Archive for the ‘Music Festivals’ Category

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

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.

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.

 

 

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.

La Jolla SummerFest Begins With Compelling “Viennese Masters”

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

by Barry Jagoda

One of the highlights of many Saturday afternoons years ago in my former residence city of Washington, DC, was the monthly chamber music concerts performed in the high-ceiling home of a dear friend, a musical connoisseur.  I thought of those dreamy days while enjoying the magic, Saturday night, August 8,  featuring music from Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms during the opening weekend of this year’s La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest.

We rejoiced back then in DC of having the inspiration of a trio, or perhaps a string quartet, providing an hour of beautiful music.  But now a SummerFest patron could bath in not only a flautist and two string players presenting a delicious early  serenade written by a young (and already highly accomplished) Beethoven, a perfectly harmonious Schubert string quartet and, finally, six fine players passionately driving a Brahms composition, lead by SummerFest director, the great violinist Cho-Liang Lin.

 

Cho-Liang Lin

 

 

This wonderful summer music festival annually brings to the fortunate attendee, who helps fill the auditorium at the San Diego Contemporary Art Museum, and nearby venues, on evenings and afternoons in August, the special joy of hearing  classical music that is among the world’s best.

To hear flute player Catherine Ransom Karoly join up with violinist Augustin Hadelich and violist Ori Kam for, “Serenade in D major,” light music written in 1801 by Beethoven (just after he had produced his first symphony), was the perfect way to draw in an audience for more than two hours of chamber music.  Light but compelling!

 

Catherine Ransom Karoly

 

 

One might not have known of the origin of the name of the Escher String Quartet, the world famous group brought on to play Schubert’s “String Quartet in A Minor.”   The name is derived from the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher’s method of interplay between individual elements working together to make a whole.  This was on brilliant display by violinists Adam Barnett-Hart and Aaron Boyd with Pierre Lapointe on  viola and Brook Speltz, the cellist, in their rendition of  the A minor quartet, thought by many to be Schubert’s finest in the genre.  The standing ovation indicated a sophisticated audience who agreed.

Escher String Quartet

After an intermission six musicians came on stage for Brahms’ “Sextet for Strings in B-flat Major,” which SummerFest Scholar-in-Residence Eric Bromberger (whose prelude lectures and program notes lead paths to understanding for the sophisticated and the casual listener alike) says influences of Schubert, Beethoven and Haydn have been heard in this composition but “the ‘Sextet’ already shows Brahms’ own unmistakable voice and is generally full of sunlight.”  True enough but this is a long piece of chamber music, going on for more than 45 minutes.  Maintaining interest was the wonderful passion demonstrated by the group of musicians (Gary Hoffman and Joshua Roman, cellists; Toby Hoffman and Heiichiro Ohyama, violists; and Kyoko Takezawa and Director Lin on violins) who were brought together for this complex and massive piece.

In a coincidence all three composers were 27 years old when they produced the three pieces under review.  They all have deep connections with the music capital of Austria so the title of the evening’s performance, “Viennese Masters,” is perfectly appropriate.   Not in our nation’s capital, nor even in Vienna itself, is one likely to be more compellingly treated to great performances.  SummerFest continues through August 28.

 

LA JOLLA SUMMERFEST FEATURES THIRD NIGHT OF HAYDN

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

 

by Barry Jagoda

He who pays the composer calls the tune.   This is a main lesson reinforced during three nights of La Jolla’s Summerfest which focused on the work of Franz Joseph Haydn who, for thirty years, from 1760 to 1790, served as the top musician at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, in the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Nikolaus, a decorated general, had been awarded huge landholdings and a fortune large enough to sustain a full orchestra at his home mansions.  Fancying  himself a musician, the Prince was a devotee of a now nearly extinct instrument, the baryton, which resembles a large cello with strings front and back.

Knowing that his job was an especially good deal, Haydn quickly responded to his master’s request for baryton music—composing 126 pieces for it, along with hundreds of other classics.

A highlight of the Festival program on Tuesday, August 19, was the bringing on of two splendid little pieces composed for the baryton and played by the highly talented and especially charming Shirley Hunt, seen below.


Why did this beautiful, versatile and complex instrument go out of fashion?  According to the authoritative musical analyst, Eric Bromberger, the baryton “produces a lovely sound but it is muted and not the instrument of choice in an age of virtuoso players who demand more force.”

Introducing what was called, “Haydn lll” Festival Director Jimmy Lin? Said, “This has been a wonderful educational process for me in getting a comprehensive look at Haydn’s output.”

Summerfest is traditionally a chamber music venue and these concerts featuring Haydn compositions often gave Festival patrons the sense of being in a comfortable private music room listening to works from more than two centuries ago.  Know as “Hausmusik” many of these Haydn pieces were written to be performed by friends at home for their own pleasure rather than as concert works.

