Posts Tagged ‘California’

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.


Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

In his tenth year as Music Director of La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin has produced an engaging month-long (Aug. 4-Aug. 27) series of events along with often brilliant chamber music performances.

Some, like the exhilarating opening outdoor concert, “SummerFest Under The Stars,” and many rehearsals and prelude talks are free or without charge to ticket holders.  See the website for full details:

But, just into the first week, one can understand why SummerFest is nationally recognized and stands for the quality that the name La Jolla brings to mind.  This is reflected in national and world premier compositions, passionate performances by some of the world’s leading classical musicians and a sense of community and fellowship exchanged among artists and festival attendees.

As a transplanted former resident of Manhattan I always had the feeling that sanity required getting out of the city for part of the summer.  One year that led to renting a cottage on the grounds of Jacobs Pillow (the nation’s top summer dance venue) which was a few miles from the location of Tanglewood, probably the globe’s highest quality music festival.  What a wonderful few months in the Berkshire Mountains, half-way between New York and Boston. It was not just the refreshing natural settings but also the sense that this was the place to be culturally.  The productions and performances validated this view.  But that was then and this is now.  I am so happy to be within a short drive of SummerFest and all it brings to a lover of classic music.

This year’s festival has a focus on Chopin and Schumann, who were born two hundred years ago.  That theme is being carried out by presentations of some of their works and is complimented by the premiere of new chamber music pieces from leading contemporary composers such as Bright Sheng and Anthony Newman.

On Sunday, Aug. 8 we had a chance to chat with Sheng, a MacArthur “genius” Fellow, Professor at the University of Michigan, and widely acclaimed as among top contemporary classical composers.  We spoke just before the American premier of his new work for violin and piano which is based on study of Norwegian folk music.


Sheng had memorable answers for questions about influences on his work:  “Well, I really like my role on the faculty at Michigan because it gives me a chance to not only meet with my colleagues in the Music Department but also because I have the chance to learn from so many others, people in engineering, literature and so forth.”

Asked about how he deals with historic influences in music Sheng thoughtfully said, “Well, I think you must, of course, learn as much as possible about your discipline, about the artists and creators who have established the traditions in music from all cultures, but then you must also go crazy in your own way to make new creations.  Knowing the past gives you a certain freedom.”

The Sheng premiere was played wonderfully by cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion.  One could hear the colors and trills of Norway’s polar lights streaming through the auditorium.  Harrell, a highly respected and popular presence at SummerFest, is one of the world’s leading cellists. 

On the same program, Sunday afternoon August 8, the brilliant Borromeo String Quartet (with an added violist) played Beethoven’s String Quintet in C Major, a delight.  These musicians have introduced the use of new technology as they had Apple computers on their “music stands,” with foot pedals to move the score along.  One of the artists later told us that this enabled them to see their own parts as well as that of their colleagues.  This new use of computers will certainly find much wider acceptance.

Tuesday the 10th of August marked one of three festival nights dedicated to Robert Schuman and it was unforgettable.  The evening featured a dramatic piece for piano and baritone (an adapation of a brilliant love poem by the great German, Heinrich Heine, “Dichterliebe” or “Poet’s Love”).  Festival Director Jimmy Ling confessed that he was not all that interested in this sort of work during his early studies at Julliard since he wanted to concentrate on his own work with the violin.  But as part of a course he had to go to the library and listen.  Ever since, he told the Festival audience, he had wanted to present this deeply captivating piece, composed by Schuman not too long after his storied marriage to Clara Schuman in 1840.

Lin’s work at Julliard, as well as before and since, catapulted him to the highest ranks of the classical musical world.  A leading classical violinist, Ling, 50, was born in Taiwan, and is now also a Professor at the prestigious Rice University Shepherd School of Music.


Lin was one of five stars who gave what may have been the Festival’s most passionate work thus far in their performance of the Schuman Quintet in E-flat Major.  Also featured was the great chamber music artist Chee-Yun, in a bright red dress and wielding an unforgettable violin.  Carter Brey on the cello and violist Paul Neubauer played along with one of the world’s chamber music pianists, Joseph Kalichstein.  The audience loved it and the musicians were also clearly having a wonderful time.

And SummerFest still had weeks to go!