Posts Tagged ‘Classical music festivals’

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

 

 

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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.

 

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.

CLASSICAL MUSIC DELIGHT: SUMMERFEST IN LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA

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:  http://www.ljms.org/SummerFest-2010/Performances/

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.

IMG_0127

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!