Inon Barnatan and Alicia Weilerstein
Inon Barnatan and Alicia Weilerstein prior to opening night of SummerFest 2021. Image from LJMS Facebook page

Halfway through La Jolla Music Society’s 2021 SummerFest music festival, many events remain for classical music lovers, including opportunities for those who may want to get behind the scenes.

With another ten major programs left before the festival ends on Aug. 20, there are opportunities for many more front stage events and preludes at The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, known affectionately as “The Conrad,” and named after one of the society’s two principal donors.

Those in the know will get to the box office in time to hear brilliant performers in renditions of major composers’ works by some of the globe’s leading artists.

As many of these performances are being live-streamed they may be enjoyed at home, though this is only a partial substitute for attending in person.

The festival presented among the greatest of American music in programs Aug. 7 and 8 titled “American Perspectives.” Both concerts will be available to be streamed on-demand, beginning Aug. 14

Numerous other programs will be available live, and then archived for many weeks, including American classics — compositions by Aaron Copland, Charles Ives and Leonard Bernstein.

Even more musical intimacy is available in an engaging lineup of free opportunities for “Encounters” and “Artist Lounge” events.

As Festival Artistic Director Leah Rosenthal put it, “Many are able to enjoy the festival without paying a dime by following a full program of community and educational events, as well as staying home and simply streaming of some of the top concert programs.”

This year’s festival has a different feel than in many of the August months that have come in years before. It’s not merely because of the pandemic (requiring masks even for the vaccinated), but because patrons now have an enhanced opportunity to be taken behind the scenes—often even into the personal lives and interests of many performers.

“This year, we have initiated more intimate, casual conversations,” explained Rosenthal.

This very successful effort is bolstered by the intellectual prowess and curiosity of Festival Music Director Inon Barnatan, who has expressed his own favoritism for “performers who throw themselves deeply into what they are doing.” Barnatan’s magic — as a pianist or interlocutor — could be seen and heard in almost every special moment of the festival.

In these intimate encounters, attendees who want to know more may hear performers answer such questions as “What formed them?” and “Why do they give so much of their lives to musical art?”

Audience participants at these special opportunities might discern, for example, one theme that seems to repeatedly emerge: that public school education brought initial exposure to music. Though there have been many other variables, a sound first schooling with exposure to music seems to run through all or most of the performers, along with choir singing and the continuation of musical education even as the families moved around.

These free background events take place even as The Conrad’s main stage, The Baker-Baum Concert Hall, continues to offer engaging performances by world-class musicians.

The La Jolla Music Society now has much more accessible performance and conversation space provided by top donors Joan and Irwin Jacobs in a lovely room named JAI, and an even more intimate space, The Atkinson, which emerged from the philanthropy of Richard and the late Rita Atkinson.

In past years those who wanted to get behind the scenes had to crowd into other locations around the village, but now with these spaces, the society has its own appropriately warm venues.

On the main stage, a Brahms evening on Aug. 4 with the amazing cellist Alisa Weilerstein, viola player Jonathan Vinocour and Barnatan received standing ovations. Also appreciated that evening was the diverse SummerFest Chamber Orchestra.

And on Aug. 5 a festival star grouping, the Attacca Quartet, delivered a Shostakovich piece to the thrill of the audience.

The festival’s full remaining program may be found online at

Barry Jagoda, a La Jolla resident, 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. His new book about the Carter years is Journeys With Jimmy Carter and Other Adventures in Media.