Today, the Fresno Philharmonic, and music director Rei Hotoda, announced the launch of Cultural Crossroads, a new multi-season series of commissions exploring and celebrating the diverse cultures of the Fresno region. A central aspect of the vision for Cultural Crossroads is collaboration with community-based organizations, artists and culture bearers in the presentation of new works by emerging California composers.
The inaugural Cultural Crossroads project features a first-time collaboration with the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music (GLFCAM). Called Cultural Crossroads: Kisetsu (“seasons” in Japanese), the centerpiece of this first project is the commission of a new work by composers Hitomi Oba and Erika Oba based on the life and writings of David “Mas” Masumoto, a Central Valley writer and organic peach farmer.
The texts by Mas Masumoto, which serve as the inspiration for this new musical work, tell the story of Japanese immigration to the U.S. through the experiences of four generations of Japanese women – Issei, Nisei, Sansei and Yonsei – interweaving themes of time, nature and memory. Mas Masumoto is an organic peach and grape farmer and the author of twelve books including: Epitaph for a Peach, Wisdom of the Last Farmer, Heirlooms, Letters to the Valley, Four Seasons in Five Senses, Harvest Son, Country Voices, and Silent Strength. He, along with his wife, Marcy, and daughter, Nikiko, published a family farm cookbook, The Perfect Peach in 2013. His newest books include Secret Harvests: A Hidden Story of Separation and Resilience on a Family Farm (2023 Red Hen Press), Changing Season, A Father, A Daughter, A Family Farm (2016, Heyday Books) and A Sense of Yosemite (2016 with Nancy Robbins, photographer, Yosemite Conservancy).
California based sisters Hitomi Oba and Erika Oba are both graduates of GLFCAM, which was founded by noted composer Gabriela Lena Frank to nurture the next generation of composers. The Fresno Philharmonic and GLFCAM are jointly commissioning the new work and Ms. Frank is serving as a mentor to the composers throughout the project. During the course of the project the Fresno Philharmonic will give three workshop readings of the work in progress to assist the composers in creating the new piece. The first workshop reading took place in November 2023.
Cultural Crossroads: Kisetsu culminates with the world premiere of the new work on February 15 and 16, 2025 as part of the Fresno Philharmonic’s 70th Anniversary season. The premiere coincides with the annual February 19 Day of Remembrance of Executive Order 9066 which led to the unjust internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Support for the Cultural Crossroads: Kisetsu project is provided by the JA Community Foundation, Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, Dr. & Mrs. Bernard K. Karian, John and Pam Lamborn, Mrs. Patricia Libby, Dr. J.D. Northway and Justus and Elizabeth Schlichting.
Fresno Philharmonic Music Director Rei Hotoda said, “With the Kisetsu project, the Fresno Philharmonic is expanding its efforts to reach across the Central Valley’s cultures with music and its commitment to developing the next generation of orchestra composers. As a first generation Japanese American this project is very personal for me. Ever since meeting Mas Masumoto and his family, I have wanted to find a way to capture in music the history he embodies and keeps alive in his writing.”
Composer Gabriela Lena Frank said,“GLFCAM is thrilled to collaborate with the Fresno Philharmonic in commissioning the talented Oba sisters in honoring California’s rich cultural and environmental history. We appreciate the generous workshops and readings of the new work-in-progress and the creative approach to storytelling afforded to our esteemed composers. We applaud this approach by the Fresno Philharmonic, eminently 21st century and inviting to all cultural witnesses.“
About Hitomi Oba
Hailed by the LA Times as a “powerfully inventive” and “remarkably versatile L.A. musician with a penchant for crossing all over the musical place,” saxophonist and composer Hitomi Oba’s work emphasizes the integration of improvisation with pre-composed music.
She has written for and performed in various jazz and classical new music settings, including commissions by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella series and the Seattle Symphony’s chamber series, and as a member of Kenny Burrell’s Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited and the Jon Jangtet. In addition to leading her own ensembles, ranging from trios to big band, Oba is a co-founder of the new music collective, LA Signal Lab, premiering and recording stylistically diverse new music including a collaborative, multi-genre cantata. Her second jazz album, “Negai,” released under Japanese label M&I and distributor Pony Canyon, received a prestigious “Swing Journal 42nd Annual Jazz Disc Award.” Her most recent album, “Water Stem,” was released from Asian Improv Records in May 2023.
Originally from Berkeley, CA, Oba is currently based in Los Angeles, teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles directing several progressive and exploratory jazz ensembles, teaching jazz saxophone lessons, and developing and teaching multi-genre music theory curricula. Oba was previously a faculty member at Cal State Los Angeles and Pasadena City College and presents masterclasses and workshops on improvisation, composition, and saxophone at various institutions.
About Erika Oba
Erika Oba is a composer, pianist/flutist, and educator based in the SF Bay Area. As a composer she has written works for big band, small jazz ensembles, chamber groups, dance and theater. She is active as a performer on both piano and flute, and performs with her own groups the Erika Oba Trio, Ends Meat’ Catastrophe Jazz Ensemble, Rice Kings, and The Sl(e)ight Ensemble. She has also performed with the Hitomi Oba Ensemble, Peter Apfelbaum’s Sparkler, Jason Levis and Lisa Mezzacappa’s Duo B Experimental Band, and many other jazz and experimental bands in the Bay Area. In 2021, she was one of the performers in the premiere performance of Meredith Monk’s Indra’s Net. She has worked as a dance accompanist for Mills College and Berkeley Ballet Theater, and is currently a resident music director with Berkeley Playhouse’s Youth Conservatory Program. In addition to her own private teaching studio, she is a private jazz piano instructor for UC Berkeley’s Music Department.
Past artistic projects include a collaboration with choreographer Sammay Dizon, through the Red Poppy Art House’s inaugural Crossover Residency program in 2016. She was a performer fellow with Giant Steps Music Action Lab in 2017, during which she collaborated with an international group of musicians and recorded the album What If. In 2018, she was a composer fellow with the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music and worked with the Del String Quartet. She was the recipient of a 2019 Civics Art Grant from the City of Berkeley, and collaborated with playwright Weston Scott to write an original musical. She is a 2023 fellow in the inaugural cohort of the Asian Improv Arts Fellowship program.
As an artist, she is interested in exploring ritual, diasporic identities, and community through performance. She received her BM in Jazz Piano Performance from Oberlin Conservatory and her MA in Music Composition from Mills College.
About Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music
Founded in 2017 by internationally acclaimed composer and pianist Gabriela Lena Frank, GLFCAM helps composers of any aesthetic and demographic, and from emerging through mid-career levels, to develop self-determined 21st century lives. GLFCAM’s mission centers on the creative habit, community, and eco-citizenship, forming years-long relationships with composers. As a result, composers are provided a rich array of opportunities such as collaborating on new works with renowned performer-mentors; taking online classes and practicums; composing large scale symphonies under fair commission rates with readings of the work-in-progress; teaching in youth music programs in underserved rural areas; participating in a multi-year peer-supported study group on climate intelligence and the arts; and becoming skilled communicators – cultural witnesses – in both spoken and written word. GLFCAM alumni are leading composers in the international music fields as well as teachers and professors, non-profit administrators, therapists, hospice workers, and civic volunteers.