Laguna Beach Independent
By Daniella Walsh
February 10, 2016
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Music Fest Grows Younger with Time

Classical music will mix with contemporary compositions in a trio of concerts at Laguna

Playhouse Feb. 12-14 during the run of the annual Laguna Beach Music Festival.

The festival aims to achieve that goal by engaging two artistic directors, violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Shai Wosner, who are bringing in wild Up, an emerging Los Angeles music ensemble. Performances will be distinguished by unique pairings of classical and contemporary composers such as as Koh performing on the same bill as Bach, Italian composer Luciano Berio (d.2003) and Esa Pekka Salonen, the Finnish composer and Los Angeles Philharmonic musical director from 1992 to 2009.

In its 14th season, the Laguna Beach Music Festival has evolved from its origin as the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Festival to a more mature institution. “We have grown to include world premieres, and the artists are getting younger and more of a mix as well. The festival is a place that lets the artists do more fun things,” said Cindy Prewitt, president and executive director of Laguna Beach Live and the festival presenter.

Fun driven by untrammeled exploration of musical possibilities appears to be a leitmotiv for wild Up and its 24 musicians led by composer/conductor Christopher Roundtree.

They employ instruments ranging from conch shells to penny whistles with clarinets, saxophones and drums filling in. They will perform with Koh and Wosner in “New Global Voices” on Saturday.

“We make music. New Music. Old Music. We play it as long as we love it,” is the stated motto of the group that bills itself as a music collective committed to creating visceral, thought-provoking happenings.

Laguna Beach music impresario Justus Schlichting is one of the group’s founding directors as well as president of Bridge to Music, the board supporting Koh’s “Bridge to Beethoven” project. He and his wife Elizabeth also underwrote a portion of the 2014 festival.

“ ‘Bridge to Beethoven’ is the first big project that Bridge to Music has put together. Ultimately it will cover all of 10 Beethoven sonatas, two of which will be performed on Sunday in conjunction ‘Elective Memory’ by Anthony Cheung,” he said.

As in previous years, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, helmed by president/artistic director John Mangum, co-presents the festival with LBL. Mangum, 41, of Irvine, succeeds Dean Corey, who retired in 2014.

“We chose artists that are exciting, intellectually curious, great musicians and who possess a great sense of adventure,” he said. “When we looked at our short list of this year’s musicians we got our first wish with Jennifer and Shai.” The festival grants artists creative license¬†without imposing any sort of conditions on the programs they want to do.

Mangum cited Koh’s “Bridge to Beethoven” as an exciting project with longevity, explaining that it involves newly commissioned compositions for violin and piano. Paired in concert with Beethoven sonatas, it will offer audiences new views of the old master, he promised.

What should one call this unconventional and a-tonal music? “Contemporary compositions still fall under the umbrella of classical music. It’s new, contemporary music,” said Mangum, who plays Bach, Hayden and Mozart on piano but appreciates well-crafted music from pop to jazz to world music as well.

Audiences will experience a sense of music’s continuing transformation, Schlichting promises. “Altogether, this year’s program shows the creative heart of future classical music; these are some of the kids that are moving classical music into exciting new directions. It’s exciting how they cross hundreds of years.”


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