Fresno ensemble heads to Carnegie Hall

By | December 12, 2012 | News (2)


From Fresno to Carnegie Hall and Beyond

Lawrence Sutherland, Fresno State professor of music, had visited New York City with the university’s wind ensemble in 1996. When the group became lost, Sutherland asked the doorman at its stately hotel, “How do we get to Carnegie Hall?”  The doorman replied, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Sutherland appeared as a guest conductor Saturday night, at the Fresno City College Old Administration Building, to help one of his favorite students, Dale Engstrom. Engstrom, now the FCC director of bands, is about to embark on his own journey to The Big Apple.

“The last time I stepped on this stage was back in 1972, just before they shut this building down,” Sutherland said. “They have done an amazing job of restoring the charm it once had.”

The FCC Wind Ensemble performed a holiday benefit concert Saturday, as it prepared to embark on its biggest road trip, culminating with a performance at Carnegie Hall. The performance in the New York International Music Festival is in April. Saturday’s event helped raise money for travel.

During intermission, the audience was encouraged to bid on donated items like gift baskets filled with chocolates, exotic coffees, and delectable wines from many vintners around the Valley. Service vouchers and even a Lasik eye surgery procedure were offered to the highest bidders. All proceeds went to the cause.

Engstrom earned his bachelor’s in music education and his master’s in music performance at Fresno State, under of Sutherland’s guidence. Sutherland had opened many doors for Engstrom over the years. They both played for many popular bands: the Temptations, the Four Tops, Mel Torme, and Johnny Mathis.

Engstrom was having coffee with Sutherland after a performance in 2010 and they agreed on how good the wind ensemble had become. Sutherland joked that maybe someday they would get to Carnegie Hall. The two looked at each other, and a dream was born.

Sutherland, who is retired, is the current director of the UCLA Wind Ensemble. He still manages to direct the World Projects’ International Band and Orchestra Festivals at Carnegie Hall in New York and Disney Hall in Los Angeles.

“Of course it took two years of badgering him (Engstrom) to get him to finally give in,” Sutherland said. “Looks like I will be packing my bags, too. This time, I will be the proud papa.”

Engstrom has had an enormous amount of help from fellow educators, parents and the community. A huge outpouring of support from businesses, alumni and the students themselves has raised a considerable amount of money.

“The sheer impact this has had on the students, and the whole experience, is wonderful. I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything else these past five months,” Engstrom said. “I’m looking forward to the break.”

Maile Glover-Martin, who works in FCC student activities, organized the benefit event. She was pleased to inform the audience that the bidding was brisk and friendly.

The concert began with a brief introduction by FCC president Tony Cantu, who praised the students for their resolve.   The ensemble kicked off the night with a festive rendition of Gallante’s “Resplendent Glory.”

Fresno State alumnus Larry Honda gave the collaboration another boost of energy as he gave a guest solo performance on “Serenade for Alto Sax,” by Bencriscutto. Honda, FCC music department chairman, will be accompanying the group to Carnegie, to play first chair clarinet in the ensemble.

“I never think about jazz when I’m playing classical. My classical mindset just kicks in,” Honda said. “Many students and educators get boxed into a certain niche, whether it’s classical or bebop or jazz. Many students and even educators aren’t aware that their classical upbringing doesn’t mean they have to stay within that niche.”

Ross Williams, an FCC sophomore, has been playing alto saxophone for 12 years. He enjoys classical, but doesn’t shut the door on jazz and other genres.

“When I want to relax and stretch out, I put on some jazz,” Williams said. “You know, John Coltrane, maybe some Chris Potter.”

Williams was skeptical when he had first heard of the planned trip to New York. A few years ago, the entourage was to travel to Ireland for a music festival performance.

“There was no funding, and a lack of commitment, and too expensive. This time the planning was excellent. I can’t wait,” Williams said.  “Obviously, Carnegie Hall is the goal of every musician.”

Students from both Fresno State and FCC are aware of the close relationship within their respective music departments. Some educators at FCC are alumni and former students, while many students at Fresno State came through the FCC program as well as the Fresno Youth Orchestras.

FCC alumnus Phillip Kern, a member of the Fresno State Symphonic Orchestra, attended the benefit. Kern, who is also a photographer, has had many photos published in the FCC Rampage, the school newspaper. Perched in the balcony of the Old Administration Building, Kern was impressed with the acoustics and ambience of the venue.

“This is the first concert I have attended here, since the restoration was complete last year,” Kern said. “The visuals and acoustics compliment the performance.”

FCC student Glenn Sabal plays oboe in the wind ensemble, and last week, performed with Kern and his fellow musicians at the Saroyan Theatre with the combined performance of the Fresno State Symphony and the Fresno Youth Orchestras.

“I was actually a guest performer for the concert,” Sabal said. “It only took one phone call from our community data base. I was the only oboe player available.”

There is no doubt the trip will be expensive.  Engstrom had originally set a goal of $100,000 for the 60-person entourage.

The ensemble will play a 45-minute set at Carnegie Hall on April 10, on the Isaac Stern Auditorium stage. It will later appear at a music festival in Central Park during the whirlwind week.

Kai Howard, 21, has played trumpet for eight years, and is in his fifth season with the wind ensemble. He has high praise for Engstrom, saying that he has chosen one of the best playlists that he has seen at FCC.

“Engstrom’s selection of music should be commended,” Howard said. “He also is committed to putting the best product on stage, as well as his student’s academic success. He really knows his stuff.”

The finished product was a resounding success on Saturday night. Engstrom was joined by Honda and Sutherland for a final bow. Engstrom lifted his baton one last time, and led the FCC Wind ensemble into a rousing arrangement of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”

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