonica di Venezuela, the Reno Chamber Orchestra, and dozens of guest conducting gigs around the world – all of which brought a cosmopolitan element to Fresno.
▪ It’s a piece he recorded, signifying his extensive career recording for the Naxos label. The classical-music business is about connections, and Kuchar has brought many guest artists to Fresno over the years because of those connections.
▪ It’s a lush, beautiful piece in the Russian Romantic tradition, one of Kuchar’s strengths, and easy to love. Kuchar describes it as probably one of the most accessible pieces an audience can hear on a first listening.
▪ It hasn’t been performed by the Fresno Philharmonic. Kuchar has tried, within the limits of still having to think of the box office, to expand Fresno’s musical horizons.
Dvorak’s ‘Biblical Songs’
Simply put: Kuchar loves Dvorak. A final concert wouldn’t be complete without the composer. When Kuchar conducted this piece for the first time, in Dresden, Germany, “I had tears in my eyes,” he says. This will be the Fresno Philharmonic premiere.
Antonin Dvorak, from what is now the Czech Republic, lived and wrote in the United States for several years, and along with his famed “New World” symphony produced other works with an American flavor. “Biblical Songs” is one of those works.
Kelley O’Connor, the Clovis native who has crafted a significant international career as a mezzo-soprano, will sing with the orchestra. She has performed with the orchestra before, thus a recognition in this last concert of Kuchar’s past, and he introduced her to “Biblical Songs,” building on his role of expanding musical horizons not only for audiences but musicians as well. The two talked about doing the piece together one day.
Prokofiev’s ‘Alexander Nevsky’
Finally, Kuchar wants to end his Fresno Masterworks career with a big choral number – what he calls a “sonic showstopper.” Not only will the performance of “Alexander Nevsky” showcase the musicality of the orchestra, it also is a nod to Kuchar’s happy collaboration with Anna Hamre and her Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale.
“Were it not for her, I could never begin to program these complex works,” Kuchar says of Hamre. “This collaboration has proved to be one off the staples of the orchestra’s existence in the last 15 years.”
“Alexander Nevsky” was one of the first great collaborations between a composer and a film director, in this case the celebrated Sergei Eisenstein, for the 1938 film. Sergei Prokofiev wrote more than two hours of music for the film, but he condensed it down to a seven-movement suite. The music calls for a mezzo-soprano solo, and O’Connor will deliver that as well.
There’s a bit of greatest-hits feel to this part of the program because Kuchar conducted “Alexander Nevsky” 12 years ago in Fresno. And in that sense, the concert will come full circle.
“It is unquestionably one of Prokofiev’s largest and most spectacular works,” Kuchar says.
A 15-year run of expanding Fresno’s musical horizons doesn’t deserve anything less.
Fresno Philharmonic’s Alexander Nevsky
- 3 p.m. Sunday, April 24
- Saroyan Theatre,
- 700 M St.
- www.fresnophil.org, 559-261-0600