Brilliant Strings and Pianos at La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest 2017

August 8th, 2017

The La Jolla Music Society‘s SummerFest is underway with another exciting season of chamber music and world class performers, this year with a theme of pianos and strings.

Saturday night brought a perfect example of the beauty and soulfulness of La Jolla’s annual music festival, featuring leading musicians from around the world.

Olga

Olga Kern

First there was the amazingly brilliant pianist Olga Kern delighting with three prelude pieces by Rachmaninoff, two  studies by Scriabin and Mily Balakirev’s “Islamey.”  All six pieces, very difficult, were performed from memory by Kern. Then the pianist joined the dynamic soprano, Lybubov Petrova in “Gypsy Songs” from Dvorak.
Petrova

Lyubov Petrova

Taking the evening to an even higher crescendo, the magnificent duo of Christina and Michelle Naughton thrilled the audience with their renditions of a lovely Chopin rondo for two pianos, followed by “Variations on Theme of Paganini for Two Pianos.”

Naughton Pianists

Christina and Michelle Naughton

After a short intermission the evening’s additional highlight was a piano quintet by Dvorak presented by the Miro Quartet and accompanying pianist Inon Barnatan.

Miro Quartet

Miro Quartet

Tickets are still available for the remaining 14 events in the festival at the website of the La Jolla Music Society at www.ljms.org.

Of particular interest are forthcoming violin sonatas by Beethoven, presented over three nights as well as in a free afternoon program. The first of these four Beethoven sonata concerts, on Tuesday, Aug. 15, will feature festival director Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, the Rice University professor whose violin mastery is always loved by Summerfest audiences.

Jimmy

Cho-Liang Lin

A concert goer on Saturday night would have been dazzled by the piano artistry of the glamorous Kern and the beautiful identical Naughton twins. There were repeated gasps in the audience as these women, joined in one number by world class soprano Petrova, came to the stage at the Conrad Prebys Concert Hall at UC San Diego. The sheer beauty of these performers was soon overtaken by appreciation of their fingers, hands and voice.

Then, in a dramatic aesthetic change, in the second half of the Saturday program, came the Miro Quartet accompanied at the piano by the spectacular Barnaton.  The quartet has been together since 1995 and their 38-minute rendition of Dvorak’s piano quintet in a major was chamber music at its finest.  Part of the drama for the audience was seeing these five compelling men honoring Dvorak, after seeing the beautiful women, also with highest skills, in the concert’s first half.

Festival director Jimmy Lin, seated in the audience, could hardly contain his joy and appreciation at his own creation, having brought these colorful and deeply skilled performers to Summerfest. The Dvorak quintet showed off the work of the then 46-year-old composer, who in 1887 wrote this work featuring not only the tradition of classical Viennese forms (Dvorak was a friend and admirer of Brahms, for example) but also employing the passion of his Czech nationalism.  The result of this performance brought the SummerFest audience to their feet, for a well-deserved standing ovation.

Along with the concertizing, SummerFest offers many free encounters and rehearsals.  Substantially enhancing each concert are free  ticket-holder “preludes,” mostly talks presented by the irreplaceable Eric Bromberger, who writes the SummerFest program notes.

Saturday evening, Bromberger interviewed the Naughton twins, which proved to be an evening highlight. (One could learn, for example, that the twins were born in Princeton, NJ, with Chinese and European parents, but their amazing synergism was also on display in this prelude talk.)  If at all possible, these pre-concert prelude events should not be missed by patrons.

This was an evening of amazing hands, passion, beauty and  soulfulness. Asked where is the soul, a reviewer of Summerfest performances had a ready answer: “The soul is where love and joy reside,” filling one with appreciation of what can be found this summer in La Jolla.

When the Ladies Are Murderers for Hire: Dark Comedy at La Jolla Playhouse

August 7th, 2017

The perfect story for the age of Donald Trump, Jr. has just arrived at La Jolla Playhouse.  The name of the play is “Kill Local,” and I’m happy to recommend this Playhouse experimental effort.

So, for some summer laughs and gender role reversal, hurry over to catch this farce with a morality play angle.  The more gruesome parts are in the first act but patrons will definitely stay around for the conclusion.

