About a week and a half ago I had a transcendent classical music experience. The artist was Janai Brugger, a Metropolitan Opera singer and winner of the Kennedy Center’s 2016 Marian Anderson Award. She kicked off Fresno Pacific University’s Pacific Artist Series with one of those glorious concerts you muse about afterward for days.
Here’s how I described her voice in my review: “Pure. Tender. Powerful. At times silky smooth, at others almost husky. Gauzy and nostalgic. Sturdy and reverential. Giddy. Saucy. Proclamatory. Very, very soft: a pianissimo that felt as if it slipped away till nothing.”
As I sit down to write this list of recommended highlights from the upcoming classical music season, it struck me that there are multiple opportunities for listeners to stumble upon other such memorable moments. There’s so much variety from which to choose – so many outstanding guest artists, so many great works being played. The following list is not comprehensive. I’ll let the websites of the various performing arts groups handle that. But here are some events that merit special notice.
▪ Sameer Patel conducting the Fresno Philharmonic. Oct. 2, Saroyan Theatre. Patel, the assistant conductor of the San Diego Symphony, gets top billing on this item by virtue of being the first of six conductors to audition for the role of the orchestra’s new music director. The orchestra’s entire 2016-17 season is devoted to the job search to replace Maestro Theodore Kuchar, who stepped down in May after 15 years. Each candidate will be in town for roughly a week before his or her concert to meet the orchestra board’s search committee, the musicians and the community, and I’ll be there to help in the introduction process. Season: www.fresnophil.org.
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▪ Heidi Blickenstaff singing with the Fresno Philharmonic. Dec. 3, Saroyan Theatre. Look for a triumphant homecoming from this Broadway star, who just came off a year-long run in the acclaimed show “Something Rotten!” She returns for the orchestra’s annual “Home for the Holidays” concert.
▪ “Our Town,” Fresno Grand Opera. Jan. 28-29, Fresno Memorial Auditorium. Thornton Wilder’s classic play gets the operatic treatment in a venue departure for the company, which will present it in the intimate Memorial Auditorium (and give it two performances rather than the single performance normally scheduled for the Saroyan Theatre). It’s part of a season devoted to the central San Joaquin Valley, culminating May 6 with “Of Mice and Men.” Plus: For one of the top social events of the season, don’t miss the company’s season-opening gala Sept. 23 at Frank’s Place featuring noted composer Ricky Ian Gordon. Season: www.fresnograndopera.org.
▪ Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale performing the Bach B-minor Mass. April 30, Shaghoian Hall. Conductor Anna Hamre calls this the “Pantheon of classical music, so we are excited.” Other highlights from the season include a special Dia de los Muertos concert Oct. 30 and “Messiah” Nov. 19-20 with Hamre conducting the Fresno Philharmonic. Season: www.fresnocommunitychorus.org.
▪ Narek Hakhnazaryan performs with Keyboard Concerts. Jan. 29, Fresno State Concert Hall. Winner of the gold medal at the 2011 Tchaikovsky International Cello Competition in Moscow, Hakhnazaryan joins pianist Noreen Polera in a special concert for the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series. Another impressive name in the series: Vinia Tsopelas, on Nov. 18, is the first Greek pianist to play in 25 years. Season: www.keyboardconcerts.com.
▪ Moment Musical opening concert. Sept. 18, Westminster Presbyterian Church. If you’ve never attended this chamber-music series of lively “Sunday Serenades,” they’re a melodic way to spend an afternoon. The opening concert in the series includes Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” a symphonic poem for a small chamber orchestra of 13 players. Season: 559-439-1890.
▪ Phaze Theory Collective. Oct. 13, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. Fresno’s newest chamber music group presents “Studies in Contrast” featuring San Francisco-area musicians Jesse Nucho on flute and Patrick Smith on guitar. The group promises an eclectic lineup of concerts in the season ahead. Season: www.phazetheory.com.
▪ Eighth Annual Chamber Music Concert. Sept. 18, First Congregational Church of Fresno. Musicians Gina Fazio, Matthew Horton, Robert Maldonado, Kendra Morrison and Scott Horton will perform. Season: 559-227-8489.
▪ Youth Orchestras of Fresno with the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. Oct. 28, Saroyan Theatre. The Los Angeles orchestra will stop here on its way to San Francisco as part of its 10th-anniversary tour in a concert “meant to spark discussion about music-as-social-justice and the potential application, here in the Central Valley, of the ideas powering the L.A. Philharmonic’s YOLA program,” executive director Julia Copeland says. Looking ahead: Guitarist Daniel Bolshoy joins the Fresno group Feb. 12 for the “Love Conquers All” fundraiser. Season: www.youthorchestrasfresno.org.
▪ Fresno State Children’s Opera. Nov. 19, Woodward Park Regional Library. In its inaugural season, the new touring group will perform a commissioned opera, “Lucinda y las Flores de la Nochebuena,” in several public performances (including the library) and thousands of schoolchildren. Season: www.fresnostate.edu/artshum/music/concerts.
▪ Fresno State Symphony Orchestra’s “Die Fledermaus,” April 21 and 23, Fresno State Concert Hall. A fully staged production with the Fresno State Opera Theatre. Earlier in the season: The orchestra on Nov. 12 will perform a rare work by Florent Schmitt, “La Tragedie de Salome.” Season: www.fresnostate.edu/artshum/music/concerts.
▪ Vladimir Horowitz Piano Celebration. Sept. 23, Fresno City College Old Administration Building Auditorium. Students and faculty will perform on Horowitz’s historic piano. Season: www.fresnocitycollege.edu.