Particularly engaging, with an easy listening quality, were a couple of trios for Clarinet, Violin and Cello.  Described as “one of the most sought after and innovative cellists of his generation,” Nicholas Canellakis, pictured below, was joined in the trios by violinist Yura Lee and clarinetist John Bruce Yeh.

 

Patrons and attendees at this 28th season of Summerfest will come away with an intimate understanding of the work of Haydn.  In addition to a wonderful educational experience they will have had the sheer joy of being transported to another age to be engaged by one of musical history’s greats.

 

HAYDN FEATURED AT LA JOLLA’S SUMMERFEST

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

by Barry Jagoda

Year after year Summerfest Music Director Cho-Liang (“Jimmy”) Lin gives serious creative thought to the themes, composers and musical players that always seem to turn-out better this year than the years before.

A professor of music at Houston’s superb Rice University Lin suddenly came upon the big picture for 2014:  “Our festival has never done much with Haydn—hardly anything.”  So Summerfest fans are being treated to three evenings of performance totally focused on Franz Joseph Haydn and a couple of his “protégés,” Mozart and Beethoven.

The opening night music was delightful and there are promises of more to come with “Haydn Evenings” on August 12 and August 19.   And this is classical music that provides just plain enjoyment! At the same time though, as the superb performance notes author, Eric Bromberger, put it, “This kind of music takes us deep into human emotions.”

The concert under discussion, performed August 5 in La Jolla, at the Sherwood Auditorium of San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art was titled “An Esterhazy Concert,” reflected the thirty years of service by Haydn to the wealthy Austrian family of that name.  (Their base was in the town of Eisenstadt, about 30 miles south of Vienna where the family leader, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, maintained a complete musical establishment, including a full orchestra.)

There was not a discernable flaw in the five selections chosen for this first featured Haydn evening.  Nearing the end of service to the Esterhazy family, in 1790, the composer produced the wonderfully beautiful String Quartet in D Major which was presented by the fine Miro Quartet, pictured below:

The performing star of the evening was Aisslinn Nosky, a brilliant violinist, also a crowd-pleaser with her passion and brilliance.  She could not be missed sporting, as she did, a shocking bright red Mohawk hair style.  Nosky lead fine performances, in the evening’s second half, of the Festival Orchestra’s presentation of a violin concerto and of Symphony #44:

The concertgoer was presented with a full compliment of Haydn’s repertoire, including trios, quartets and, as the evening’s finale, this dramatic symphony, #44, which eventually came to be called the “Trauer,” the Austrian term for “Mourning.”  As the program notes dramatically explained, Haydn lived to be an old man and, as death approached, when he was asked what music he wanted at his funeral, he chose the slow movement of this symphony.

But the Summerfest attendee has many more opportunities to enjoy Haydn with the evenings of August 12 and 19 also devoted to the composer’s work and legacy.

 

MOSCOW BALLET DELIGHTS WITH 2013 “NUTCRACKER” TOUR

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” is currently on it’s 21st annual North American crowd-pleaser  featuring an award winning company of 40 Russian dancers in more than 100 performances all across North America this holiday season.

As seen in San Diego, December 16, a focus on the best of the company dancers demonstrates why this Russian ballet extravaganza, with memorable production values, splendid costuming and hand-painted backdrops has become so widely appreciated in its appearances throughout the United States and Canada.

Particularly stunning are performances by Karyna Shatkovska as the lovely Masha and Volodymry Tkachenko, who plays first the Nutcracker, a holiday party doll gift for Masha, and who is then transformed into her Prince.  These two dancers, by themselves, are well worth the price of admission.

They are backed up by a fine company of Russian dancers and are joined by as many as 50 young American and Canadian ballet students from studios in each of the cities on the tour.

The production can be seen as a triumph of art over logistics.  With performances in more than 60 cities, getting the dancers, their costumes, stage settings, technical support and arranging for the massive marketing, travel and local partnerships is an admirable achievement.  The dance makes it all worthwhile.

A significant shortcoming is the absence of live music, understandable in light of already great burdens for this extravaganza.  (Apart from the aesthetic issue another problem is that the recorded music does go on even as the audience is busy trying to applaud!)

Ticket buyers can find details of the remaining performances at http://www.nutcracker.com/your-city.  A second performance in San Diego is set for December 17 at 7:30pm at the Copley Symphony Hall.

 

Experience and Originality at La Jolla’s Summerfest

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

by Barry Jagoda

Summerfest does such a fine job of programming during the month of August each year, in La Jolla, California, and the largest source of this excellence comes from experience, most particularly that of Music Director Cho-Liang (“Jimmy”) Lin.