This reviewer was amused that with the world-wide feminist call for gender equality, this dark comedy comes along to show what can happen when women are completely in charge.  This makes for refreshing drama and helps one understand the often leavening  role of art.

Though bloody, the acting was quite good even as some of the players lines could have used better microphone boosting.  Same for the innovative directing—the play had to be stopped for a stage correction on opening night.

But the script is well-written, a tribute to the partnership between UCSD Theater and the La Jolla Playhouse.  The fine writer, Mat Smart, studied at University of California, San Diego before migrating to New York and now has temporarily come back to delight the home folks with a script and staging that has echoes of Theater of the Absurd and is a bit unusual but—amazingly—it works!

The players should be recognized for their good acting and hard work in this physically demanding performance.  They are Matthew Amendt, Carolyn Braver, Candy Buckley, Amanda Quaid and Xochiti Romero.  Braver’s parents drove in from Tucson to delight in the work of their 25-year-old daughter who effectively plays a semi-naïve 17-year-old.  Her very proud dad confided that she had already had a Broadway role and was thrilled to be in this La Jolla production.

Amanda Quaid as Shelia (left) and Carolyn Braver as Ami

Amanda Quaid as Shelia (left) and Carolyn Braver as Ami

The other stars are a devilish Mom and her two daughters who run a small family killing-for-hire business which is the heart of the production.  Their extraordinary foil is Amendt a dead ringer for Donald Trump Jr, looking-alike, sounding-alike and a capitalist—selfish at any cost.

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Amanda Quaid as “Shelia” (left) and Candy Buckley as “Gloria”

One could delight merely in this character’s swinging around at the mercy of his guns-for-hire captor.  But there is much more in this playful script for which you’ll have to scurry over to the playhouse to get the inside story: La Jolla Playhouse

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Amanda Quaid as “Shelia” (left) and Matthew Amendt as “Todd”

Most everywhere one turns these days in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego one sees partnerships between UCSD and various elements of the community.  Presentation of “Kill Local,” as said, fine experimental theater, is a marvelous tribute to the long-time synergy created in the “Theater District.”

At the same time, UCSD Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla must be congratulated also for providing a temporary home for SummerFest 2017, our grand musical event—on a class with the very few top musical festivals in the world.

Incidentally this is the same academic leader who brought the Dalai Lama to La Jolla—a courageous act in face of anti-free-speech propagandists who flooded his switchboard with nasty phone calls.  It was a pleasure to see the Chancellor at the Playhouse opening night of “Kill Local” in this case accompanied by his articulate and handsome son.

Check out “Kill Local” during this limited run in August.  Ticket details are available at the site La Jolla Playhouse.

 

Cheers for La Jolla Playhouse Opening “Escape to Margaritaville”

June 5th, 2017

 

by Barry Jagoda

“Escape to Margaritaville” brings fun and laughter from a tropical isle all the way back to Southernmost California pleasuring cheering audiences attending the current production at La Jolla Playhouse.

An escape musical, the happy show features a large ensemble, a fine live mini-orchestra and wonderful singing and dancing. Stars, seen below, Alison Luff (as Rachel) and Paul Alexander Hamilton (as Tully) are perfectly cast, she to let us run away and he to gather her loving attention, both to help the audience appreciate the value of an island escape.

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The story features a couple of urban women getting away from it all, falling into the arms of island charmers—truly overturning inhibitions and casting off their 9 to 5 lifestyles.

This show, inspired by songs from Jimmy Buffet, with highly imaginative staging and welcoming island artifacts from the lobby to the ballon drop (shh!) at the very end is easy to recommend.  This wonderful world-premiere will run through July 9.

Playhouse artistic director Christopher ashley has found the perfect production to get the Playhouse 2017/2018 season off to a rousing beginning. Upcoming shows, “The Cake,” “Summer,” “At the Old Place,” “Kill Local,” and “Wild Goose Dreams” are featured upcoming productions not to be missed.

 

LESSONS FROM OUR OWN HISTORY

April 13th, 2017

by Barry Jagoda

Reunions to celebrate the “good old days” are privileges of growing older. Three such emotional, memorable events have been experienced in April, 2017.

Joining 200 high school friends and acquaintances brought back warm memories of growing up in the suburbs of Houston 50 years ago.

