Posts Tagged ‘San Diego culture’

Lucky We Are To Have Loving Families

Monday, July 15th, 2019

by Barry Jagoda

The Luckiest, now up at La Jolla Playhouse until July 28th, is one of the best short dramatic productions there in recent memory.

Playgoers may be slightly confused by the opening foreshadowing sequence of events which lead to the death of “Lissette’s” character.  She has suffered from numerous medically diagnosed illnesses, dooming her.  This is why we first see the brilliant actress, Aleque Reid, as “Lissette,” on stage briefly in a high tech wheelchair.

Below is Ms. Reid, funny, passionate, argumentative and loving, seen in the world premier of Melissa Ross’s fine and moving drama, directed by Jaime Castaneda.


Most of the 95-minute play, with no intermission, is taken up with arguments and love-talk among “Lissette,” her Mom, “Cheryl,” seen here effectively portrayed by Deirdre Lovejoy, and “Peter” the new family member/boyfriend, starring Reggie D. White, in a unforgettable performance.


The Luckiest is the heart-rending dramatic story of our families and the families we choose—-making clear how lucky any of us may be to have such deep relationships which will survive the most trying adversities of family separations and medical end of life situations.

The terrific drama gives one leaving the theater a deep appreciation for what Playhouse Artistic Director, Christopher Ashley, has written is that understanding from family is among the luckiest things one can possess.




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.


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.


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, 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.


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.



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.



Sunday, October 6th, 2013

by Barry Jagoda

What a splendid initiative, the just concluded third annual  “Atlantic Meets the Pacific conference again co-produced by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the Atlantic Magazine set in the beautiful oceanside environment of La Jolla, California.  As in previous years the event this year, Oct 2-4, brought a very eager and attentive audience of about 300 to a series of interviews by Atlantic journalists who are tasked with coaxing useful ideas from leading scholars and researchers.

This process of bringing experts to present before a well-educated large number of paying guests ($495 for the event) worked very well in the past but was not quite as effective this year because the conference program focused in a much more detailed way on developments and potential in health and medical research where earlier such events zeroed in on more general topics more easily comprehended by non-specialists.

Still the line-up of highly regarded authors, discoverers, medical researchers and health care reformers produced gee-whiz moments.  Much of the useful information came in discussion on topics such as “Big Data, Big Disease:  Mining for Medical Breakthroughs,” which featured a heavy emphasis on use of new understandings from the genome leading toward potential thwarting of unsolved medical mysteries.  A significant portion of the conference was devoted to developments in cancer research, but on this and other topics the experts might well have talking to themselves as the conversation often seemed to require more background for any sort of useful audience take-away.

Many of the major academic and industry players could be seen around the conference venue.  Hard to miss, for example, was Ian Shakil of AUGMEDIX because he jumped right out of the crowd demonstrating the most intriguing “Google Glasses.”  Given an opportunity to test-run this amazing device, one quickly learned ease of operation and within less than a minute of wearing, as seen below, this writer was able to “shoot, record and playback” a video with the entire operation taking place us the glasses.  Google strikes again!

“Atlantic Meets the Pacific” came upon the splendid idea of dividing conference participants into small groups for tours of five of the many biotechnology labs that are ubiquitous in the area of San Diego’s La Jolla neighborhood.  Most of these world-class facilities were set-up in the area because of the strong programs in science at UCSD.  Though in the realm of ideas “location” is far less important than the potential for collaborations, Inter-institutional work is a hallmark of the region and the conference planners have been very wise to set-up this annual meeting at La Jolla’s Pacific Ocean.

There was clearly a consensus of appreciation expressed by Conference attendees for a superbly organized program and flawless management of logistics including transportation and good food.  And, even for a generalist journalist, there was much food for thought.


San Diego Musical Theater with Rousing “CHICAGO”

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

By Barry Jagoda

The Birch North Park Theatre is a wonderful old San Diego venue, dating from 1929, perfect for “Chicago,” a road-show musical based on Broadway’s third longest running production.  It is heartening to walk into this great space immediately to be confronted with a 14-piece orchestra which occupies half the stage and is soon joined by a cast of 19, including three or four starring roles and a highly professional ensemble.  The musical theatre is very much alive in San Diego.

By way of introduction, on the February 22 opening night, Gary and Erin Lewis, executive directors of the producing organization, San Diego Musical Theater (SDMT), stepped in the front of the curtain and announced that the show was about crime, about murder and adultery.  That about sums up the content of “Chicago,” but the baton of resident musical director, Don Le Master,  keeps the orchestra and the production jumping with comedic charm and “razzle dazzle.”

Nearly 40 years after its Broadway debut, the play has evolved into a mostly empty, jokey story.  But production quality and fast pace in San Diego, results in some high entertainment value—wonderful singing and dancing by the two competing female leads, Kyra Da Costa and Emma Radwick, and a bold, bravura performance by the handsome, fast talking Chicago defense lawyer, played by Robert Townsend, gives the audience a series of delights. Particularly impressive is the constantly visible and hard-working ensemble. Patrons seemed to really appreciate the talents of this group of eight hoofers.  And what one must never forget about this production is that it was first conceived by Bob Fosse, whose “The Chorus Line,” may be the greatest Broadway musical ever.  In “Chicago” the characters are also forced to dig deep into their emotional selves for material although this Fosse trademark is here seen more as comedy and farce instead  of insightful self-analysis.  The San Diego production was directed by Ron Kellum and choreographed by Randy Slovcek.

