Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Lucky We Are To Have Loving Families

Monday, July 15th, 2019

by Barry Jagoda

The Luckiest, now up at La Jolla Playhouse until July 28th, is one of the best short dramatic productions there in recent memory.

Playgoers may be slightly confused by the opening foreshadowing sequence of events which lead to the death of “Lissette’s” character.  She has suffered from numerous medically diagnosed illnesses, dooming her.  This is why we first see the brilliant actress, Aleque Reid, as “Lissette,” on stage briefly in a high tech wheelchair.

Below is Ms. Reid, funny, passionate, argumentative and loving, seen in the world premier of Melissa Ross’s fine and moving drama, directed by Jaime Castaneda.

48208446427_c7653baba5_o

Most of the 95-minute play, with no intermission, is taken up with arguments and love-talk among “Lissette,” her Mom, “Cheryl,” seen here effectively portrayed by Deirdre Lovejoy, and “Peter” the new family member/boyfriend, starring Reggie D. White, in a unforgettable performance.

48208444877_0b7ab98fa9_o

The Luckiest is the heart-rending dramatic story of our families and the families we choose—-making clear how lucky any of us may be to have such deep relationships which will survive the most trying adversities of family separations and medical end of life situations.

The terrific drama gives one leaving the theater a deep appreciation for what Playhouse Artistic Director, Christopher Ashley, has written is that understanding from family is among the luckiest things one can possess.

 

 

SCHUBERT’S “PINNACLE OF CHAMBER MUSIC” IN LA JOLLA, CA

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

By Barry Jagoda

Inon Barnatan, Music Director-Designate of La Jolla Music Society’s world renowned SummerFest, has curated another wonderful concert program, the third in a series entitled “Schubert’s Swan Song.”

barnatan-8-gallery_pc_Marco_Borggreve_preview

Barnatan was pianist for half of the presentation last Saturday night, May 19, and the large audience, at Qualcomm Hall, was thrilled, delivering standing ovations, for his rendition of the brilliant Schubert Piano Sonata in C minor.  This was immediately followed by an even more arousing, glorious violin-piano duet, in which Barnatan was joined by the passionate, award-winning young violinist, Benjamin Beilman, for Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major.

But perhaps the evening’s highlight, after an intermission, was Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, for which Barnatan brought together the world-class Dover Quartet, and joined them with Carter Brey, in from his day job as principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic.

BREY

Dover is comprised of violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee with violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and Camden Shaw, playing cello.Dover

Many have heard premonitions of death in this, Schubert’s last instrumental creation, before he expired in 1828 at age 31. The work has been described (by among others, the Society’s long time, indispensable program annotator, Eric Bromberger) as “one of the finest creations in all of chamber music.”

For those fortunate enough to attend the earlier evening Prelude there was a compelling conversation between Barnatan and Brey moderated by San Diego’s wise musical authority, James Chute.

Brey said he was introduced, at age 15, to music by his New York public high school teacher and then realized “I could not live without music full time in my life.”  Four decades later, in Israel, Barnatan began the piano at age three, when his parents noticed that their son had perfect pitch.

The weaving together of brilliant young artists from our day with such as the confident veteran Brey, now in his sixth decade as a cellist, reminds one of the kinds of opportunities awaiting concert goers when La Jolla Music Society opens it’s own venue, the Conrad, in April 2019.  This will be just in time for Barnatan to take over as Music Director of SummerFest.

The amazing pianist played flawlessly from memory, while the other musicians, except for Brey, who resorted to old-fashioned printed program material, were notable for using foot-pedal controlled iPads for the scores, written almost two centuries in the past.

Schubert’s last year provided what Barnatan called “the pinnacle of what we can do as musicians.” Other towering heights will be coming along for La Jolla Music Society patrons in the coming months and years.

Meantime, the Society has just announced its program for Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin’s final summer as Music Director, after 18 years, for SummerFest 2018:  SummerFest Full Schedule

SCHUBERT INSPIRES “CURATOR” INON BARNATAN

Monday, March 26th, 2018

Patrons and future attendees of SummerFest have an early opportunity to see and hear the kind of programming that will be brought to La Jolla’s world-class summer music festival by Director-designate Inon Barnatan who is “curating” a three-part series this Spring, entitled Schubert’s Swan Song.

