Posts Tagged ‘La Jolla’

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.

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.


Friday, October 29th, 2010
Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden

Sam Harris
Sam Harris

In contrast to all the media bunk on election eve, clear thinking was on passionate display when Sam Harris, author of a wonderful new argument against religion and the venerable leader for social change, Tom Hayden, spoke with students at UC San Diego, October 27 and 28.

Asked about a solution to what was termed the “terrorist problem,” Hayden said getting Americans out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and 16 other Muslim countries would put an end to Islamic radical attacks on the west.   Ending reliance on the Koran, “a mediocre book,” Harris argued, would be a good start.  Harris, a fierce and articulate opponent of all supernatural constructs, urges that morality be based on what can be known about human “well-being.”
In an age when pandering office-seekers spew low common denominator political and philosophical nonsense in all directions through the media, on the campaign trail and, very often, from religious pulpits, it is inspiring and gratifying to hear back-to-back speakers expressing common sense and reminding that there are rational solutions for many of mankind’s most pressing problems.
Both the philosopher and the political organizer object to the imposition of moral values based on false patriotism and on questionable ideological dogma.  Their common solution to universal problems lies in application of social science.  For Hayden this means use of the tools of political analysis and community organizing.  For Harris, the moral path travels through science, particularly neuroscience, and the rejection of supernaturalism.

To get a sense of Harris’s profound thinking I must quote here from some sentences in his new book:

“The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values.  There are ancient disagreements about the status of moral truth:  people who draw their worldview from religion generally believe that moral truth exists, but only because God has woven it into the very fabric of reality; while those who lack such faith tend to think that notions of “good” and “evil” must be the products of evolutionary pressure and cultural invention.  On the first account, to speak of “moral truth” is, of necessity, to invoke God; on the second, it is merely to give voice to one’s apish urges, cultural biases and philosophical confusion.  My purpose is to persuade you that both sides in this debate are wrong.  The goal of this book is to begin a conversation about how moral truth can be understood in the context of science.”

That is to say, for Harris, “human well-being entirely depends on events in the world and states of the human brain.”

Hayden, clearly buoyant about the prospects of a victory in the California governor’s race for progressive Democrat Jerry Brown, spoke of the possibilities for the state becoming a national engine for conservation and alternative energy and for defining an alternative to the backlash against immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Then, getting fired up and reminding one of his history as the brilliant student opponent of the American war in Vietnam, Hayden said, “I believe today that nothing is more important than for student, faculty and universities taking up the challenge of critical analysis of the war on terrorism and the alternatives.”

He elaborated, “Much greater support is needed for an expanded program of research, undergraduate education and global dialogue with the Muslim world.  It was said in my generation that communism was a closed, monolithic system, but a Michael Gorbachev proved the Cold Warriors wrong.  Today it is said that Islam is a unique fundamentalism, but I think this generation will prove that view to be too narrow and self-serving.”

Below your reporter is seen with Tom Hayden.

.photo (1)

It has been said that there cannot be a great city without a great university.  Here at the end of October, 2010, one is grateful to be in the La Jolla, California environment where important, mind-expanding ideas are within walking distance of your front-door.


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!