Review: La Jolla Music Society takes off with open-air concert by Inon Barnatan, Alisa Weilerstein, Philippe Quint


There was not a cloud visible above the Wu Tsai courtyard at La Jolla Music Society’s Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center on Saturday morning when Inon Barnatan and Alisa Weilerstein began their sublime performance of the Sonata in A major for cello and piano by César Franck.

Yet as the two began the sweet opening movement of Franck’s effective 1866 composition, it sounded and sounded like calm after a storm – or, at the very least, a much needed prelude to calm after a storm. .

The storm in this case is the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down concert halls and venues for live events of all kinds across the country and around the world for the past 13 months. It is a storm that has not yet calmed down, alas, as cases of COVID-19 are spreading everywhere from Michigan to France, from India to Brazil.

At least for now, fortunately, San Diego appears to be gradually emerging from the pandemic. On April 5, county health officials announced a move to the least restrictive second orange tier of restrictions fueled by COVID. If hospitalization rates drop sufficiently and vaccine availability is sufficient, all restrictions will be lifted in California on June 15.

These signs of hope and progress gave a festive air to Saturday’s concert in La Jolla. It was the nonprofit company’s first event in 2021 to be held in front of a live audience and attendance was limited to 99 masked and socially distant attendees. But nothing could prevent the opportunity to hear live music, performed in real time, by superior artists whose instrumental mastery did not seem to have been dulled an iota by the year’s cessation of concerts. .

“You’ve been the first audience for a very long time,” said CEO and President of the new company, Todd J. Schultz, in his welcoming remarks. “You are the reason we have been able to hold on for the past year. “

Esteemed cellist Weilerstein and pianist Barnatan – who is also the musical director of the company’s annual SummerFest – then took the stage and embarked on Franck’s luminous sonata.

The two longtime collaborators skilfully moved from slow and graceful passages to fast melodies, soft ruminations, exuberant cascading lines and back again. Each was delivered with unwavering drive and a deeply felt conviction to create a triumphant musical pas de deux. Weilerstein’s gloriously vibrant tone and precise execution were matched by Barnatan’s alternately supple and slender piano work. Both listened as attentively as they played, the better to imbue the notes with grace and euphoria.

The unamplified music was full and rich, with the large awning over the courtyard producing a welcome reverberation. Periodic calls from overhead seagulls and passing cars could have been a distraction under different circumstances. On Saturday morning – a second courtyard concert was held that afternoon and also drew an almost full crowd – the ambient sounds were a welcome reminder that performances can (and should) exist outside of concert halls and that the courtyard is the welcome gateway to a return to indoor concerts.

“I can’t tell you how good it is to hear applause,” Barnatan told the grateful audience after the sonata ended. “It is so moving for me that we are all here experiencing this music for the first time in so long.”

A similar degree of instrumental excellence and wonderfully empathetic interaction was exhibited during the second half of the concert, for which Weilerstein and Barnatan were joined by Russian-born violinist Philippe V. Together they delivered a compelling interpretation of Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio in D minor, Opus 32.

One of Russia’s least revered composers, both during and after his brief life (1861-1906), Arensky reached his peak with his piano trio of 1894. Piece constructed sequentially in four movements, he s ‘it is essentially a musical circle dance which presents increasingly rapid exchanges of calls and responses between the violin and the cello, both bow and pizzicato, and the piano. (A live-streamed concert of Saturday’s performance, recorded Sunday inside the Baker Baum Concert Hall without an audience is available on the company’s website, with Quint’s solo tribute Saturday to the music of Charlie Chaplin.)

Although not a major work – the lack of harmonic adventure is particularly pronounced – Barnatan, Weilerstein and Quint immersed themselves in Arensky’s composition with contagious verve and skill. This resulted in a master class on how exemplary musicality can uplift and transform an average piece into something special.

Even more special was the concert itself, for which multiple precautions were taken to ensure the safety of patrons and performers. With 11 more backyard concerts scheduled between April 24 and June 24, three of which are already sold out, La Jolla Music Society is clearly – to invoke the title of a 1964 Herman’s Hermits hit – in something well as he prepares for a return to indoor concerts.

Until then, his yard provides a welcome temporary destination to be visited more than once.

Upcoming La Jolla Music Society Wu Tsai Courtyard concerts

April 24: Christian Sands Trio, 5 (full) and 8 p.m. *

Tuesday May 11: Yefim Bronfman performs music by Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin, 4.30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (both concerts are sold out)

Sunday May 16: Sonia From Los Santos, 10 a.m.

Saturday June 5: Zlatomir Fung and Richard Fu perform music by Beethoven, Sgambati and Servais, at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm

Friday June 11: Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, with Jimmy James and Dan Weiss, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. *

Monday June 24: Pedrito Martinez Group, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. *

Tickets: $ 70 and $ 80 (concerts marked with a star include a $ 10 drink voucher)

Telephone: (858) 459-3728

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