SummerFest 2010: La Jolla Music Society brings out the stars




August is coming up, and once again musicians and music lovers will converge on La Jolla for one of the great local classical music traditions, the La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest.

Christopher Beach, the society’s director, said some of the musicians return year after year.

“They know La Jolla very well,” he said, “every restaurant and pub in town. You’ll see them not only after concerts, you’ll see them at lunch. There are probably 80 artists at the festival this year, wandering around town, shopping. We’ve got one pianist who loves to come because there’s a store (here where) she goes shopping for her recital gowns every year.”

Violinist and festival music director Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin is one of those musicians. Lin, now in his 10th year as SummerFest’s music director, says that for him, most of the hard work is done off-season, when he fleshes out the festival’s themes, researches ideas, engages artists and plans what will be needed to bring it all off.

By festival time in August, he says, his job is mostly “to play my very best.”

When congratulated with the anniversary, Lin said ‘Thank you’ and turned the conversation to the festival and its music. He’s not one to beat his own drum.

But La Jolla Music Society director Christopher Beach is quick to note Lin’s contributions.

“Jimmy brings many things to this. Jimmy is a gentleman and a fine, world-class musician. Everyone who plays with him loves him and wants to play with him again. That kind of stature, you don’t find in every music director.”

Lin’s programming took greater note of other milestones this year. This is the 200th anniversary of Schumann’s and Chopin’s birthdays, and SummerFest is celebrating in style.

Dedication to Schumann

The festival, which focuses on chamber music, is dedicating three of its 14 concerts throughout August to Schumann, blending familiar works, like the piano quintet and the song cycle Dichterliebe, with lesser-known ones.

“There is another, much shorter set of songs that is very rarely heard. In fact, very few people know of it,” Lin said. “It’s for mezzo-soprano and harp, the three songs of Lord Byron. That’s a rare find!”

As for Chopin, San Diego audiences have already heard much of his music for piano solo this past season. So Lin is casting a spotlight on the composer’s little-known chamber music in one concert. A second concert will review music by Liszt, Rossini, Schumann and Mendelssohn, friends and acquaintances of Chopin’s.

Evenings with pianists

It isn’t all just anniversaries this season. As in earlier years, the festival will have its “An Evening With” concerts, this time with three world-class pianists.

First, Emanuel Ax will perform a Schubert program centering on the Impromptus. Next is the up-and-coming Gabriela Montero— remember her from President Obama’s inauguration? — maybe the only concert pianist today who accepts the 19th-century challenge of improvising on themes suggested by the audience. Finally, there’s Vladimir Feltsman, a favorite at SummerFest 2008, whose program will include Chopin’s four Ballades.

The La Jolla Music Society has long championed contemporary music, and this year is no different. The society commissioned a work from the Chinese composer Bright Sheng, which will be premiered Aug. 8 by the celebrated cellist Lynn Harrell. That concert will also present a new violin sonata by Baroque and Classical music conductor and performer Anthony Newman.

A concert Aug. 20 will feature premieres of new music by composers Brett Dean, Christopher Rouse, and La Jolla’s own Chinary Ung.

Sprinkled throughout the festival are concerts exploring various themes. Opening night, Aug. 6, is the String Spectacular, with among other things “one of the most sublime works of Mozart,” according to Lin — the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra.

The next night, Newman and others will examine the Age of Enlightenment with music from Bach to Haydn capped off by Baroque favorites in a dazzling arrangement for trumpets, timpani and organ. This concert, incidentally, will be at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, across the street from the festival’s main Sherwood Auditorium venue.

Free festival prelude

As a prelude to the actual festival, a free concert is scheduled at Ellen Browning Scripps Park at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 4. Aside from the SummerFest musicians who will perform, the San Diego Youth Symphony will play a Vivaldi concerto with Lin, 11-year-old violinist Valerie Kim and the young cellist Eric Han as soloists.

Han is one of seven young musicians selected for the festival’s coaching program. These sessions, led by seasoned SummerFest musicians, will be held at Riford Library in La Jolla and are open to the public. The young participants in this training will also perform in SummerFest’s pre-concert Prelude series of lectures, interviews and music. Finally, a lighter musical program, champagne, elegant dinner and dancing are planned for Aug. 13 at the Robert Paine Scripps “Seaside” Forum at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The proceeds from this SummerFest Gala will go to the La Jolla Music Society’s education, outreach and artistic programs.

Many of the rehearsals, workshops and other events throughout the month are open to the public.

After the lingering chill of this year’s June gloom, it sounds like SummerFest will warm things up in La Jolla.

SummerFest Under the Stars

The free concert at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 4 will fill Scripps Park at La Jolla Cove with the sounds of Schumann, Halvorsen, Sarasate, Mendelssohn, Vivaldi and Kabalevsky performed by a wonderful assortment of artists, including SummerFest Music Director Cho-Liang Lin and the San Diego Youth Symphony’s International Youth Orchestra.

For more on SummerFest, go to