Then, after 40 years, getting back with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter—in Atlanta and in Plains—reminded one of the power of the ideas, the moderation and the passion that enabled the election of the 39th President of the United States in 1976.

And a 50th reunion of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University marked a passage back to 1966-1967 underscoring what had helped turn a young Texan into a reporter—a professional journalist–with commitments to keeping an eye on government.

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As the poet John Dunne wrote, “Make new friends, but keep the old—for these are silver and those are gold.” Friendships and bonds of attachment characterize these reunion meetings. As one participant, viewing a photograph from our adolescence, wrote, “We could not possibly have been that young but now it is impossible that we are that old.”

As one survives into an eighth decade a wise friend from earlier times now writes, “Health is Everything,” appreciated less if one currently suffers from no debilitating illness.   And, the half-joking admonition from another half-century long pal, “If you do get sick make sure it is something they can fix,” becomes more real as one ages into the 70s and beyond.

The luckiest among us may be those who still have meaningful family connections—children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. A very few still have a living parent. At some time in the growing up process we leave childhood homes, with their rules and their unconditional love. We develop our own set of values and new aspirations. And now, looking back over the decades, pictures of “what formed us” become clearer.

Neuroscientists and others puzzle over the competing claims of nurture and nature—our genetic inheritance and our lived life experiences. But in the lingering last years of life one sees overlap, the near impossibility of sorting out just what came along with our embryos versus what we have learned over the ages. Curiously, though, as a wise friend jokes, “At age 30 I thought I knew all the answers but now, at 70, I realize how very little I know.” This charming comment is not necessarily true: A wonderful discovery of older age is to find new old mistakes to correct, new life-lessons that can still be gained.

A goal of life, as expressed by psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, is to become “self-actualized,” to be dependent on one’s inner life for meaning, perhaps the opposite of David Riesman’s “other-directed” personality. But none can deny the deep benefits of the power of “significant others,” who have come into our lives and—with luck—are still there, in real life or influencing us from the grave.

It is perhaps at night as one tumbles off to sleep that there is best the realization of how fortunate one might be to have another with whom one might share the slings and arrows—as well as the ice cream—of being human. But life lessons are still there to be had: An art gallery curator’s recent comment helps put this into perspective with a summing up of culture that transcends, yet also populates: Asked the meaning of art, the gallery expert explains, “Art fills the soul.” And, “Where is the soul?,” asks the skeptical journalist. “The soul is where love and joy reside,” says the wise professional.

Another approach to the soul is often associated with teachings from the various religions. Listen to the Ten Commandments or understand the urgency of the teachings of the Islamic Prophet. Knowing that such creation stories are all about us, hard to miss, one can fall back, perhaps, on the Golden Rule, dealing with others as one would hope to be treated.

For a secular individual—having no belief in a deity—there is the additional challenge of sorting through ideas inherited from the centuries to find one’s own values, ethics, moral principles. And herein is a great virtue of being a mere human being. It is said that we each have primitive brains, derived intellectually from the Darwinian tradition. Our rational faculties are even taken over by these earlier constructs which try to focus us. As this understanding may be true, the human challenge is shown to be even more difficult.

Finding decency is a quest not to be undervalued. But for an older human the chance for a second look—a glance back—makes a reunion another chance to mull over what has come before. One might revel in the good fortunes but not forget what may have gone wrong. Perhaps too late for much change but at least having history’s lessons for intellectual satisfaction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MOVING FAMILY DRAMA AT LA JOLLA PLAYHOUSE

February 8th, 2017

by Barry Jagoda

For a delightful evening in the theater do not miss “Freaky Friday,” a wonderful family musical drama masquerading as a comedy, playing at La Jolla Playhouse through March 12.

The production centers around a Mother-Daughter conflict with an anguished younger son in the mix, amounting to a funny tear-jerker brought on by the demands of surviving in the absence of Father, now long gone.  Picking up the slack is Mom’s sensitive boyfriend and plans for a second marriage.

The role of the extremely neurotic Mother is played to perfection by Heidi Blickenstaff.  Her passionate singing, acting and dancing is matched only by her daughter, played here by Emma Hunton.

Mother (Heidi Blickenstaff) and daughter (Emma Hunton) fight constantly, as seen here over control of a hourglass.

