This weekend, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra welcomes back Rei Hotoda to the Centennial Concert Hall as guest conductor.

Current music director of the Fresno Philharmonic, Hotoda got her professional start in Winnipeg serving as assistant conductor from 2006 to 2009. 

“This orchestra has been really key in so many ways in my development as a young conductor and then moving on to being a music director,” says Hotoda.

The return to Winnipeg is a trip down memory lane for Hotoda, who lived in the Wolseley neighbourhood and whose son attended Laura Second School. It is, however, the connections made with people in the city Hotoda remembers most fondly. 

“Just this amazing warmth of heart in this community,” reflects Hotoda. “And how much they support the arts here. That’s really had long-lasting effects on me as a conductor but also as a music director.”

Naomi Woo has served as RBC assistant conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra since 2019. Like Hotoda, she is equal parts talented conductor and dynamic pianist, and it didn't take the Winnipeg musical community long to start drawing parallels between the two musicians. 

“Right from the first moment I was hired here in Winnipeg, people said, ‘you know, you remind me of Rei,’” says Woo.

On Saturday night, Woo leads the musicians of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in a performance of contemporary American composer Jessie Montgomery’s autobiographical tone poem Records from a Vanishing City

“It’s incredible in that she is not evoking the Western European traditions but really is inspired by her background as an African American,” says Hotoda. “It’s refreshing for me to hear another perspective on the podium and I think for the audience as well to hear different kinds of inspirations in music. 

From the classical cannon, Schumann’s Symphony no. 1, the “Spring” symphony will be performed as will Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat Major, which will see Hotoda at one piano and Woo at the other. 

Typically, conductors are the sole silent member of the orchestra. However, when leading from the piano, as Hotoda will do in the Mozart, they become a part of the ensemble. 

“I love when conducting in general feels like chamber music when we’re really making music together,” says Woo. “I find that doing a concerto in this capacity is really an extreme version of that and allows us to explore the collaborative aspects of this role.” 

A sentiment echoed by Hotoda. 

“It’s such an honour, it really is, to be on the stage playing with this fabulous orchestra and the wonderful musicians of the Winnipeg Symphony.” 

Purchase tickets, for in-person or online attendance, by visiting the WSO website.