Posts Tagged ‘Classical Music’

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.



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.



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  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.

“Mainly Mozart” Celebrates 22nd Season In San Diego

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

     In the world of classical music Lincoln Center’s “Mostly Mozart” Festival is well-known but the similarly named “Mainly Mozart,” a pride of San Diego, has an orchestra of highly regarded players and visiting soloists just as accomplished and passionate. ORxchestra and John Lill 1155 (1)

     “Mainly Mozart” has just ended its 22nd Summer Festival playing before large audiences and featuring such guest celebrity soloists as pianist Andrew Von Oeyen and violinist Sarah Chang and Mezzo-Soprano Frederica Von Stade. The founding conductor and artistic director of the Festival is David Atherton who has led the London Sinfonietta, the San Diego Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic and guest conducted dozens of the major orchestras world-wide. DA Particular (1)

     Each of this summer’s eight evening programs focused on works of Mozart but paired with another master composer, including Dvorak, Brahms, Copland, all presented in downtown San Diego’s splendidly restored and revitalized Balboa Theater. BalboaExteriornew (1)

     On Saturday night, June 19th, before a packed house, the magnificent violinist James Ehnes delivered a never to be forgotten performance in the difficult and rewarding Beethoven Violin Concerto in D. Ehnes was thrilling in his soloist rendition, particularly the 24 minute opening movement, so long that it took a musical genius to keep the audience focused and deeply engaged. The Festival Orchestra knew they were participating in a great symphony presentation. At the end the audience stood en-mass, clapping with more than a few bravos heard from the crowd. Ehnes has been described as “a modern day Joshua Heifitz,” and this captivating performance justified such an historic comparison. james_ehnes (1)

     Also on the program was Beethoven’s short “Overture to Prometheus” and two lovely Mozart works, the charming and diverting “Serenata Notturna,” which passes for what the conductor might have considered “lighter” music and the great Symphony 38, “Prague.”

     And at the intermission, on this the Festival’s final night, and as the audience filed out at the conclusion one could hear appreciative murmurs along with “I’m definitely re-subscribing for next year!” Echoing this sentiment we will certainly put “Mainly Mozart” on the calendar for its 23rd season in June, 2011.