Mother (Heidi Blickenstaff) and daughter (Emma Hunton) fight constantly, as seen here over control of a hourglass.

The vocals and dance numbers produced by these actresses would be worth seeing and enjoying even alone but a brilliant supporting cast–each member of whom can hold their own—adds to a rare theatrical treat.

As assembled by Director Christopher Ashley, this production infuses the Playhouse with a spirit not seen in this venue for a while.  With a complete orchestra back stage and a dancing singing cast choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, a brilliant book by Bridget Carpenter and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey, this is a theater of passion and joy, underscoring “normal” mental illness problems often hidden.

“Freaky Friday” zooms by with a terrific first act setting up the family conflicts which are more or less pleasingly resolved in a shorter second act.

Soothed by Mike, left, nicely portrayed as her groom-to-be by David  Jennings, Mom is seen by her two children from an earlier marriage, charming little Fletcher (Jake Heston Miller) and Ellie.

Soothed by Mike, left, nicely portrayed as her groom-to-be by David Jennings, Mom is seen by her two children from an earlier marriage, charming little Fletcher (Jake Heston Miller) and Ellie.

But “Freaky Friday” is so much more than a routine production from La Jolla Playhouse:  Not merely an attempt to stage something that might be a future candidate for Broadway, or a presentation that will appeal to the “La Jolla swells,” the affluent who might make large ongoing contributions.  Mr. Ashley, who is also permanent Artistic Director of the Playhouse, shows here great facility in presenting break-through contemporary drama, with his characteristic ability to also find ways of charming his audience.

This deeply moving story about a Mom, crazed over a pending re-marriage, and about her relationship with her not so “perfect” daughter, takes a wonderful twist when the two “stars” of the story change roles.

The Mom begins to see how repressive and controlling she has been.  The daughter is so free now that–with buddies on a scavenger hunt—she is able to strip down to bra and panties while looking for clues.  No matter that imperfect young bodies are revealed to a shocked Playhouse audience.

In this role reversal we are exposed to hypocrisy lurking in so many American families.  This lesson is why this is not to be missed theater:  Finally La Jolla Playhouse has offered a vital story useful for our times.

 

 

 

 

CAMPAIGN FOR WHITE HOUSE WAS THRILLING JOURNEY

December 29th, 2016

Reminisce below was first published in the Inauguration Issue, 40 years later, of the Carter-Mondale Letter:

by Barry Jagoda

Several of us from the Carter campaign press staff grouped together in the chill just a few steps from the Inaugural platform, waiting for the swearing-in of President-elect Carter and Vice-President-elect Mondale. Most of us had worked together for the past year responding to reporter’s questions, setting up candidate speaking locations and being of general assistance as Carter and Mondale traveled the country.  Now we could hardly contain our excitement in the final moments of our passionate work.

As the new officials took their oaths of office, our group, Kate King, Beth Lumpkin, Casey Cornell, Randy Lewis and others migrated toward the motorcades. In the last such candidate movement some of us had come from Blair House with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. Now we were ready to join up with the first official presidential journey.

Hitching a ride from the West front of the capitol to the White House seemed like a normal procedure—a traveling process in which many of us had participated hundreds of times over the months of 1976. But, of course, this was a different: the first Presidential motorcade! Most of us were surprised, as were the huge crowds, when Jimmy and Rosalynn exited their limo and walked up Pennsylvania Avenue.

For me it had begun in the weeks preceding the New Hampshire primary.   What a momentous beginning to a year of campaign stops and media events. As Governor Carter and I climbed into his car on the Primary evening of January 24 the generally recognized top reporter covering Jimmy Carter’s incredible effort, James Wooten, of the New York Times, leaned his head into the back seat window to quietly announce, “Governor, I think you have just won the Democratic nomination.” Wooten, normally quite restrained, uttered these unthinkable words.  Governor Carter looked up, flashed the now famous smile,  “Thanks Jim.  Good deal!”  Months later, of course, Wooten’s prognostication would turn into reality.

On that January night, the candidate and I were headed for the anchor positions of CBS News Walter Cronkite, and the other major broadcast operations to have the New Hampshire victory celebrated and made officially unofficial. This was a pattern we were to follow for the next months: Making it easy for the networks to give Carter the bounce that came from winning elections state by state all the way down through the primary nominating process.