“Chicago” tells the story of Roxie (below right) who shoots a suitor when she thinks she is being taken advantage of and about another peripheral Chicago dancer, Velma (below left), who wants the attention Roxie seems to be getting.  Billy Flynn, the smooth ” mick lawyer,” takes on Roxie’s case and (shh!) gets her acquitted of murder.  The rest is commentary and good middlebrow musical art, although the lawless violence seen in pre-depression Chicago necessarily reminds one of similar conditions in today’s Windy City.


Several members of the cast were making their professional stage debuts with this production.  One such ensemble member, Ariel Lowell, who spends much of her time seeking theatrical opportunities in Los Angeles, was clearly excited by her chance and she did a fine job throughout the evening.  That was indeed lucky because it turned out that ten members of her family came to Opening Night, including her siblings and parents from Colorado and her grandmother from Virginia.  In one of the production’s more lavish numbers the Ensemble (with Ariel, left center, below) surrounds star lawyer “Billy Flynn,” well played by Townsend.

In early February Ariel and the cast began two weeks of rehearsals and their performances showed a high degree of professionalism.

A huge crowd showed up for Opening Night and it was a diverse group. Quite visible was a former President of the University of California, Bob Dynes, and his wife Ann, who is the retired attorney for UC San Diego.  The audience was obviously  thrilled with the live musical quality and it was apparent that SDMT has begun it’s season with a hit.  After previews and a highly successful Opening Weekend, February 15-17, the show was scheduled, during the last weekend of February and the beginning of March, for eight more performances. Tickets are available on-line, <> or by phoning the box office at 858-560-5740.

Under the leadership of Producers Gary and Erin Lewis, San Diego Musical Theater will bring a total of four large musicals to the Birch in coming months: “The Sound of Music,” May 10-26; “Ain’t Misbehavin,” September 27-October 13 and “White Christmas” in December.


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.”

Brilliant Charlie Chaplin, Despairing Dostoevsky at La Jolla Playhouse

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

     It is mystifying to think about how one of the nation’s leading theater companies, La Jolla Playhouse, could simultaneously present to its loyal audiences a brilliant musical biography, the most enjoyable and historically significant “Limelight, The story of Charlie Chaplin,” while also serving up in an adjacent theater the vile, meaningless 90 minutes of useless agony, a version of Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground.”

     It was only toward the end of “Notes” that patrons starting walking out, a final on-stage rape scene was ultimately too much to bear, but we all should have left in the beginning as it became apparent that the whole production was to consist of a maniac repeatedly proclaiming that his life was completely evil and that he was in perpetual agony.







Contrast this with the uplifting life of Chaplin, who rose from the slums of London to become, on the basis of pure talent and a genetic ability to perform, one of the very greatest Hollywood entertainers and movie stars.  His story, a great crowd pleaser in La Jolla, is likely to end up on Broadway as have many other productions from these uneven creative stages.


     “Notes,” an adaptation of an early novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky, who became one of the two or three greatest Russian novelists, did feature interesting staging in this Yale Repertory-La Jolla co-production, and there is one other positive reflection:  A community that prides itself on serving up the “good life,” as does San Diego, can use an artistic nightmare here and there.  In fact it is the very absence of this kind of humanistic struggle, the turning away from issues of alienation, that makes the local culture less appealing than in other major centers.  So, bring on a little lower Manhattan or some sordid San Francisco, to say nothing of painful 19th Century Russia.  We need a little shaking up in a place that calls itself “America’s Finest City.”


     Chaplin’s thought-provoking life encompasses so much about the 20th Century—urban poverty in the world’s cities, immigration, mama-inspiration, imaginative bravado, the Cold War and American political repression and H o l l y w o o d that it is an absolute natural for telling a big story with its emotional highs and lows.  At the heart of this wonderful story is a show about how to please an audience.


     In telling the life of this natural and consummate entertainer, who built on his vaudeville training to become a star in the earliest silent films and then the “talkies,” the La Playhouse has gone all-out, as this company can do when it is when focused on a good story.  In the current production we have a wonderful orchestra, singers, dancers, stars.  Chaplin, a world-class womanizer, took four wives and then, as he left the stage driven away by the horrible anti-communist blacklist, moved to Switzerland and had eight kids with his last wife. 


     What the audience might best remember, besides the perfect showcasing of Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character, is the truth about a life, about mass culture and how the left-wing idealism bit so deeply into almost all its adherents that the challenge of know-nothing attacks by Senator Joseph McCarthy and his fellow demagogues at first seemed irrelevant.  But these attacks were just plain poison on our whole culture.  This production is a truth-teller, retaining the mean-spirited backdrop of poverty and political controversy of the worst kind of 20th Century pain, yet delivered in the form of a wonderful musical giving pleasure and delight to the audience with its terrific script and story and show casing the greatest figure in early Hollywood.







These two plays are at La Playhouse <> through mid-October.