Monday, August 9, 2010
Cho-Liang Lin is celebrating his 10th anniversary as music director of the La Jolla Music Society's SummerFest concert series, which runs throughout the month of August. We'll talk to Jimmy Lin about the highlights of one of San Diego's premiere chamber music festivals.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Once again this summer, some of the finest musicians, composers and some of the luckiest students in the world are assembled in La Jolla for SummerFest. The La Jolla Music Society's annual chamber music series of concerts, lectures and workshops will showcase 50 acclaimed artists this year, and at least one of them has been with SummerFest many times before. This year marks the 10th anniversary that violinist Cho-Liang Lin, or Jimmy Lin, has served as music director for the festival. And SummerFest has thrived, evolved and prospered while in his hands. It’s a pleasure to welcome my guest Jimmy Lin.
CHO-LIANG “JIMMY” LIN (Music Director, SummerFest): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Good morning. Thank you for coming in.
LIN: It’s so nice to be here.
CAVANAUGH: Now, as I said, this is your 10th anniversary as music director for SummerFest. Congratulations.
LIN: Oh, thank you. I’m ten years old now.
CAVANAUGH: Older. So how would you say the festival has evolved since you first started?
LIN: Well, it’s grown, I think, very naturally. It’s evolved in an unforced way. We have a lot of new things that kind of appeared gradually and nothing was forced upon anyone, including our audience, or especially our audience. For instance, we have expanded a number of concerts at the festival. We have now instituted a very popular outdoor concert this year. It took place last Wednesday in La Jolla Cove, and I think it’s a very warm welcome to all our audiences in the community. It’s a free concert and we gather all our musicians and play for them in this beautiful setting with the setting sun and the seagulls and the surf. It’s beautiful. And we also have a lot of new music being written for us. We actively commissioned some of the greatest composers today to write music for our musicians. And also until the recession hit a couple of years ago, we had a jazz program and we had a dance program. So in many – I mean, in many ways the festival really have begun to stretch in a very sort of interesting and healthy way.
CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering if you could give us an idea on something that started out as an idea. You didn’t know whether it was going to work a few years ago. And it’s sort of, as we’ve been saying here, evolved and blossomed into something that is now something that people really look forward to at SummerFest.
LIN: Well, I think the idea of being able to present top rate music is our number one priority because the quality of the music-making is what makes this festival very distinctive. And I’m a violinist and I do tour all over the world, and I play and perform in many other festivals that are very famous. And I think our level of music-making is second to none. And I’m very proud to say that because very few festivals can have such a consistently high quality.
CAVANAUGH: And what is that (sic) you’ve strived for most when it comes to directing SummerFest?
LIN: Well, my primary job is in two parts, one is to come up with the best program possible, whether it’s a theme program like we – let’s say we have an evening of French music or an evening of one particular composer. In this case, we’re celebrating this year the 200th birthday of both Robert Schumann and Frederic Chopin. And so we have to really come up with something meaningful to celebrate these composers. And then my second part of the job is to select the best musicians. And not only just great names or famous players but players who are really talented but really who deserve to be here to be heard, to be appreciated and, furthermore, to see whether these musicians are compatible or they’re sympathetic to the music that I’ve asked them to play. You know, a great fire-eating virtuoso might play Tchaikovsky very well but might not do so well on Mozart, so what would I do with that particular artist? And that gets tricky.
CAVANAUGH: What do you do with a particular artist like that?
LIN: Well, then I try to slot that particular player into a piece that I think it’s more appropriate for his or her temperament or style. And I have to do this kind of juggling constantly.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Jimmy Lin, violinist and music director of La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest. He’s celebrating his 10th anniversary with SummerFest this year. You know, one of the things that really marks SummerFest is getting to see artists perform in intimate settings. Is that something that you’ve really worked to preserve?
LIN: It’s very important. You know, our guest artists stay with host families. They make friends, and many of them become very lifelong, very close friends, and it’s lovely. They come back year after year and the bond is, you know, even further cemented that way. And we have open rehearsals where we invite the audiences to come in and watch us work, you know, uninhibited. No fistfights break out, thank goodness, but we do argue and we cajole each other into thinking in each other’s ways, and the audience get to witness that. And then we have this coaching workshop for the young artists where the teacher, the master teacher, has to really articulate his or her thoughts very clearly about how to interpret a piece and impart that insight to the young musicians at the occasion and then at the same time, the audience gets to sit there and watch this interaction between a senior and a, perhaps, more junior musician, how they react to each other and how they work something out, you know, interpretive or thorny issue about a passage, and we see how the young artists react and how they eventually assimilate that very idea. It’s a wonderful process.
CAVANAUGH: In addition to having young artists, of course, you have many acclaimed, internationally renowned artists coming to SummerFest and one of them is pianist Emanuel Ax. He’ll be at SummerFest. What makes his appearance unique?
LIN: Oh, well, Emanuel Ax, first of all, is a great musician, one of the best pianists I can think of playing today. And, furthermore, he’s a wonderful person. He’s a very dear friend. He’s very funny. He’s got a great sense of humor but also encyclopedic knowledge about music. And he has not played in SummerFest since, I think, 1990 or so, and so it’s been, you know, two decades since he appeared in this festival. So to have him come and give a whole evening of music by Schubert and some of the most sublime music ever written, it’s a real treat for both me and, I think, for the audience, too.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us some of the artists that you’re excited about presenting to the audience at SummerFest this year.
LIN: Well, you know, on three Wednesdays we feature three pianists and they’re all very different from each other. We just mentioned Emanuel Ax, and he’s playing this coming Wednesday. The following Wednesday, a week from Wednesday, is a Venezuelan pianist, Gabriela Montero. And Gabriela is fantastic at improvising. It’s a skill that nobody really practices anymore today. You know, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, they all improvised freely and, in fact, people used to take great delight in challenging Mozart or Bach to a quick improv on the spot if you just give him a tune. And so Gabriela’s going to actively ask the audience to submit a tune they want on the spot and she’s going to improvise, you know, whatever it is that she will do for you. You know, it’s like very spontaneous. There’s no preliminary preparation. It’s going to be just on the spot. That’s a great, you know, skill.
CAVANAUGH: You think of that in jazz, not classical music.
LIN: That’s right.
LIN: And also even with jazz, you can, you know, the musician has to know the tune. And so with Gabriela…
LIN: …she’s very, you know, she’s very brave.
LIN: She can just take any tune from the audience and just do a set of variations or whatever it is on it. And then the following Wednesday, the final Wednesday, the festival will feature Vladimir Feltsman, a quintessentially Russian virtuoso, I mean, the big style, beautiful player. He’s going to play music of, you know, from Russia, Arensky, but also Chopin and I think’s going to bring the house down for sure.
CAVANAUGH: What about the emerging artists that you’re excited to present at SummerFest this year?
LIN: Well, there are two young pianists whom I’m very fond of. One is Joyce Yang and the other one is Orion Weiss. They’ve both become sort of SummerFest family members. Joyce won silver medal in the last Van Cliburn Competition at age 19, if you can believe that.
LIN: She was still only a sophomore at Juilliard at that point. And she’s gone on to do great things. She just recently played with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. She’s coming back. And Orion Weiss, bless him, he just got, I think, just got married. You know, he’s still also a young lad, and he’s wonderful. So we – I love them both.
CAVANAUGH: Now you mentioned when you were giving us an overview of what draws people to SummerFest the idea that SummerFest commissions new work. Composers bring in their new works to SummerFest. Tell us about some of the composers who’ll be here this year.
LIN: Well, only yesterday in our third concert, we already presented two brand new pieces. Anthony Newman composed a sonata for violin and piano, and it was premiered yesterday. And the Chinese composer, Bright Sheng wrote a cello piece called “Northern Lights” for Lynn Harrell, and Lynn Harrell and Victor Asuncion presented the American premiere yesterday. And then in about 10 days from now, we’ll present the – more composers that we commissioned from. It’s a very international crowd. Chinary Ung, who is a professor at UCSD. He’s written a piece called “Akasa” for a very interesting ensemble of cello, piano, percussion, viola, pipa, the Chinese plucked instrument, and it’s the most unusual combination I can imagine, followed by a viola quintet, string quartet plus viola, by the Australian virtuoso and composer Brett Dean. And then we’ll close with a brand new quartet, string quartet, by Christopher Rouse. I think Chris Rouse is probably one of the greatest composers today and he’s won Pulitzer. I mean, he’s won every award there is but the fact is his music is incredibly powerful, compelling. And so this brand new quartet, I think, will really and – really overwhelm the audience.