Along with Jerry Rafshoon and Jody Powell, the three of us formed the Carter campaign debate negotiators, arguing out the details of those crucial events with representatives of our opponent, the incumbent president, Gerald Ford.  Cool and collected Carter outpointed Ford as did Mondale in his debate with Senator Robert Dole.

And suddenly it was election night, with the Carter team in Atlanta’s World Congress Center. The thrill was deep and passionate.

Over the next three months, while the President-elect in Plains and Atlanta mulled over and selected officials for the government, hundreds of reporters and office-seekers converged on our transition headquarters” in Washington, hoping for access and consideration. The days and weeks flew by.  Suddenly, it seemed, the new President’s motorcade left the inaugural festivities at the Capitol heading for the White House.

Deputy Press Secretary Rex Granum and I could hardly believe our circumstances: As the new President reviewed the Inaugural Parade, we stood on the White House lawn. Rex said, “Well, I guess we better get over to our offices and get on with it!” As always, Rex was serious and his words gave me a shake of reality.

Having been named Special Assistant to the President, when I opened the top desk drawer of my new workplace, there was a note from the predecessor occupant: “Here I wrote President Nixon’s resignation speech,” were the words from Raymond K. Price. “So, I wish you and your colleagues good luck,” his short message concluded.”

On the first full day of the Carter Presidency, Deputy Special Assistant Rick Neustadt and I had the privilege of hosting his father, the great scholar of the Presidency, Professor Richard Neustadt, to breakfast in the White House.  We asked, “What is the secret to Presidential Power?” Quickly Professor Neustadt answered, “Keep your options open!”

A few days later, along with others, I received as a gift from Rex’s father, Iver Granum, one of the flags that had flown over the Capitol during the Inauguration. It all seemed like a few moments in American history, the capstone of a brilliant political campaign and the beginning of the Carter Years

Barry Jagoda was Special Assistant to President Carter for Media and Public Affairs. He recently retired as Director of Communications for the University of California, San Diego.

 

 

ANOTHER SEASON IN LA JOLLA BRINGS SOULFUL SUMMERFEST

August 12th, 2016

By Barry Jagoda

         The great news this August in La Jolla, the famous neighborhood of San Diego, California, is that SummerFest has returned, now for it’s 30th Anniversary year of producing some of the globe’s very best chamber music.

COVER

The Festival features world class artists presenting to appreciative audiences of regular concert goers (and regular big time donors). SummerFest also includes a significant program of free workshops and lectures as well as extremely helpful “prelude” events for ticket holders.

What a pleasure, for example, to be a ticket-holder on the evening of August 10, for a program that began with a scintillating prelude lecture (on Beethoven and the “sonata form”) from University of California professor Steven Cassedy. The evening concluded with a magnificent performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in E-flat, Opus 127, by the incomparable Danish String Quartet.

DANISH

After a standing ovation from the good-sized audience, the Quartet, pictured above, played an encore, one of their favorites, the Danish folk tune, Sonderho (“Bridal Trilogy”), which occasioned another standing ovation.

The evening’s full program was entitled “Richard, Robert and Ludwig,” referring to concertizing of Richard Strauss and Robert Schuman compositions, as well as to the “Ludwig,” string quartet referenced above.

Earlier on this same pleasant August evening (the weather is almost always nice at the San Diego coast) patrons were invited to pay for a “pre-concert” dinner at one of San Diego’s newest and best restaurants, the Sicilian-themed Catania. Also on this same Festival day, La Jolla music lovers (and some visiting tourists) were treated to a free “Coaching Workshop,” where top musicians mentored the work of some of their younger brethren–performers with brilliant potential.

An eager SummerFest participant would have to be asleep by 11pm Wednesday to wake for Thursday, August 11, festival events such as another coaching workshop and a brilliant “Encounter,” where scholar Nuvi Mehta presented a talk entitled, “Vienna 1900: How the Past Made the Future.” This talk was designed as background for the next few concerts, one titled “Viennese Giants,” with compositions from Mozart and other brilliant Austrian composers.

