Guest Conductor Rei Hotoda to present John Williams: A Symphonic Celebration

This article is published in partnership with VOICE Magazine

By Daisy Scott, VOICE Magazine

Waving the wand to create a generation of music, John Williams has defined and redefined himself as a dynamic composer and musical world-builder. Bridging the realms of pop culture and classical music traditions, Williams made the galaxies of Star Wars, the velociraptors of Jurassic Park, and the jungles of Indiana Jones come alive for movie-goers everywhere.

“I think that maybe 200 years from now, John Williams will be regarded as one of the most important 21st-century American composers of our time,” said Rei Hotoda, Music Director of the Fresno Philharmonic, in an interview with VOICE. “His music is really the fabric of our society.”

The Santa Barbara Symphony will pay tribute to the incomparable composer’s legacy by performing John Williams: A Symphonic Celebration at the Granada Theatre at 7:30pm on Saturday, March 18th, and at 3pm on Sunday, March 19th.

Leading the charge of this cinematic concert will be Guest Conductor Rei Hotoda. Labeled an “inexhaustible dynamo,” for 18 years Hotoda has guest conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, among dozens of other orchestras nationwide. One element rests at the core of each of these experiences: trust.

“It’s kind of like a first date,” laughed Hotoda. “You’re kind of curious about each other, you get to know each other, and then you feel, are there commonalities? Are there differences, and how do we approach those differences in making music together? I find it to be an incredible creative process that I enjoy very much.”

Music has shaped the entire course of Hotoda’s life. Her mother taught her how to play the piano when she was three years old, launching a lifelong passion that inspired Hotoda to earn her doctorate degree in piano performance from the University of Southern California. When she tried her hand at conducting full orchestras, she knew she had found her true musical calling.

“I’m constantly curious, constantly inquisitive about the arts, and I felt that conducting was the next step for me as a musical artist,” shared Hotoda.

As a conductor, Hotoda’s mission is to amplify voices that have been historically excluded from the classical music field. Accordingly, she presents the works of as many living composers as possible, especially music composed by women and as people of color.

“I think it’s really about bringing us all together in a creative art form. It’s not like, ‘oh, here’s a woman composer,’ it’s more like, ‘oh, here’s an amazing composer, and she just happens to be a woman,” explained Hotoda.

She added that her efforts to highlight living and previously unrecognized composers not only benefit those individuals’ careers, but allow community members to feel a part of the process of broadening classical music’s scope.

“In Beethoven’s time, Beethoven was new at one point you know, so the people in the audience and the people who lived in that era needed to hear that music. I feel the same thing here in our time,” said Hotoda. “What better visible platform than as a conductor, as a music director, as a guest conductor to grow that music and celebrate that?”

For her Santa Barbara debut, however, Hotoda will share the music of a composer familiar to anyone who has watched major pop culture films in the past 45 years. The recipient of 52 Oscar nominations and five Academy Awards, Williams has demonstrated an unrivaled understanding of how to marry visuals and viewers’ emotions through music. His catalog, spanning the scores of Harry Potter, Home Alone, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler’s List, Jaws, and much more, is instantly recognizable to individuals of all ages.

The Santa Barbara Symphony’s program will celebrate this very aspect, showcasing Williams’ impressive range in scoring dramas, comedies, and epic sagas throughout the decades.

“I feel that this concert is something where an eleven-year-old can get so excited as well as a 90-year-old because his legacy has been so many decades of his music being in the popular culture,” said Hotoda. “His music is for all, and what better way to celebrate an incredible composer than through all of these pieces that have been iconic and in films that we’ve seen over decades?”

She added that Williams’ Imperial March, composed for Star Wars’ formidable Darth Vader, remains her personal favorite. Her daughter, who plays the violin, also considers the menacing melody her favorite work to practice.

Next weekend’s program will be made all the more engaging with the talents of numerous Santa Barbara Symphony musicians who have played regularly with Williams himself and appear on his original film scores.

These musicians include Concertmaster Jessica Guideri, Principal Viola Erik Rynearson, Principal Cello Trevor Handy, Principal Oboe Lara Wickes, Principal Clarinet Don Foster, Principal Horn Teag Reaves, and Principal Trumpet Jon Lewis.

“I think having a connection to a composer like that, it just gives the performance that much more depth and more connection,” said Hotoda.

Ultimately, Hotoda wants all community members to enjoy a concert experience that will inspire and unite them through memories and music.

“I just hope that people come away just totally empowered and fired up and loving the Santa Barbara Symphony,” she said.    

For tickets visit ($35-175)

To read VOICE Magazine, visit


Written by Daisy Scott

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  1. A superlative concert last night. Loved each piece. Some members of the orchestra who knew and performed for John Williams took turns between numbers speaking about him. Nice. A Santa Barbara Symphony performance to remember. The only annoying feature of the evening was some person in our row with an Apple Watch. It illuminated and chimed 2-3 times during the concert. Ironically most chimes came between movements. Please turn your electronic devices off for concerts!

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