Posts Tagged ‘Chamber music’


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 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.


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 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.

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

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.


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.

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.



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.


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.


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:

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.”


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!