Valley Voices

Glorious music, and learning, occurs in the Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy

Participants in the Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy rehearse a piece to be performed.
Participants in the Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy rehearse a piece to be performed. Courtesy

A magical symphony of sound echoed through the halls of the Music Department at Fresno State recently as hundreds of students converged upon the campus for the seventh annual Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy Festival.

The Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy (FOOSA) is a two-week intensive program that focuses on strings, brass and percussion instruments with daily instruction and performance opportunities for students of all ages. For the younger and/or less experienced musicians, the festival offers a half-day program. It attracts students of violin, viola, cello, double bass and harp. The FOOSA Philharmonic includes musicians from high school through graduate students performing alongside Fresno State music faculty, members of the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra and world-renowned musicians.

Clarice Krikorian, a member of the Arts and Humanities Advisory Board at Fresno State and Summer Arts Community Board. Fresno Bee file Courtesy

The brainchild of Thomas Loewenheim (music and artistic director) and Julia Copeland (executive ddirector), the academy expanded after establishing its roots in the 2010 CSU Summer Arts “String and Piano Intensive” course at Fresno State. The course was so successful that Loewenheim, along with his colleague, Julia, felt Fresno deserved to have a recurring summer program to benefit students and the community. The festival became a project of Youth Orchestras of Fresno and the Fresno State Department of Music. It debuted in 2013 as an opera and orchestra festival with the collaboration of internationally renowned tenor, Scott Piper. Originally called the Fresno Opera and Orchestra Summer Academy, it retained the title, FOOSA, despite dropping opera from its curriculum.

In the past several years, word of the festival has spread across the nation and throughout the world, attracting a diverse group of students and instructors to the central San Joaquin Valley. This year, more than 18 countries and 17 states were represented by participating students and faculty, generating a boost of tourism for Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley.

During the two-week program, festival attendees performed in student showcases, attended a faculty concert and many auditioned in a concerto competition. The festival culminated in an exciting performance at the famed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. This year’s concert was titled, “Triumph of the Human Spirit,” and featured Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathhustra and Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony No. 7. The FOOSA Philharmonic, under the baton of Loewenheim, performed to a full house. A repeat performance of the concert was held at People’s Church in Fresno and opened with the half-day students performing Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major. The FOOSA 2019 concerto competition winner, Hanna Zhdan, gave a stunning performance of Jules Conus’ Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 1. Ms. Zhdan (23) was born in Minsk, Belarus, and is currently a master’s of music candidate at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, where she studies with Martin Beaver.

This season was particularly meaningful to Loewenheim as he welcomed Emanual Gruber, a professor of cello and chamber music at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. A world-renowned musician, recording artist, and teacher, Gruber was once a cello professor in Jerusalem where Loewenheim was his student. Professor Gruber shared his knowledge and professional insights with the FOOSA students, which included Loewenheim’s young son, and performed with the orchestra while Loewenheim conducted.

Loewenheim believes music is the path to world peace. “I see music as a medium that brings people together like no other medium does. It is nonverbal and a barrier breaker and focuses on working together toward a common goal. My vision is to bring the world to Fresno and Fresno to the world with the focus on Fresno.” He hopes the festival will become a major event in the city upon the completion of the future Performing Arts Center at Fresno State.

The caliber of talent this program brings to Fresno is phenomenal. We are fortunate to have access to such amazing opportunities in our community. If you didn’t attend any of the performances this year, plan to next year. Performances are free and open to the public. Donations are always welcomed.

For more information on FOOSA, go to their website

Clarice Krikorian is a retired registered nurse. She is a member of the Arts and Humanities Advisory Board at Fresno State and Summer Arts Community Board.