Mehta, a respected musical and historical lecturer, deeply engaged his audience with perspectives on Vienna at the time, noting a history of anti-Semitism and general anti-immigrant bias. His talk explained how private intellectual opposition to the ruling Hapsburg imperial dynasty ironically helped develop a culture for the new music of the 20th Century.  Saying “words are seeds,” and seeing parallels with our own times, the speaker pointed out that radical political demagogues also arose in Austria and Germanic Europe as part of the revolt against perceived unfairness.

After mid-August, SummerFest concert-goers will have another ten performances from which to choose, along with fifteen free workshops and encounters. For a full listing of the Festival schedule see www.ljms.org, the Internet home of La Jolla Music Society, which is the producing organization for the entire summer’s cultural cornucopia.

Patrons who wanted to support the Festival, financially, were invited to an August 13th “Anniversary Gala dinner,” followed by an intimate concert of works by Bartok, Wolf and Dvorak. Performers at the Gala Concert were to include, Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, the Rice University music professor who is Musical Director of the Festival and always in demand as a beloved violinist.

This writer also looks forward to “An Evening with Paquito D’Rivera,” the soulful and brilliant clarinetist.

PAQUITO

SummerFest’s August 17 program is sub-titled “Jazz Meets the Classics,” featuring an amalgam of classical chamber music players and jazz, led by Paquito D’Rivera, pictured above.

Friday (Aug. 19) and Saturday (Aug. 20) brings a two-evening focus on cello suites from J.S. Bach, starring Mischa Maisky, the Russian cello genius who studied under both Mstislav Rostropovich and Gregor Piatigorsky. Maisky will perform the much loved “Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello,” of Bach. These two evenings cannot be missed by Bach lovers.

August 21 brings “Great Quintets,” and the following Tuesday (August 23) will star the wonderful “Verona Quartet,” in “Virtuoso Winds,” also with acclaimed pianist Shai Wosner.

Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry.

Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry.

SummerFest continues on Aug. 24 with music from Liszt, Tchaikovsky and the world premier of Pianist Mar-Andre Hamelin performing (along with cellist Hai-Ye Ni) his own “Four Perspectives.”

The Festival’s grand finale stars genius James Conlon, Musical Director of the Los Angeles Opera, conducting Schubert, Prokofev and Mozart. This compelling event also stars Gil Shaham, who Time magazine called, “the outstanding American violinist of his generation.”

Except for the Gala all these concerts take place in the acoustically splendid auditorium of La Jolla’s San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.

One is advised to check the festival web site for locations of open and free Encounters, Coaching Sessions and Rehearsals, which can be found at locations of community partners, the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library and at La Jolla’s public library.

SummerFest is constructing a new home for itself, along with what is expected to be an outstanding venue for this and other La Jolla Music Society events. The facility is expected to be ready for SummerFest in 2018.

 

 

TAKE US OUT TO THE BALLGAME—BEAUTIFUL PLAY IN THE CALIFORNIA LEAGUE

July 3rd, 2016

Our national pastime can be enjoyed in an unforgettable afternoon and evening by attending a California League game, at one of eight minor league stadiums, such as the wonderful venue in the little town of Lake Elsinore, in Riverside county—halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

 

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STORM STADIUM, LAKE ELSINORE, CALIFORNIA

There, on the late afternoon of July 2, 2016, the home club, Lake Elsinore STORM, hosted the Lancaster JETHAWKS, for a delightful and exciting game. The Storm won, 3-1, but for a charmed spectator the outcome was less important than the fun of watching major league prospects show their stuff. For example, a right-handed pitcher, Enyel De Los Santo, seen below, may someday soon join the San Diego Padres, as the Storm is one of the Padre minor league affiliates (farm team).

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On this marvelous afternoon The Lancaster JETHAWKS, a Houston Astros minor league club, appropriately named also for its location in the California Antelope Valley, a region long associated with the aerospace industry, was the visiting ball team. Lancaster is about an hour north of Los Angeles.

For a fan who has had the privilege of seeing baseball in many major league parks around the nation and in Canada, this afternoon was as good as most of those experiences. Just to watch batting practice, followed by immaculate grounds keeping work to get the field in perfect playing shape was a treat. As the fans easily strolled into the stadium (with brief stops for what appeared to be serious security checks) the tarpaulins were removed to unveil a mix of perfectly manicured green turf, with brown base paths and a carefully measured pitcher’s mound.

Precisely at 6:05 pm the home plate umpire called, “Play Ball.” (There are two umpires running California League games, compared with four in the majors.) Soon the score was 3 to 1, on an early homerun by the Storm’s Fernando Perez, the designated hitter.

(In the lower minor leagues each team has a “designated hitter, “ a practice first employed in the American League of Major League baseball, giving the pitchers a chance to concentrate on that skill without having to worry about batting.)

As the game progressed—and the fans were clearly patronizing the concession stands for dinner or snacks—the Storm’s efficient media relations specialist, Tyler Zickel, also took to the field between innings to honor local kids and other dignitaries for civic activities. (This also provided a good chance for some fans to ignore the field and get food!)

Lake Elsinore itself, in a beautiful valley setting amid California hills and mountains, was named for a spectacular body of water quite visible from the stadium.   Now somewhat diminished by the terrible California drought, the lake is still a brilliant and lovely natural wonder. Team management schedules almost all games for very late afternoon when the heat of central and southern California has subsided.

If a spectator came to Lake Elsinore early enough to get a look around there were numerous fast food joints, but also three fine restaurants lined up to serve a more discerning taste—a Persian restaurant, next to a really good Mexican place, which was next door to an Italian restaurant with a welcoming and serious menu. For three diners at the Mexican eatery, the total tab came to under $30 for a full and memorable meal. This seemed typical of Lake Elsinore prices.

A nearby Spa advertised serious massage treatment, probably not up to the highest standards of LA or San Diego, but a tired driver could get relief there, before the game. Of course it would be difficult to be too worn out from driving since the time to get to Storm stadium from nearby big cities was a mere hour-and-a-half. Much less driving time would be required if a fan was coming from close in cities in Riverside County or Orange County, both important population centers in California.

The true designation of Riverside and adjoining counties is California’s “Inland Empire,” perhaps a bit of overstatement but one could get the royal treatment at Lake Elsinore just by purchasing a moderately priced ticket and going out to the ballgame!

DRAMATIC ROYAL ISABELA CAPTURES GOLF GREATNESS IN PUERTO RICO

April 12th, 2016

 

By Barry Jagoda

     A golfer seeking out the most spectacular landscapes for world-class play must not overlook Royal Isabela, on the Atlantic coast of Puerto Rico about 90 minutes from San Juan. Dramatic photos can barely do justice to a front nine carved out of dense forest meandering among high cliffs down to a River valley. The unforgettable back, played along high cliffs perched above pounding, crashing waves below, reveals the ocean’s constant presence.

Royal Isabela, Silver Wings Aviation, Casona, La Casa, David PfaThe course challenges golfers of varying abilities with six tees on each hole and a round that can easily include a high slope (up to 142) or form a more modest course for the average player. This venue can be compared favorably to top ocean courses from around the world. In the United States only one or two of Hawaii’s best venues comes near.

Royal Isabela is a dream come true for brothers Stanley and Charlie Pasarell, who first spotted what became 1800 acres of joy back in the late 1980s. The land includes 3.5 miles of oceanfront and five miles of the internal Guajatac River basin.

It is the change in elevation that makes for the most drama. The resort itself occupies a cliff-top plateau that reminds one of Pebble Beach, but in a location unspoiled by resort hotels. After the first six jungle-like holes, the front continues with three inland water tracks including a very respectable and intimidating par three with an island green.

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Then on to the string of magnificent oceanfront holes on the back. The par-three eleventh gives a distinct Caribbean impression of Pebble Beach’s famous seventh, and the twelfth will remind golfers of the famous ocean carry tee shot famous at Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. But there are no garish homes anywhere near this course.

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The nearby little town of Isabela (named, of course, for Queen Isabela, the Spanish monarch who, with her husband, sponsored Columbus’ journeys) is in the northwestern region of Puerto Rico known as Porta del Sol (Doorway to the Sun). Just mention of this area can bring a smile to the faces of more urban Puerto Ricans who love to luxuriate in the nearly empty beaches and natural features of the more rural island pockets, like the 20 towns and villages along the Atlantic Ocean in the “Doorway.”

