ARTICLE: La Jolla Music Society to expand SummerFest to four weeks and explore arresting theme: ‘Under the Influence’
by George Varga
SummerFest, La Jolla Music Society’s annual chamber-music celebration, will be bigger than ever in 2022, literally.
For the first time in the event’s 36-year history, SummerFest will expand from three to four weeks. To be held July 29 to Aug. 26, it will feature 21 concerts, also a record. They will be presented thematically as “Under the Influence,” a name chosen to denote creations, people and events that influenced some of classical music’s most renowned composers.
The lineup includes such celebrated artists as pianist Joyce Yang, clarinetist Anthony McGill, the Miró Quartet and the 19-piece chamber orchestra The Knights. Also set to be showcased is 39-year-old violinist and singer Caroline Shaw, who — at 30 — became the youngest artist to ever win a Pulitzer Prize for music composition.
In addition, the lineup includes Grammy Award-winning singer Cécile McLorin Salvant. She will do the first stand-alone jazz concert in SummerFest history, as well as teaming with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo for a performance of classic songs by German composer Kurt Weill.
SummerFest’s seven-day increase in duration will result in five more performances than at last year’s 16-concert edition. It will also see the introduction of intermissionless Wednesday concerts, which will be followed by food and wine offerings — themed to that day’s concert — in the courtyard of the society’s Conrad Prebys Center for the Performing Arts.
“The idea is that you’re really joining us for a festival that is festive, a party,” said SummerFest music director Inon Barnatan.
The increase in size, duration and scope is by design, as part of the nonprofit society’s five-year strategic growth plan. But the goal of the event’s expansion is to make it more leisurely, not more hectic, with the festival going dark on Monday and Tuesday nights.
“This way, there will be more space around the concerts,” Barnatan noted.
“Instead of having five main concerts per week, we now will have four main concerts on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. This way, there will be less fatigue for everybody. It will be more relaxed.”
More jazz and nonclassical concerts
Leah Rosenthal, the society’s artistic director, helped formulate the strategic growth plan that led to SummerFest’s expansion this year. The plan was originally scheduled to run through 2025, but has been extended a year because of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic-fueled shutdown of live events.
“Going from three weeks to four will not only give our patrons an opportunity to breathe a bit between performances, it will also give our artists more of a chance to enjoy their time here and to better integrate with the community,” Rosenthal said. “And we can better expand our musical offerings this way.”
Indeed, the Aug. 17 jazz concert by the classically trained Salvant and her quartet is a preview of things to come, noted Todd Schultz, the society’s CEO and president.
“Part of our growth plan is to have one or two jazz or nonclassical concerts at each future edition of SummerFest,” Schultz said.
“The event’s core will solidly remain chamber music, with a focus on Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Elgar and other bedrock composers. But we’ll also feature composers whose work you wouldn’t expect to find in a chamber music festival, programming that really reflects Inon’s interest in being more adventurous and creative.”
The theme of this year’s SummerFest, “Under the Influence,” explores events, places and individuals that inspired the storied composers whose music will be performed. Those places will be reflected in such concerts as “Shakespeare’s World” on Aug. 3 and “A Weekend in Paris” Aug. 5-7.
For the record, the “Under the Influence” theme has nothing to do with the drinking habits of any composers, even if Beethoven’s well-documented propensity for alcohol consumption ravaged his liver.
“There’s obviously a kinky sense to the name ‘Under the Influence’,” Rosenthal said, laughing.
“As tongue in cheek as the title is, there is another element,” stressed Barnatan, who is an internationally acclaimed concert pianist.
“As a consumer of music, I want the concert experience to be — as much as possible — a complete one. I think about: ‘What experience does the audience have before, during and after the concert?’
“That is why we are introducing the intermissionless Wednesday concerts, followed by food and drink in the courtyard, so that you can have a whole experience that is both musical and nonmusical. That said, the contents are more important than the theme.”
“I don’t think that we’ll be having Elizabethan foods for the ‘Shakespeare’s World’ concert!”
I love Paris
Last year, while planning the 2022 edition of SummerFest, Barnatan had contemplated including a concert or two that would salute France’s Nadia Boulanger. Based in Paris, the famed music composition teacher counted Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Philip Glass, Quincy Jones and Brazil’s Egberto Gismonti among her most notable students.
While the Boulanger tribute did not coalesce for this year’s SummerFest, it inspired Barnatan to create the three-part “A Weekend in Paris” series, which will run Aug.5-7. It will feature music by composers who were based in the French capital city, or spent pivotal times in their careers there, including Debussy, Chopin, Ravel, Messiaen, Schumann and Lili Boulanger, Nadia’s younger sister.
“I am so excited about the ‘A Weekend in Paris’ series,” Barnatan said, speaking by phone from his New York apartment in Manhattan’s Soho district.