Based on the first of these concerts, this past Saturday, March 24, Barnatan will be a huge favorite with La Jolla Music Society audiences, including the many who each summer enjoy one of the globe’s top classical musical festivals.  Barnatan will succeed Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, retiring this coming summer after 18 years as SummerFest Music Director.

In a prelude exchange (with veteran music journalist James Chute) Barnatan was most open in revealing himself–about the Schubert series and about his own tastes in music.  One was dazzled by this passionate 40-year-old internationally recognized pianist who has strong feelings about his ability to bring to La Jolla audiences the very best from around the world.

 

Inon Barnatan 2014- Pianist Photo: Marco Borggreve

Inon Barnatan 

Barnatan boldly chose to open the March 24th three-part Schubert program by bringing to the stage a concert pianist even more renowned then himself, Garrick Ohlsson.  The two joined together in a wonderful Schubert creation, “Fantasie in F Minor for Piano Four Hands.” The audience could instantly recognize a musician and a musical director most optimistic about plans for the next weeks and for the summer of 2019. It is then that long time SummerFest Artistic Director Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, always a favorite in La Jolla, will give way to Barnatan.

A full measure of Barnatan’s exquisite taste in genre, and in selection of performers, was on display when the “curator” gave the stage over fully to Ohlsson for 45-minute rendition of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Major.  One may have wondered about the “coolness” of Ohlsson playing along the much younger Baratan in the four-hands piece. Any question of passion, or reserve, was removed in Ohlsson’s breathtaking, by memory, performance.

Ohlsson got a standing ovation and, after an intermission, Baratan was back for Schubert’s splendid Trio in B-flat major, joined by Violinist Erin Keefe and Cellist Clive Greensmith.

One should not be surprised, but delighted, with immediate high expectations that “Curator Baratan,” will live up to his promises to bring  great performers and themes to La Jolla Music Society programs in coming weeks and in coming years.

Schubert had died at age 31 in 1828 after a year of producing compositions that have remained marvels to the classical music world. Thus the title of this spring’s series, focusing on a series of these masterpieces, some of which audiences will have a chance to savor, next on April 14 and finally on May 19.

These programs take place in comfortable Qualcomm Hall, with good enough acoustics, suitable for a sizable audience and intimate enough for chamber music.

Barnatan will take the SummerFest helm just as La Jolla Music Society inaugurates its very own Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center (“The Conrad”) in the heart of La Jolla Village.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1979, Baratan started playing the piano at the age of three after his parents discovered he had perfect pitch. He made his orchestral debut at 11 and his musical education connects him to some of the 20th Century’s most illustrious pianists and teachers. Barnatan currently lives in a converted warehouse in Harlem in New York City.

More information is available at www.inonbarnatan.com

 

 

.

 

 

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

Tuesday, 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

Monday, 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.

mother daughter

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

hanging

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”

Monday, 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.

https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4267/34909997826_4e0985df8e_o.jpg

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.

 

MOVING FAMILY DRAMA AT LA JOLLA PLAYHOUSE

Wednesday, 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.

 

 

 

 

ANOTHER SEASON IN LA JOLLA BRINGS SOULFUL SUMMERFEST

Friday, 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

Sunday, 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.

 

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0119.JPG

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).

DX1_1070

 

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!

At La Jolla SummerFest: The Passion of Dmitri Shostakovich

Monday, August 24th, 2015

by Barry Jagoda

SummerFest, La Jolla Music Society’s month of concerts, talks and coaching sessions more than amply rewards patrons. Now Music Director Cho-Liang (“Jimmy”) Lin has again outdone himself with a three-concert focus, August 21, 22 and 23, on the work of Dmitri Shostakovich, arguably the world’s greatest composer since Mozart and Beethoven.

