At last year’s opening concert for La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest, musicians performed loudly in an empty Baker-Baum concert hall. Seats were vacant as the entire concert was webcast, a necessity to keep performers and listeners safe amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
For Friday’s SummerFest opening concert, the Baker-Baum Concert Hall was sold out, filled with fully vaccinated patrons. The concert was called “Ode to Joy” and – forgive the expression – happiness was contagious.
You couldn’t see the smiles under the masks that most of the spectators wore, but the eyes were shining and the voices were buzzing with excitement. It was a happy throwback to some semblance of a past SummerFests.
The myriad of musicians on stage that night were also thrilled. There is no worse feeling for an entertainer than to start the show on a sea of ââempty seats.
The program began as advertised with Beethoven’s âOde to Joyâ or, as many Americans call it, the âDie Hard Themeâ. Although rarely heard in concert, Franz Liszt efficiently arranged Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 for two pianos. From there, the famous tune’s opening instrumental statements were extracted, lovingly performed by SummerFest Music Director Inon Barnatan and Israeli pianist Roman Rabinovich.
Rabinovich is a newcomer to SummerFest and shares many of Barnatan’s pianistic sensibilities: clarity of line, an expressive cantabile tone, and respect for the composer’s intentions. They made a great and well-matched pair.
Mozart’s charming Piano Sonata in C major, K. 545, is one of those works that any sufficiently skilled piano student approaches sooner or later. Because of this too much familiarity, it is rarely programmed by famous pianists. What a pleasure, then, to hear Barnatan play it, but with a significant wrinkle – Grieg added a more difficult part for a second pianist.
This second part harmonizes the original in a more 19th century way and adds additional melodies to the Mozart original. The most Gregian moments occur in the final movement, where to Mozart’s delicate and jerky melody, the second piano adds full-bodied chords on the offbeats, transforming the melody into a Scandinavian folk footing.
Violinist Paul Huang performed Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of the old Irish tune better known as “Danny Boy”. Kreisler performance style of slides and rich, throbbing vibrato is not fashionable these days. Huang played in a more direct manner, nicely accompanied by Rabinovich.
Festival newcomer Blake Pouliot joined Rabinovich in the last movement of John Adams’ violin and piano, “Road films. “Short melodic fragments repeated and evolved in a catchy but unpredictable way. Pouliot confidently worked his way into Adams’ music while Rabinovich dug into its difficult part. To borrow from another Adams track. , it was a short ride in a fast machine.
The extraordinary cellist Alisa Weilerstein brought his usual verve and technical excellence to De Falla’s âSpanish Popular Suiteâ, accompanied by the same enthusiasm and lyricism of Barnatan. Presenting the work, they revealed that it was the first play they had performed together 13 years ago and that Weilerstein first performed it with his mother when she was 8 years old.
You’ve probably never encountered the music of 43-year-old Norwegian-American Ola Gjeilo unless you’re a fan of contemporary choral music. His “Ubi caritas” is cut from the same anti-risk fabric as Eric Whitacre: consonant harmonies and melodies easy to hear and quickly forgotten when you leave the concert hall.
Originally written for male choir, Kings Return, a vocal quartet whose YouTube videos in a stairwell first brought them to Barnatan’s attention.
The arrangement of Walter Hawkins’ gospel classic, âUntil I Found The Lord,â was much more musically surprising. These four gentlemen bottled the excitement of the Hawkins Love Center Church Choir and aired it in the Baker-Baum Hall to the strong approval of the public.
The second half featured another ecstatic barn burner, Mendelssohn’s String Octet in E flat major, Op. 20. It should not be forgotten that Principally Mozart’s first concert during last year’s pandemic featured the octet, and for good reason: it is one of the most exuberant chamber music pieces ever written. . From its opening melody rising ever higher to the dizzying energy of its conclusion, the byte is imbued with unadulterated joy.
Violinists Huang, Jun Iwasaki, violist Jonathan Vinocour and cellist Weilerstein joined the Calidore String Quartet for a thrilling performance. These eight musicians were in tune with each other, emotionally and technically.
Of course, we would expect the energy to be there in a SummerFest performance, but the execution was also stunning. The unison and octave lines sounded perfect and the ensemble work was ideal.
It has been over a year and a half since I heard anything in the Baker-Baum concert hall, and I had forgotten how acoustically magnificent a hall it is. A performance broadcast live doesn’t really convey that. You have to be there to hear how the room makes the string ensembles shine.
With COVID infections on the rise, who knows when you can attend a chamber music concert in a beautiful space?
Summer party 2021
When: Until August 20. All concerts take place at 7:30 p.m. The full schedule is available on the La Jolla Music Society website.
Or: The Baker-Baum Concert Hall and JAI at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla
Tickets: $ 45 to $ 95 per concert
Telephone: (858) 459-3728
In line: ljms.org
As part of SummerFest, there are free events for the public, including lectures, open rehearsals, and coaching sessions.
Hertzog is a freelance writer.