The San Diego Union Tribune
By Beth Wood
July 28, 2017
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La Jolla Music Society SummerFest one big extended family

Violinist Jennifer Koh will perform three sonatas with pianist Shai Wosner on Aug. 16 as part of the La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest. (JÜRGEN FRANK)

SummerFest music director Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin has long thought of the annual chamber-music extravaganza in La Jolla as a big extended family. Of the approximately 70 highly accomplished musicians who are performing this year, several are making their debuts. They include Finland’s much-sought-after Olli Mustonen, who will be featured as both a pianist and composer, and the distinguished conductor David Zinman, who will lead the festival finale.

However, the majority of the musicians will be making encore performances at La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest, which runs Aug. 4 through Aug. 25. As in previous years, many of them will play pieces that are new to SummerFest’s repertoire.

“At festivals, you don’t always get a lot of rehearsal time, so it’s good to play with people that you’ve performed with (through the years),” said Inon Barnatan from his New York City home. The Israeli-born pianist can’t count how many times he’s been to SummerFest. He will play in three of its concerts this year.

“It’s essential for a successful festival to get the chemistry going, so that it translates to the audience,” Barnatan said. “In La Jolla, Jimmy has done such a great job at inviting musicians, people who host them and workers behind the scenes. It creates a great sense of family, and the audience is part of it. Coming to La Jolla is like coming home for Thanksgiving. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, you start right where you left off. It’s that excitement and feeling of joy.”

For Barnatan, La Jolla has become almost like a second home. In the spring of 2018, he will curate a three-concert series for La Jolla Music Society. Entitled “Swan Song,” it will explore composer Franz Schubert’s later works.

This year, SummerFest will again include open rehearsals, “Encounters” and coaching workshops. Like the outdoor concert at La Jolla Cove on Aug. 2, these events are free. The “Encounters,” held at La Jolla’s Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, will include two performances and one panel discussion.

As in the past, the main attraction is the remarkably broad array of concerts, which are preceded by musical or educational presentations called “Preludes.”

The big change this year is that SummerFest will no longer take place in what was its longtime home: the now-defunct Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which is undergoing renovation.

The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, which will be the new home of the La Jolla Music Society, is set for a 2019 opening, just a few blocks from museum. This year, most SummerFest activities will take place at the University of California San Diego’s state-of-the-art Conrad Prebys Concert Hall.

“The sound is wonderful and there is ample space behind the stage,” Lin said. “We can spread out through the building. It’s centralized and convenient. We are grateful to UCSD for allowing us to have SummerFest there.”

A lighthearted start

The opening concert on Aug. 4, “Fiddles vs. Pianos,” is a lighthearted instrumental battle.

“It’s meant to be a showcase for these incredible musicians,” said Lin, himself a noted violinist. “It’s is a great opener because so many great violinists and pianists will be congregating on one stage. We want the audience to leave discussing: ‘Do I like violin virtuosos better or do I like piano virtuosos better?’ It’s kind of a mini reality TV show.”

Lin is especially pleased that, for the first time, SummerFest will present all 10 of Beethoven’s violin sonatas — in four separate concerts and by seven musicians.

“These sonatas are exemplary of Beethoven’s progression,” he said. “The sonatas evolve and the styles are very different from one another. You’ll see Beethoven’s diverse range. That’s part of the fun of these programs.”

Lin will play the first of these sonata concerts, while violinist Jennifer Koh will perform two. Hailed recently in the Union-Tribune for combining “dazzling virtuosity with deep emotional conviction,” Koh will perform three sonatas with pianist Shai Wosner. They are part of the duo’s acclaimed “Bridge to Beethoven” tour, which also features new compositions.

How will it be to perform the Beethoven pieces without the new compositions?

“They were written originally without them, so they work well on their own,” said Koh with a laugh. “Going into the ‘Bridge’ tour, Shai and I rehearsed intensely for about a year and a half. The context at La Jolla is the complete sonatas done by a variety of performers. That’s interesting in itself.”

Lin, as always, likes emphasizing variety, and not just in performers.

“We cover a huge range of music and styles,” he said. “Music lovers will be fulfilled by the end.

“Generally, I seek genuinely powerful and wonderful pieces to be played. Olli’s sonatas will reverberate against the violin sonatas. We have Hungarian composers juxtaposed four days earlier with Europeans like Dvořák. Hopefully one can take a journey not from east to west, but zigzag through the European continent.”

For the full SummerFest schedule, go to


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