Chamber music, composers and 'the best of the best' at SummerFest
"It's a very addictive thing to be doing," said music director Inon Barnatan of the La Jolla Music Society's annual SummerFest.
SummerFest is a month-long series of dozens of chamber music concerts, forums, events and open rehearsals. Chamber music is a style of performance using smaller ensembles, generally (though not always) in more intimate settings — whether a palace's chamber or a room in a home.
The La Jolla Music Society's primarily stage, the recently opened Baker-Baum Concert Hall, feels grandiose in style and acoustics, though shaped and sized to feel intimate enough for chamber performances.
"For a lot of composers, chamber music was like a diary. It's where their intimate, private thoughts were expressed in intimate, private means. That's, I think, some of the things that make them so potent, so poignant," Barnatan said.
It's not far from the experiences of the chamber music performers and audiences, too.
"The intimate experience of just being right there with just a few people, and the immediacy of that communication, where everybody is the best of the best. It's just kind of like the difference between going to the small ensemble show and a big Broadway musical. They're totally different things, and you can love both," Barnatan said.
Barnatan, who is originally from Israel but is now based in New York, has participated in the La Jolla Music Society's SummerFest program as a performer for years. In 2019, he was asked to step into the music director role, and navigated the festival through a virtual production in 2020 and the return to live audiences in 2021.
"I got one normal year. But I actually have enjoyed every year, even 2020, when we were doing live broadcasts from the Conrad with only seven artists," Barnatan said. "Just everything about it has been very challenging and very wonderful."
A composer-focused program
The theme for the 2022 festival is "Under the Influence," something Barnatan admits is broad enough to not be stifling or formulaic, but still a fun challenge to put together a program. This year's concerts are studies in the influences of each composer or work.
While the musicians and the music will be at the heart of each performance, composers and the repertoire are the centerpiece for the festival's design. In addition to a broad range of works from the Elizabethan period to contemporary works, several living composers are also featured.
Composer Caroline Shaw, winner of both a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Grammy awards, is a "composer-in-residence," and will even hold a takeover one night, Wednesday Aug. 24.
In a two-part concert, the Miró Quartet will premiere "Microfictions," a piece Shaw wrote for the group, then Shaw will join them on viola to perform Mendelssohn's "String Quintet No. 2." Later in the evening, across the Conrad's courtyard in The JAI hall, Shaw will host a cabaret-style evening — including her own work "Thousandth Orange".
"She has curated a program of her music and some other music. She got carte blanche for an hour, and she's gonna introduce it, and be in it, and sing and play — and I'm going to be in it," Barnatan said.
More highlights: Paris, dance and lots of clarinets
Another highlight of the four-week festival is "A Weekend In Paris," which takes place Aug. 5-7. Barnatan said they're pulling works together from significant cultural periods in Paris between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s: from "La Belle Époque" (the beautiful period) to "Les Années Folles" (the crazy years).
One night touches on the salons and masquerades in Paris, including the works by Chopin, Debussy and Ravel, and André Caplet's "Conte Fantastique," which pays homage to Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," and other works.
Another focuses on the famous Le Conservatoire de Paris, with works by Debussy, Franck, Fauré, Messiaen (who taught at the conservatory well into the 1970s) and Lili Boulanger's "Nocturne."
The third Paris-themed performance illustrates how French composers borrowed from all around the world in compositions, with works by Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Couperin and more.
Opening weekend will include Friday's concert centered around either collaborative compositions or works — including a work by Carl Czerny for four pianos, "which I hope we can fit on the stage," Barnatan said.
Also on opening weekend, Saturday's "Point Counterpoint," includes a co-commission from La Jolla Music Society and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which creates a new video setting for contemporary composer Steve Reich's clarinet piece, "New York Counterpoint."
Reich wrote the piece for a single clarinet player electronically layering their own recordings until it's a chorus of 12 instrument tracks. For the commission, they filmed multiple clarinetists, synced into a single video, with New York Philharmonic principal clarinetist Anthony McGill performing his part live on stage.
The Synergy series within the festival draws together chamber music with jazz, theater, dance and other artistic mediums for a handful of special shows. There's a showcase with jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant on Aug. 17. Aug. 20-21 features multiple performances with popular orchestral ensemble The Knights and performance group Dance Heginbotham, collaborating on a chamber arrangement of Gustav Holst's "The Planets."
SummerFest runs July 29 through Aug. 26, 2022 at the La Jolla Music Society's Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center.
- KPBS Arts Calendar