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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Music director finalist Rei Hotoda leads Spokane Symphony in works by Korngold, Shostakovich

Music director finalist Rei Hotoda is the music director of the Fresno Philharmonic. (Courtesy photo)

Right off the bat, Spokane presented itself well.

Not even a full 24 hours into her visit to Spokane, music director finalist Rei Hotoda had already been invigorated by members of the community she’d met and their eagerness to make things happen in town.

And the weather had even held out enough for the outdoorsy Hotoda to get a chance to walk through Riverfront Park and see the Spokane Falls.

But while touring the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, Hotoda was all business, asking general manager Brian Ritter about how audiences took to past programs and his thoughts on a variety of potential programs.

“That speaks to the community,” Hotoda said. “If I know those things, then I could think about what other concerts would work here.”

Those are the sort of things Hotoda is keeping in mind during her week with the symphony, which culminates in her conducting “Classics 7: Korngold and Shostakovich” on Saturday and Sunday.

Hotoda is the third of five finalists to try out for the role of music director. Finalist Morihiko Nakahara, who is also resident conductor of the symphony, auditioned in October, and finalist James Lowe led the symphony in February.

Hotoda is the music director of the Fresno Philharmonic and is the former associate conductor of the Utah Symphony and former assistant conductor for the Dallas Symphony.

She studied conducting at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore and holds a bachelor of music in piano performance from the Eastman School of Music and a doctor of musical arts in piano performance from the University of Southern California.

Hotoda has guest conducted with symphonies across North America, including the symphony orchestras of Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Toronto, Utah, Fort Worth, Winnipeg and Colorado.

Hotoda was interested in applying for the music director position because she’d heard wonderful things about both the symphony and the organization. She was also excited for the opportunity to be inspired by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

She knows her time with the symphony is short, but she’s excited to work together towards the common goal of creating “wonderful energy and communication that happens through the music and ultimately (projecting) it to the audience.”

“We want to put our best foot forward so whatever takes us to that end goal is where we need to go this week,” she said.

When preparing for this weekend’s concerts, Hotoda selected the opening piece, Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Musica Celestis.”

Kernis, Hotoda said, was inspired by chants written by a medieval composer named Hildegard of Bingen.

“It’s so amazing because it sounds like time has frozen,” Hotoda said. “You can’t really hear the pulse of the piece until the middle section, where there’s all these scale-like passages and all the strings are playing 16th notes really fast and really loud. But even then, it’s like this racing towards heaven. The whole piece is based on medieval music … It’s evoking the past but in a language of the future.”

“Classics 7” also features guest violinist Angelo Xiang Yu performing Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto.

Korngold wrote movie music in Hollywood in the ’30s – he won an Oscar for his score to 1936’s “Anthony Adverse” – after immigrating from Europe. He pulled music from his various film scores and incorporated them into this concerto.

“I always think of it like if John Williams wrote a violin concerto today,” Hotoda said. “It’s like film music but heightened because he’s got such an amazing training as a composer in Europe.”

The concert closes with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8, which Hotoda said isn’t often performed.

“Symphony No. 7 and Symphony No. 8 were written around World War II and really say so much about humanity,” Hotoda said. “It’s an epic novel to take in. It goes through everything, the human condition, the whole gamut of it. It’s so powerful.”

Hotoda is passionate about community engagement and ensuring everyone has access to the arts and doesn’t shy away from collaborations and experimental projects.

As music director, Hotoda would hope to bring more of the symphony to the community and vice versa.

“I want the Spokane Symphony to have relevance in its community, and the way to do that is through partnerships and collaborations and innovative programming…” she said. “It is trial by fire, but I think if we have the support of the community and we are engaged with the community, I think it’s a win-win situation. And never compromising artistically doing those things. Really, the sky’s the limit.”