Golf operations are top quality in every dimension, with the pro shop under the direction of touring professional Miguel Suarez, assistance there from Eric Rivera and a hospitality program under the the welcoming Angela Torres. The Pasarell brothers are multi-generation natives of Puerto Rico who had been tennis champions and scions of a highly respected regional literary figure. As locals the brothers have a strong commitment to the environment. Their husbandry at Royal Isabela is proof of that.

Puerto Rico has a population of about 3.5 million, scattered among dozens of smaller towns and villages but dominated by the 500,000 residents of the capital San Juan. Getting to Royal Isabela is mostly easy driving predominantly on well-maintained four and six lane highways, but the last few miles are reached on narrow two-lane tracks.

The course is very relaxed with a limited number of members and a guest green fee of $250, quite appropriate for the quality. Caddies are required, with two players sharing the $90 fee.

MODERATION IN PURSUIT OF VIRTUE IS NO VICE

April 4th, 2016

By Barry Jagoda

As an open society the United States is mixed economically, culturally, socially and with regard to belief. With no fixed agreement on the very greatest issues of human exchange it becomes crucial for government, and for a responsible public, to be moderate so no particular segment of society feels entirely excluded from the process.

Generally American politics reflects this mixture of values but in contested elections, on the left and on the right, one can see deviation, often leading to subordination of a party or candidate who occupies one extreme or another. These extremes show up in other elements of our life but political conflict gets more attention and we are currently undergoing a historic polarization. These gulfs can be seen throughout our culture.

But in 2016, particularly in the Republican presidential nominating process, all of the candidates—17 in total at one time—have run to the right of center. And, as the process winds down, the leading two candidates are far to the right or leaning in that direction. The Democrats have seemed more moderate but from the perspective of the GOP, their more liberal opponents must seem just as deviant.

Republican candidates for public office have tended to find corners of darkness for their anti-government message while Democrats have bounced from calls for a remaking of political society to underscoring the need for more balance.

Passion is a great driver in public life but it can easily cause proponents of one perspective to alienate their fellow citizens. It was this very danger that gave the lie to the famous comment from a right-of-center Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, when he said, “Extremism in pursuit of virtue is no vice.” But whose “virtue,” what “extremism” and what sort of “vice?”

Questions such as these, with a variety of answers depending on initial assumptions, lead to bad public policy. The answers—for a healthy society—require moderation.

This is why the economy works best when government is joined with private sector entities to accomplish projects when possible. Mixing funding from public sources—such as for artists, scientists, public broadcasting—with creative forces from the private economy becomes crucial for start-up projects. And with Constitutional requirements for freedom of religion the main role of the public sector is to shield these organizations from restrictions.

Perhaps in no other system does the collective power of government—at local, state and federal levels—come to play a supporting role providing a social safety net. Mixing good jobs with poverty reduction, and underpinning minimum housing, food and clothing, provides a huge role for government but as a supplement to the disorganized private work forces.

Ironically it is with institutions of religion that one can best see how a mixed system works. Because of the very great diversity in religious belief—and because there must be an open platform for each of these traditions—here the wider public sector simply plays an enabling role. In other cultures, where the religion is proscribed and imposed, clashes of values are much more likely. The American system, however, allows for a variety of belief and even protects the 20 percent of citizens who profess no supernatural values.

But American history, through 250 years has seen perpetual conflict between those who had acquired wealth or substantial economic assets and others who have fought for a larger share for those outside the financial circle of influence. With the “establishment” in perpetual fights with the underclasses, with leaders in the various religious sects on the defensive against those who question faith, and related arguments between the “haves” and “have nots,” society has been in turmoil for most of its modern history.

The story becomes quite murky when candidates for public office take on a populist tenor thereby fooling segments of the population who feel left out by government. This is a particular problem in primary voting for national office when candidates seem willing to say anything or do anything to attract their base of voters, often found in extreme pockets at the left or at the right.

It is for this reason that political scientists barely joke when they say “There are two positions in American politics: The moderate position and the wrong position!”

Barry Jagoda is a San Diego-based journalist and international consultant. He was an award-winning writer and producer at NBC News and CBS News, and a founding contributing editor of the highly regarded Texas Monthly magazine.