CAVANAUGH: How important do you think it is to SummerFest to have composers bring their new work or compose new work for the musicians here?
LIN: Well, it’s very important because composers need advocates. You know, even Beethoven needed advocates. Prokofiev needed advocates. Stravinsky did. And if we don’t do something to actively engage these composers to write, they’ll have fewer venues to have their music heard and certainly fewer opportunities for them to write music, and that will be a disservice for future generations. I mean, if we can encourage these great composers to write, whether their pieces will endure the test of time or not, we can’t tell. One hundred years from now, somebody can tell. But if we don’t get the process started, nobody will ever find out and that would be a terrible pity.
CAVANAUGH: Now it’s not just new composers that you’re showcasing at SummerFest. You have a festival highlight is a program of music by Robert Schumann. Why did you decide on Schumann?
LIN: Well, first of all, Schumann’s music is really beautiful.
LIN: He’s the arch romantic, as lush and as passionate as any music can be, beautiful. And, of course, we’re celebrating his 200th birthday this year, and I think it’s a really good occasion to examine his music and tell the audience how beautiful this music can be.
CAVANAUGH: And I – In reading what’s coming up, I thought that it was so interesting the way that you’re going to be celebrating the music of Chopin. I know that the La Jolla Music Society has been celebrating Chopin all year but if I’m correct, you’re going to be talking about Paris at the time of Chopin, and not just Chopin’s music but the other composers who were working in Paris at that time.
LIN: Well, that was the fun part for me, too,…
LIN: …to try to come up with a program on that theme.
LIN: Because Chopin primarily wrote only for the piano and his chamber music output was very limited. So we put all the chamber music works of Chopin into one program. It’s very neat, you know, it’s very tidy, perfect, you know, two hour program. And then the other one, we wanted to expand is to have the music of Chopin’s contemporaries, those who knew him from his lengthy stay in Paris. And so we came up with a list of composers and we started to put them together, including another great pianist, Franz Liszt. And then we put Mendelssohn, whom Chopin did meet, and some Schumann, who admired Chopin’s beauty greatly, and so we have another program that’s very interesting: Chopin’s Paris.
LIN: And then, you know, a couple days or even the following day, we have Debussy’s Paris. So we have two different looks of Parisian music written perhaps about a century apart.
CAVANAUGH: Now you travel and you perform all over the world and I wonder if you’ve seen any sort of trends emerging in chamber or classical music? Any countries that are warming up to classical music that perhaps haven’t had that exposure? Is there anything that you see on the road, on the international road, that sort of piques your interest?
LIN: Well, there are two things. One is that musicians are much more adept at the electronic age now. If you go to YouTube, all sorts of music, classical music, video clips, whether it’s homemade or it’s a tape of some broadcast and, certainly, just even audio recordings are popping up everywhere on YouTube. And I think that’s a very good sign for music to spread and you don’t, you know, the CD market has really dwindled so YouTube, iTunes, downloads, etcetera, really have overtaken the market. And then you asked about which area’s really doing things interesting. I think China.
LIN: Big surprise, surprise. Yeah. China really is going through, you know, a building boom right now and I think every city, large and small—I mean for China, a small city’s probably what, four million people?
CAVANAUGH: Yes. Right.
LIN: And they’re building concert halls left and right. I think it reminds me of the way Japan was doing the building boom back in the late seventies and early eighties. And the question remains whether they can fulfill this – fill these concert halls with interesting programs and artists.
CAVANAUGH: We have to leave it there. But I want to thank you so much, coming in, celebrating your 10th anniversary with us, at least for a few minutes. And I want to tell everyone La Jolla SummerFest concerts continue through August 27th. Many concerts are at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Sherwood Auditorium. You can find more information on SummerFest at KPBS.org, including a SummerFest cheat sheet of guests on the Culture Lust blog. That’s at KPBS.org and we are having musicians from SummerFest give us a live concert next Monday here on These Days. We’re looking forward to it. Thanks again.
LIN: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.