Fresno Philharmonic debuts piece from Fresno Pacific prof’s new CD

By wayne.steffen on October 7, 2015 @ 3:00pm
Group photo: Liu, Saul, Buswell, and Kuchar

The talents of a composer, conductor and musicians have come together in a CD of new music and a world debut performance.

The Fresno Philharmonic will premiere Kiev 2014: Rhapsody for Oboe and Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. October 17, and 3:00 p.m. October 18 in Paul Shaghoian Hall, 2770 E. International Ave., Fresno. The composition is by Walter Saul, D.M.A., professor of music at Fresno Pacific University and the orchestra will be under the baton of its music director, Maestro Theodore Kuchar. More at

The performance is a celebration of Kiev 2014: Orchestral Works by Walter Saul, a new CD by Naxos, to be released Tuesday, October 13, 2015. Part of the “American Classics” series, the CD will be available at the concert. Naxos is the world’s largest classical music label, with more than 2,500 current titles. See

Lunch with a purpose
Want to create a classical music CD? Chinese food is one way to start.

Kuchar first brought up the idea over lunch with Saul in May 2014 at Shanghai Cuisine on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno. The pair had struck up an acquaintance backstage at philharmonic concerts and the combination was fortuitous from the start. Kuchar is the most-recorded conductor of his generation, with more than 100 CDs on several labels. Saul has won national honors for his compositions, including 24 ASCAP awards, and released four previous CDs since 1998.

That meal stretched into coffees, telephone calls and emails as the project took shape. Saul, with suggestions from Kuchar, approached Naxos President Klaus Heymann and the recording deal was worked out by the end of the month. Kuchar saw merit in Saul’s work and wanted to advocate for him. “You are only as good as the opportunities that are given to you. I wanted to do what was in my ability to help him,” Kuchar said.

Next up, choosing an orchestra. In addition to conducting the Fresno Philharmonic, Kuchar is also music director of the Janacek Philharmonic in the Czech Republic, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela and the Reno Chamber Orchestra in Nevada. He has also been principal conductor and artistic director for the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, where he remains conductor laureate for life. After discussions, they went with Ukraine.

Then came the soloists. “Ted told me he knew a phenomenal oboist who was really going places,” Saul said of Rong-Huey Liu, then a member of the Fresno Philharmonic and other orchestras. She earned her D.M.A. from the University of Southern California and teaches at several Los Angeles-area colleges.

For the violinist, Saul picked James Buswell from four candidates, but the agreement wasn’t completed until early July due to Buswell’s packed schedule. On the New England Conservatory faculty for more than 25 years, Buswell has performed with virtually every major orchestra in North America, as well as throughout Europe, Asia, South America and Australia.

Across the ocean into the studio
With airline tickets to Kiev for composer and wife, Daphne, conductor and soloists purchased by the end of July 2014, the concern became whether tension among Ukraine, Russia, Western Europe and the United States would undo everything. The group left December 15, 2015, and arrived late the next evening for three days of recordings, coming back December 22. Meanwhile Saul still had a full class schedule. “I almost didn’t make it. I was turning in final grades from Paris,” he said.

In the studio Kuchar and the orchestra broke the six pieces—representing all of Saul’s orchestral work—into segments of a minute or two each to rehearse and record in four-six takes. Sections where the soloist and orchestra performed together were recorded with everyone playing at once without overdubbing. Extended solos were recorded without the orchestra, then edited into the whole. Saul sat close to Kuchar on the podium and let him know if something was wrong. He didn’t have to say much. “The orchestra was nailing it right out of the gate,” Saul said.

Kuchar said the same of Saul. “The work was so well constructed, the parts were so well prepared, there was not a single issue,” he said.  

The last session finished a half hour early at 10:00 p.m. December 21—time for Saul to repay Kuchar and Rong-Huey Liu with a pizza. Saul enjoyed the Ukrainian capital, where he could take five people to dinner for $18 US. “I was most astonished at the traffic in Kiev; sidewalks often double as parking places and cars pull up right in front of you,” he said. Fortunately there are many underground sidewalks and shops.

The finished product
After the recording came the editing, with materials going back and forth between the engineers in Kiev, Saul and Kuchar in Fresno and sometimes the soloists, wherever they were. Naxos did the cover and packaging.

Both principal creators felt their lunchtime discussion paid off. “It exceeded my expectations by far,” Kuchar said.

“It went amazingly smoothly,” Saul said. “There were so many areas we could have had a catastrophe.”

On the CD are:

  • Kiev 2014 (2014) is a rhapsody for oboe and orchestra reflecting on the history, challenges and hope for the Ukraine in the 21st century.

  • Concerto For Violin And Orchestra (1980) is in two movements, one reflecting on the trinity and the other on God’s people, represented by the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Disciples of Christ.

  • Overture for the Jubilee was written in 1997 for the 50th anniversary of the Quincy (IL) Symphony Orchestra.

  • From Life To Greater Life (1978) celebrates the transformation of life through death into the eternal life promised by Christ in the Scriptures.

  • < > (1974) was Saul’s first work as a believer in Jesus Christ as savior and lord.

    A Christmas Symphony (1992) was commissioned by the Mt. Hood Pops Orchestra in Portland, OR, in celebration of its 10th anniversary.

PHOTO: From left--Rong-Huey Liu, Walter Saul, James Buswell and Theodore Kuchar (Courtesy of The Fresno Bee)