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ARTICLE: SummerFest Synergy concerts will merge classical, jazz, Kurt Weill, opera and dance

San Diego Union-Tribune 

Beth Wood
August 14, 2022

 

As unlikely as it seems, jazz vocal star Cécile McLorin Salvant, acclaimed opera countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, the orchestral collective The Knights and Dance Heginbotham will be performing — together and separately — at La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest, Wednesday through Sunday.

Teaming these accomplished artists, with dissimilar skills and from varied genres, is no accident. They are performing here in the third season of the Synergy Initiative, which was co-founded by Clara Wu Tsai and Inon Barnatan, Summerfest’s artistic director.

“Clara and I wanted to bring people from different fields who could create points in which the art forms can merge,” said Barnatan, speaking from the society’s Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center.

“Because we often think in such rigid categories, it’s interesting to blur the lines a little bit. We also want our 21st century concert hall here to open up and be more innovative.”

In sync with that spirit, the Synergy series’ first concert spotlights singer Salvant, who studied classical piano and baroque voice before forging her own brand of jazz. Her new album, “Ghost Song,” draws from a variety of genres and such non-musical inspirations as books by Emily Brontë and Marcel Proust, visits to art museums, and deep introspection.

 

On Wednesday, Salvant will perform a SummerFest concert at the Baker-Baum Concert Hall. She’ll be accompanied by pianist Sullivan Fortner, guitarist Marvin Sewell, percussionist Keita Ogawa and bassist Yasushi Nakamura. The evening will highlight “Ghost Song,” which includes pieces written by her and others.

“I try to not make a distinction between my originals and the songs I interpret,” Salvant said via email. “I want to blur those boundaries in my mind, as well as the boundaries of genre and even instruments.”

Musical smorgasbord

The next night, Thursday, Salvant and pianist Fortner will join other musicians for “An Evening with Kurt Weill” at the Baker-Baum. The celebrated German composer, who died in 1950, wrote the satirical “Three Penny Opera” and “The Seven Deadly Sins.” His most best-known songs include “Mack the Knife” and “September Song.”

“I think I’ve known ‘Mack the Knife’ for as long as I can remember,” Salvant said. “I record Weil’s songs because I really love them. They are surprising, and funny, and moving.”

SummerFest Artistic Director Barnatan, who is good friends with both Salvant and Anthony Roth Costanzo, predicts that hearing their voices together will be “incredible.”

This spring, Costanzo reprised his 2019 starring role in Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten” at the Metropolitan Opera. He will be in London in early September for that city’s famed classical music festival, BBC Proms. He’ll perform “Glass/Handel,” an interdisciplinary work he created and recorded in 2018.

Costanzo returns to London in late September with New York cabaret legend Vivian Justin Bond. The two will do a monthlong fall residency of “Only an Octave Apart,” which they created and performed in New York earlier this year. Their album by the same name was recently released.

“Countertenors cannot be in certain operas; their repertoire is not Carmen, Tosca or La Boheme,” said Costanzo, who — like Salvant — is a Grammy Award winner.

“Repertoire featuring countertenors is rarely done, especially in this country. What can you do to have a more exciting career? That’s led me to be to think beyond the confines of my art form.”

Performing Weill is a welcome new opportunity for him.

“I have always loved Kurt Weill, but I’ve never sung his songs in my career. I love a new challenge,” Costanzo said.

“Weill has a whole ambience to his music and his world which comes across very strongly. His music has both a wry element of wit and world melancholy to it. It’s fun to play those two things off each other. There’s a lot of grit in his music, which suits both me and Cecile.”

“An Evening with Kurt Weill” will be a “semi-staged” concert guided by Zack Winokur, a sought-after stage director and co-founder of American Modern Opera Company (AMOC). He and Costanzo are longtime friends and colleagues.

“Zack is utterly unique in our business,” said Costanzo, who will join Winokur Tuesday at 1 p.m. in the Artist Lounge, a free and informal SummerFest event. “He, like me, has worked in all kinds of styles. He’s able to bring this interdisciplinary savvy to what we’re doing.

“What Zack does that is incredibly important for artists like Cecile, The Knights and Sullivan Fortner — who will also be performing that night — is that he clears the obstacles out of the way to allow all of us to be really comfortable and be ourselves. That’s often how we can give our most compelling performances.

“At the concert, we’ll do more music by Weill than anyone else, but we’ll explore a lot of other composers. We’ll be doing classical, jazz and American standards. It will be a fantastic smorgasbord for the audience.”

Interactive journey

The final part of the Synergy series is a set of performances Saturday and next Sunday at The JAI, a smaller flexible-use venue across from the Baker-Baum.

The Knights, a New York-based chamber ensemble, has arranged “The Planets” for just 10 musicians. Composer Gustav Holst’s huge and masterful trek through the celestial bodies will be presented in what SummerFest calls a “lightly immersive music, dance and theater” experience.

Also in the mix will be four members of New York’s Dance Heginbotham, a troupe known for its high energy and love of collaboration.

“We’re having four ‘Planets’ shows with 100 audience members each time,” Barnatan explained. “Basically, the audience will surround us. It will be an intimate, interactive journey.

“The Synergy Initiative allows us to see what we can do in the sandbox we have. And the result is these innovative and exciting events.”

SummerFest: Synergy Under the Influence: Cécile McLorin Salvant

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday ; prelude interview at 6 p.m.

Tickets: $48-$98

SummerFest: Synergy: An Evening of Kurt Weill, featuring Cécile McLorin Salvant and Anthony Roth Costanzo

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $53-$113

Where: Both concerts are at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center’s Baker-Baum Concert Hall, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla

SummerFest: Synergy: The Planets, featuring The Knights with Dance Heginbotham

When: 6 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 and 5 p.m. next Sunday

Where: The JAI at The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla

Tickets: $78

Phone: (858) 459-3728

Online: theconrad.org

Wood is a freelance writer.