 

 

 

Maestro Lin’s work was particularly manifest in three ways on August 22, the penultimate night of the Festival.  Lin chose the evening’s program, the memorable and exhausting presentation of all three Brahms’ Trios.  He also brought the refreshing “Newbury Trio” to the stage for a prelude featuring Beethoven’s Piano Trio, No.2.  Most impressive, though, was Lin’s joining up with two of his close friends and great American chamber music performers to star in the Brahms’ works.

 

This experience factor has many distinguishing elements but none exceeds bringing together veteran players to showcase the most capable of composers.  For the Brahms evening Lin, who allowed himself to take the violin role, also brought to the stage Gary Hoffman on the cello and Jon Kimura Parker at the piano, reminding the audience of greatness in musical performance.

Appropriately the group started with Trio’s No. 2 and No. 3, saving the best for last.  These two masterworks were created by Brahms later in his career, 1883 and 1887 respectively.  Then the composer took on, in 1891, the revisions of the first Trio, originally produced when Brahms was only in his early 20s.  It was in playing the revised Trio No. 1, which Brahms recomposed later in his career, that the experienced trio gave the audience a taste of the mature, dynamic late Brahms, whose storehouse of musical knowledge gave him the wherewithal to re-image this great musical piece.  The audience, reinvigorated after an intermission, particularly loved this performance. 

Beginning at 6:30,  way earlier in the evening, the young musical stars of the Newbury Trio, Meta Weiss, cello (center above); Arianna Warsaw-Fan, violin, at left and Henry Kramer, piano, brought a delicacy and studied precision to the Beethoven Piano Trio.  Their presentation was much appreciated, not the least because their freshness and eagerness came from being a young musical group.  Here the opposite of experience, perhaps originality, gave the early audience a real delight.

This was a night when Jimmy Lin, the great violinist, the brilliant teacher and the superb musical director had his skills on full display.

CHAMBER MUSIC AND ROMANCE IN LA JOLLA

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Outside there was a beautiful sunset over the Pacific.   Inside, on Saturday evening May 12, there was an even more romantic scene, as the La Jolla Music Society featured a concert of chamber music by Beethoven and Brahms, staring the world-famous duo of cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han.

The two, recently named 2012 Musicians of the Year by the on-line publication “Musical America,” have been married since 1985 and their mutual admiration had to be obvious to everyone who could plainly see them repeatedly turn over their shoulders to the other with smiles of appreciation and more.

While the program aimed to focus on the theme of how Brahms responded to Beethoven, even one trying hard to focus on the composers and the performance had to know that there was also a long-time love affair being played out on stage.

As this captivating event was being prepared for the stage, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s Sherwood Auditorium, already under way was prelude lecture on music history by the highly informative Eric Smigel, music professor from San Diego State University.  His 30-minute talk, titled “Hearing a Giant’s Footsteps,” set the scene for an evening of serious chamber music, although, arguably, the Brahms-Beethoven competition was probably overstated.

Johannes Brahms, who lived from 1833 to 1897, and was known to be intimidated by his predecessor, had somehow to cope with Beethoven’s everlasting brilliance.  Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827), of course, knew he was good.  He has been quoted as saying he was certain his compositions would have a long life, perhaps being remembered for fifty years after his death. This may count as the all time understatement of musical history.

As it turned out, though the historical, cultural and musical precedent of Beethoven was in the air, according to the evening’s program notes (co-written by cellist Finckel), Brahms revered Johannes Bach above all other composers.  So, while the concert was titled “Brahms as the Next Beethoven,” the four pieces on the program could be seen as stand-alone works.

The concert never lived up to it’s billing of a competition between Beethoven and Brahms.  In fact, the two Beethoven works—Sonata No. 2 in G Minor and 12 Variations in G Major—did not bring the magnificent sparkle one normally associates with the world’s finest composer.  On the other hand, Brahms Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 and Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2, were clearly favorites of the performers and the audience.

Han took the stage in a cloak of many colors, anchored by a pair of blue suede high heels.  Comparatively Finckel was understated in a black suit with red bow tie.  Seeing these two world famous musicians made one want to know more about their personal lives.

Finckel and Wu have been long-time artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and are also co-directors of the Music@Menlo Festival, now in its tenth year in the Bay Area.  They have an 18-year-old daughter, Lilian.   The family portrait from the video linked here,  and shot at the Aspen Music Festival in 2008, is helpful.   Lilian was then a very young teenager:

http://youtu.be/wpE-e8h1rak

At the evening’s end, the extremely charming Han announced an encore by  saying, “And now we would like to play a Chopin sonata, the very first song we learned to play together, and the story goes from there.”