The extraordinary composer Dmitri Shostakovich celebrated at SummerFest, 2015

The extraordinary composer Dmitri Shostakovich celebrated at SummerFest, 2015

In addition to bringing some of the globe’s most talented musicians to perform some quite lovely, and some very meaningful, poignant, concerts, Jimmy Lin also employed retired UC Berkley music scholar Richard Taruskin, (“He is our greatest interpreter of Shostakovich,” Lin told us) for a series of lectures dealing mainly with the composer’s music, but which also helped patrons through the cauldron of misunderstanding caused by World War II, the Cold War and Soviet politics.

For example, soon after being elected head of Russia’s national organization of composers, Shostakovich was forced to join the Communist Party, which he did quite reluctantly. This was followed not too long after by a heart attack, though the composer recovered to continue writing and producing, some of his most dramatic music. As a result, for those in the West more interested in politics than in music, Shostakovich has been seen as a figure of knuckling under to the Soviet regime or as a great composer (and a piano virtuoso) who refused to play to dictator Josef Stalin’s tune. All of this, and more, under pins the life and music of this great genius composer.

The always engaging, creatively insightful, program annotator Eric Bromberger can be depended on to help novice and experienced music lovers through the work of Music Society’s yearlong and summer programs. In the case of Shostakovich, reinforcement from Professor Taruskin was also most helpful.  He delivered three lectures, as preludes to each of the concerts. He also presented an overview in an “Encounter” which engaged an audience that had come for a lectures on music but could not help but be transformed by a deep and fair-minded talk in  explication and appreciation of Shostakovich.

For some who had failed to pay proper attention to music classes in college or who had given up their violin lessons by age 12, SummerFest provides a second chance. For those who know their musical culture, or for those who are novices, standing ovations were the rule in the concerts in the auditorium at the local Museum of Contemporary Arts late this summer.

Leading off the program at “Shostakovich III, August 23rd, was the Borromeo String Quartet, with Nicholas Kitchen in the first violin chair and Yeesun Kim, cellist, performing the String Quartet No. 12 in D-flat Major. These two are among the greatest musicians in the world today and, along with their superb string-playing partners, showed why. They demonstrated how Shostakovich teased with atonal, disharmonic music, much disapproved by Soviet cultural leaders because it was not music that could be understood by the ordinary citizen.

Borromeo String Quartet:  L to R: Kristopher Tong, Nicholas Kitchen, Mai Motobuchi, Yeesun Kim

Borromeo String Quartet: L to R: Kristopher Tong, Nicholas Kitchen, Mai Motobuchi, Yeesun Kim

Many of us dislike this kind of 12-tone structure because we don’t understand it. But, according to Taruskin, Shostakovich used this atonal music as a brief tease and also as a way of expanding the reach of some his compositions. Shostakovich, himself, told an interviewer that “a composer can use this or that technique…as he sees fit.” In this Quartet, the atonal music makes a brief appearance thereby giving the composer wider latitude for what he wants to do as the piece progresses. Politically brilliant and musically sound!

A sonata for cello and piano was the second piece, played well by the Texas bred, Julliard graduate John Sharp, selected for the Chicago Symphony at age 27 and brilliantly by the famous pianist, Vladimir Feltsman.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Cellist John Sharp

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Cellist John Sharp

Renowned pianist Vladimir Feltsman

Renowned pianist Vladimir Feltsman

 

No one can fail to be deeply moved by the Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, written in 1944 and the festival’s final tribute to Shostakovich.   Twenty million Russians had died by then.   “The Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941 was the greatest catastrophe ever to befall any nation, “ as Bromberger wrote.

The public Shostakovich reacted with his “Leningrad Symphony,” marches and songs filled with patriotism. But the Trio that closed out this magnificent SummerFest focus showed a different Shostakovich, deeply disturbed by the war.   And, when the Nazi armies retreated, the atrocities committed against Russian Jews, obviously brought forward another deeply anguished side of the composer. One of the movements, of the Trio, was inspired by accounts that the Nazis had forced Jews to dance on their graves before execution. You could almost hear fair whispers of “Tevye the Milkman” before the music turned sinister and grotesque in a brilliant and beautiful sort of way. The Soviet government, at first, banned the performance of the Trio but the composer’s deep pain and grief had already been turned into an unforgettable work of passion proving again how music can feed our souls with very deep meaning.