“I started off with it being a single concert, but I could do a whole festival with this theme! So, I had to at least do a weekend devoted to Paris. There are so many fantastic stories surrounding the city, whether it’s the conservatory — where so many great musicians studied and were nurtured — or the salons that held concerts and commissioned great works.”
Barnatan is equally enthused when discussing SummerFest’s Aug. 14 “The Wagner Effect” concert. It will examine the formidable impact of the 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner in a program that also features his music and works by Strauss, Berg, Liszt and Dohnányi.
“That concert is a product of my fascination, which is shared by others, with the effect Wagner’s music and personality had on other composers,” Barnatan said. “Wagner’s (1865 opera) ‘Tristan und Isolde’ changed music and changed harmony, and steered it to different directions. The concert will be a deep dive into the world of harmonic possibilities.”
The 2022 edition of SummerFest is the fourth since Barnatan came on board as music director in 2019. That was the same year the society’s $82 million Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center opened in La Jolla.
The 2020 edition was held, in truncated form, entirely online because of the pandemic shutdown. Happily, 2021 saw a return to all-live performances in front of audiences, although masking and proof of vaccinations were required.
“We were largely back to normal last year,” society honcho Schultz said.
“Other than the health protocols, it looked like a normal, pre-pandemic SummerFest, with 16 public concerts, plus dozens of master classes, free concerts during the daytime, artist roundtables, lectures and seminars. It was a huge success coming off a very difficult period. And it gave our audiences confidence we could bounce back quickly.”
If all goes according to the society’s five-year plan, SummerFest could expand again by 2026, this time from four weeks to five. The number of nonclassical concert offerings would rise as well, with the addition of more jazz, cabaret and World Music artists.
“It’s a great way to engage with new audiences and with a slightly different demographic than SummerFest usually attracts,” Rosenthal said.
“And, by drawing them in during a chamber-music festival, maybe we can help them explore music they aren’t as familiar with. It’s really important for us to continue to grow and create new content.”
SummerFest 2022 schedule and ticket information
Unless otherwise indicated below, all concerts are at 7:30 p.m. at The Baker-Baum Concert Hall in The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla. Some events take place in the JAI, the center’s smaller, 144-seat space.
July 29: Opening Night: “Side By Side” — Featuring music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Chopin/Franchomme, Brahms, Bacewicz and Czerny
July 30: “Point Counterpoint” — Featuring music by Valentini, Haydn, Reich, Mozart and Elgar
July 31: “Beyond Bach” — Featuring music by Falconieri, J.S. Bach, CPE Bach, Biber and Vivaldi, 3 p.m.
Aug. 3: “Under the Influence: Shakespeare’s World” — Featuring music by Korngold and Beethoven, 7 p.m.
Aug. 5: “A Weekend in Paris: The Salon and the Masquerade” — Debussy, Chopin, Caplet, Ravel, and Sarasate
Aug. 6: “A Weekend in Paris: Le Conservatoire” — Debussy, Boulanger, Franck, Messiaen, and Fauré
Aug. 7: ” Weekend in Paris: Beg, Borrow and Steal” — Featuring music by Couperin, Milhaud, Saint-Saëns, Schumann, and Ravel, 7 p.m.
Aug. 10: “Under the Influence: Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’,” 7 p.m.
Aug. 12: “The New Romantics” — Hamelin and Dvořák
Aug. 13: SummerFest Gala
Aug. 14: “The Wagner Effect” — Strauss, Berg, Wagner, Liszt, and Dohnányi, 3 p.m.
Aug. 17: “Under the Influence” — Cecile McLorin Salvant Quintet, 7 p.m.
Aug. 18: Synergy Event: Kurt Weill tribute, featuring Cecile McLorin Salvant and Anthony Roth Costanzo
Aug. 20: “The Planets,” featuring The Knights and Dance Heginbotham, 6 and 8 p.m., The JAI
Aug. 21: “The Planets,” featuring The Knights and Dance Heginbotham, 3 and 5 p.m., The JAI.
Aug. 24: “Under the Influence” — Miró Quartet performs Shaw and Mendelssohn, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24: “Takeover @ The JAI,” featuring Caroline Shaw, 8:30 p.m.
Aug. 25: “New Wine, Old Bottles” — Featuring music by Françaix, Chris Rogerson, and Brahms
Aug. 26: SummerFest Finale, “Metamorphosis” — Featuring music by Strauss and Schubert
Subscription packages: SummerFest subscriptions are available now. The Windansea Series — which includes all 15 concerts in The Baker-Baum Concert Hall — is priced at $1,120 or $1,289, depending on seat location. Any concert at the adjacent JAI can be added on to Windansea for 8 percent off the price of a single ticket. Partial subscription series and compose-your-own packages will be made available later in the spring.
Single tickets: On sale April 29, $45 to $110
Phone: (858) 459-3728
Box Office: 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla