When Rei Hotoda was a little girl, she was a superb pianist, but she also wanted to be an ice skater. She reached the level where she was spending four hours a day on the ice practicing.
Then one day her mom told her she had to choose between piano and ice skating.
No problem, Hotoda told her mother. “Ice skating,” she said.
Her mom said, “OK, good. I’m glad you chose piano.”
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And that was that, Hotoda says with a laugh. (All these years later, she is very glad her mom made the decision for her.)
Hotoda, the associate conductor of the Utah Symphony, is the fifth of six candidates to audition for the role of music director/conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic. She spent the week meeting board members, musicians, the media and audience members, all leading up to a Sunday concert with him on the podium.
For our get-to-know-the-candidate lunch, we once again wanted something authentic, not swanky, so we picked El Premio Mayor Taqueria for premium Fresno tacos.
Our little lunch group with Hotoda on Wednesday included me, features editor Kathy Mahan, orchestra executive director Stephen Wilson and a special guest: E.J. Hinojosa, a recent Fresno Pacific University grad who works with the Bach Children’s Choir. Our discussion ranged from the complexity of Charles Ives to potatoes in burritos (she loves them).
You can check out part of our discussion on the following Facebook Live video:
Some highlights from our discussion:
Love of burritos: When she was growing up in Chicago, Hotoda’s parents owned a sushi restaurant. Next door was a Mexican restaurant, and she would sneak over and get a cheese or beef burrito. (She ordered a burrito at El Premio Mayor instead of tacos and seemed quite pleased with her choice.)
Where she lives: the smaller city of Morton, Ill., which is about two and a half hours from Chicago. She spends a lot of time in Salt Lake City, where she is associate conductor of the Utah Symphony. (The orchestra is what people call a 52-week orchestra, which means it operates year-round, just one of 15 in the country.)
On what a conductor’s role in the music-making process: “I think conducting in so many ways is who you are as a person. Every person who gets up there and does it, the orchestra will sound totally different. You’ll have five different conductors doing the same excerpt, and it will be night and day.”
On promoting the work of women composers: “It’s a drive for me.”
Favorite food: Right now she’s really into Vietnamese food. (She loves sushi, of course, but she doesn’t cook Japanese food -- it’s too much preparation time.)
What she’s listening to in her car: Ed Sheeran.
Disneyland vs. Yosemite: She’s an outdoor person, so it’d be Yosemite all the way. “I feel inspired by nature. I feel a nice peace and calm. One of my most memorable moments: I’d had a really busy season, and my husband took me fishing in the middle of the Mississippi on a boat, and it was dusk, and the fish were biting.”
She sometimes plays the piano and conducts at the same time: “It’s a marrying of the two disciplines that I have a passion for. As a performer it’s like the ultimate chamber music experience to work with an orchestra and be playing as a soloist … It’s intense. Often times I’ll be nodding with my head while I’m playing, cuing in the oboe back there. My neck gets a little stiff the next day, but it’s exciting for me to do.”