Clarinetist Anthony McGill. Photo by David Finlayson

By Barry Jagoda

The La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest 2018 got off to a brilliant start with a rendition of Béla Bartók’s Contrasts performed by world-class clarinetist Anthony McGill, along with dynamic pianist Shai Wosner and young star Paul Huang playing the violin.

Such a compelling beginning for this year’s festival was appropriate, marking the 18th and final season presented by Music Director Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin.

Bartok’s Contrasts was performed at the very first festival in 1986, according to Scholar-in-Residence Eric Bromberger, but the piece could not have been delivered then with such skill as by the players Friday night.

Lynn Harrell. Courtesy La Jolla Music Society

At the festival’s opening night on Friday, Lin also presented two amazing cello productions by the late, great Brazilian composer Heictor Villa-Lobos. These featured world-renowned cellist Lynn Harrell, and seven other outstanding cellists. Seeing eight cellists on the stage at the same time created quite a stir in the audience.

The second of the two numbers included a memorable performance by Soprano Lyubov Petrova. This brought the SummerFest audience members to their feet in wild appreciation, generating an encore by the eight cellists who played a charming piece titled Por Una Cabeza.

After an intermission, Lin brought eight more memorable players to the stage at UC San Diego’s Prebys Concert Hall. This included himself on violin, for that familiar piece by Camille Saint-Saëns, Carnival of the Animals. From this composition was drawn the naming of Opening Night as “Carnival.” This thirty-minute evening finale, filled with jokes, required extraordinary coordination from all concerned, including the audience, narrator and musicians.

The Carnival was to have been narrated by San Diego and international television sports broadcast star Dick Enberg, who died at year’s end and to whom the evening’s program was dedicated. His replacement was Mark Pinter, who the festival said “was replacing the irreplaceable.”

In a prelude to the opening music, Bromberger, who has been providing thoughtful, in-depth program notes as far back as anyone could remember, had a conversation with the ever sunny, crowd-pleasing Lin, who said he would regret leaving his many friends in La Jolla, but promised to return as a performing violinist as he is known worldwide.

Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin. Courtesy La Jolla Music Society

Lin revealed that he had been talking with the newly designated SummerFest Music Director Inon Barnatan, who takes over in 2019, just as the La Jolla Music Society moves into it’s new concert hall, The Conrad, in the heart of La Jolla Village.

For the rest of August, the Festival program turns to somewhat more conventional chamber music—with another exception or two. The concluding night, Aug. 24 in San Diego’s Balboa Theatre, will feature the SummerFest Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Zinman. In a prelude lecture that night at 7 p.m., Bromberger will explain why the chosen composers, Beethoven and Elgar, “work beautifully as the concluding concert.”

In between more than a dozen other concerts are on the schedule, including performances by Yefin Bronfman, Gil Shaham, and Emanuel Ax. The Emerson String Quartet will bring an all-Beethoven afternoon. Also ahead is a world premier composition by Rand Steiger, UC San Diego’s own international star.

Some of these performances may already be sold out, but interesting “encounters” and “rehearsals” are on tap all month long.

The full SummerFest schedule is available online.

Barry Jagoda, an award-winning broadcast journalist, was special assistant to President Carter for media and public affairs. He lives in La Jolla.

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