Cécile McLorin Salvant
Jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant performed with Inon Barnatan. Courtesy La Jolla Music Society

Midway through La Jolla Music Society’s delightful SummerFest, brand new Music Director Inon Barnatan has shown that he will mix traditional classical chamber music—where his piano work is among the globe’s most outstanding—with his own style of innovation.

Concert patrons, including music lovers who may also want to take advantage of a slew of free events, have been enjoying continuing treats. There is an unforgettable focus on the compositions of Beethoven, whose 250th birthday is being celebrated. And, in what has been dubbed “Synergy,” part of an overall “Transformation” for Barnatan’s first year, there are numerous surprises.

Inon Barnatan. Courtesy La Jolla Music Society

In months of advance planning, Barnatan has had the help of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Trustee Clara Wu Tsai. They have brought in jazz and other artistic inspirations for special evenings. But there are also presentations of Beethoven string and piano trio highlights. This mixture of old and new has been greeted with standing ovations.

For instance, in an evening of popular song on Aug. 7, the very fine jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant was accompanied by another, also classically trained, jazz great, the pianist Aaron Diehl. Also at the piano for the entire production was Barnatan, showing how he is incorporating various art forms into SummerFest programs for this, his first year in charge. The evening’s performances received rousing standing ovations.

At the outset, Barnatan had said “I would want to hear music I love, played by musicians that I like.” Thus, the tradition of staging brilliant chamber music has been honored, with an evening of “re-worked” music of Mozart and three more nights filled with Beethoven’s compositions.

On Aug. 8, Mozart’s music was played with the composer’s own “updates.” For these Barnatan selected the world-class Brentano Quartet and the equally famous Miro Quartet.

Then, on other evenings last week, there were Beethoven’s “complete” string quartets. The Brentano Quartet starred again on one night, followed the next by the even more dynamic, much loved, Miro Quartet. It was clear that traditional SummerFest attendees were delighted, manifest by long, sustained and appreciative applause. This was a return to the kind of traditional chamber music featured during the 34 years of Festival history.

Another round of the great composer’s music, “Beethoven III,” is to be presented on the evening of Aug. 16.

Barnatan (already known simply as “Inon”) was keeping his promise of innovative showcasing of his own favorite music. Thus, on Aug. 11, the entire Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, called The Conrad, was engaged for mostly new and avant-garde “classical” music. Many of the splendid musicians stayed after playing to mingle with patrons.

To follow this extravaganza, coming up Aug. 14, SummerFest will stage “Inventions,” with compositions by Bach and Debussy, also mostly “re-worked.” Then, also scheduled for the beautiful and acoustically wonderful Conrad main concert-hall, The Baker-Baum, will be what Barnatan described to Times of San Diego as “an evening I would not myself miss.“ Named “Music at An Exhibition,” the concert will feature Mussorgsky’s famous composition, “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Inon will be on stage, along with puppets, many musicians and other art and design elements.

All week long there have been such free activities as open rehearsals, coaching workshops and “encounters,” aimed to broaden audience understanding of the music’s time and place. A complete listing of all the festival events may be found at www.LJMS.org

Barry Jagoda was an award-winning journalist at NBC News and CBS News, who later served in the White House as an assistant for President Jimmy Carter.