By Jonathan Horn
Renowned Rice University music professor Jon Kimura Parker knows the limits of his field.
"If you're in an artistic endeavor, there's no such thing as perfection," he said. "You aim for it, but you never really get it."
But anyone can certainly keep trying.
And for those participating in the La Jolla Music Society's annual SummerFest, some very prominent musicians are here to help in the quest. Recent Rancho Bernardo High School graduate Andy Leu, 17, got some of that help at the La Jolla Riford Library on Aug. 3, as part of the festival's master class program. Andy played a Brahms rhapsody in front of about 35 spectators and was coached by Julliard professor Helen Huang.
"It was fantastic," Andy said. "I mean, I've performed this piece a couple of times, but it's pretty much night and day with all the tips that she gave me, and I'm hearing so many different things that I've never heard before."
Engaging an audience
A master class is somewhat like a publicly carried-out private music lesson between a young performer and an accomplished musician. However, it is structured in a way to engage an audience. The class begins with a full performance of a piece and then is critiqued by the instructor.
"I just think a master class should be something where you get everyone involved and you want to express everything in a way people understand it," Parker said after giving a master class to a fellowship piano trio.
Helen Huang, who lives in New York but is visiting La Jolla for the festival, said she wanted Andy's experience to be uplifting.
"You want to inspire these kids," she said, adding that she was very impressed by Andy's performance. "It's always been kind of a tradition to play for people that are senior than you because with the arts you need to have a conversation about some things, so it's very helpful for a youngster to play with someone who has had more experience."
Monday's class was Andy's fourth master class in his young career. He plans to attend Yale University in the fall.
New ideas the key
"I could have done a little bit better, but that's really not the point of a master class," he said. "The most important thing was to get the new ideas out. I didn't really have to play it perfectly."
The master classes run each weekday until Aug. 19, and unlike many of the festival's performances, are free for the public. The workshops run from 10 a.m. to noon, and are divided into two one-hour segments. Most days will feature the same piano trio or the Jasper String Quartet - the graduate quartet-in-residence at the Yale School of Music who are SummerFest fellowship artists this year - with only the master changing each day.
"They're usually in graduate programs at Julliard or some of the other really prestigious music programs in the country," SummerFest workshop coordinator Travis Maril said of the trio and quartet.
Other days will feature a student from the San Diego Youth Symphony, which is how Andy got the opportunity.
"They're basically the most advanced students from the San Diego Youth Symphony Conservatory," Maril said, adding that Andy also serves as the concertmaster of the youth symphony.
Regardless of who is performing, the formula will stay the same: a performance at the outset critiqued and tweaked by the master of the day.
Parker said these training musicians play a larger role in the event than many realize: "They're actually a more permanent part of the festival than people like me because I'm only here for a few days."
See SummerFest Under the Stars
SummerFest comes to La Jolla Cove tonight with a free public concert in Ellen Browning Scripps Park at 7:30. Music Director Cho-Liang Lin will lead Summerfest artists in Mendelssohn, Piazzolla, Tchaikovsky and Mozart.
Plan on arriving early, as a large crowd is likely. Last year, an estimated 2,000 enjoyed the event.
The program will open with Slavonic Dances for Piano Four-Hands, Opus 46 featuring Liza Stepanova and Joyce Yang on pianos and will close with Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor, Opus 23, featuring Yang on piano with the La Jolla Symphony conducted by Steven Schick.
On the bill over the next week
Unless noted, all performances are at the MCASD Sherwood Auditorium, with a prelude beginning an hour before the featured performance.
- Thursday: Encounter: Creativity Without Stopping, 12:30 p.m., Athenaeum Music & Arts Library
- Thursday: SummerFest Under the Stars, 7:30 p.m., Ellen Browning Scripps Park, FREE concert for the public
- Aug. 16: Poetry and Divinity, 3 p.m.
- Aug. 18: Mendelssohn III - Friendship Among Masters, 7:30 p.m.
- Aug. 19: An Evening with Mark O'Connor, 7:30 p.m.
- Aug. 20: Encounter: Composers' Forum, 12:30 p.m., Athenaeum Music & Arts Library