This summer, the La Jolla Music Society SummerFest marks its first season under Music Director Inon Barnatan, who has been a favorite performer in the festival since his first appearance there in 2012 and takes the helm as only the fourth Music Director in the event’s history. In his inaugural season, Barnatan pushes the boundaries of the acclaimed chamber music festival as it moves into the new Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, a/k/a The Conrad, comprising The Baker-Baum Concert Hall, the flexible alternative performance space The JAI, and spaces for film screenings, exhibitions, public gathering, and more (Aug 2-23). Highlighting this year’s SummerFest is the “Synergy Initiative,” a new concept co-produced by Barnatan and Conrad board member Clara Wu Tsai illustrating the connections between musical genres, art, and dance and including the world premiere of a newly choreographed piece by the Mark Morris Dance Group, which makes its festival debut. The series will also see Barnatan collaborate with such luminaries as Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Cécile Mclorin Salvant and visionary director and visual artist Doug Fitch. Complementing those mainstage Synergy Series concerts, a pair of programs in The JAI titled Music from Music, curated by this year’s Composer-in-Residence, David Lang, completes the Synergy Initiative lineup.
Long known as a thoughtful and compelling curator, Barnatan’s theme for his inaugural SummerFest is Transformation: how composers build on the past, how art forms interact with and change one another and how the perception of music is changed by different physical spaces. The Synergy Initiative he developed with Clara Wu Tsai explores that theme by juxtaposing different art forms, with an eye toward creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts. As Barnatan puts it, the series “aims to bring together artists from different fields for meaningful collaborations, exploring the space in which music and other art forms interact.”
Synergy Series I: Intersection explores the symbiotic relationship between classical music and jazz. Barnatan is joined by two jazz greats for the performance: Cécile McLorin Salvant, three-time Grammy Award-winner and “the finest jazz singer to emerge in the last decade” (New York Times); and her frequent collaborator Aaron Diehl, who studied classical piano and, alongside his jazz work, has increasingly been involved in classical collaborations, including participating in the 2014 New York premiere of Philip Glass’s complete Etudes at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and performing Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F at the New York Philharmonic opening gala in 2016.
Synergy Series II: Music at an Exhibition is anchored by Barnatan’s live performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, galvanized by a whimsical brigade of puppets, detailed models and live video in this world premiere production by designer and director Doug Fitch. The performance is complemented by ongoing events occurring throughout The Conrad complex, including “Chasing Inspiration” in The JAI, with visionary artist Zack Smithey painting live on an expansive canvas in response to performances of increasing intensity by cellist Carter Brey, violinist Liza Ferschtman, the Callisto Quartet, Trio Clara, and others; “Musical Tales on Film” in the Atkinson Room, a collection of short films featuring violinist Augustin Hadelich’s animated short Fantasia dei Gatti, Doug Fitch’s The Blind Date, and Tristan Cook’s Short Film for the End of Time; and “The Synergy Art Walk” on the Belanich Terrace, which includes canvases from Caio Fonseca, engrossing video pieces by Tristan Cook, and other curious musical objects.
Synergy Series III: In Step marks the SummerFest debut of the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG), with the world premiere of a new work choreographed by Mark Morris to the music of George Frideric Handel. Four more dance pieces on the program from the MMDG canon are choreographed to music by Henry Cowell, Purcell, Dvořák, and Beethoven. This program is performed in the intimate setting of The Baker-Baum Concert Hall alongside some of the best musicians in the world, including Augustin Hadelich, vocalist John Holiday, and cellist Clive Greensmith.
In the same exploratory spirit as the mainstage Synergy Series performances, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang curates two concerts in The JAI called Music from Music, with new and recent works from some of today’s most innovative compositional voices. In keeping with the theme of transformation, each work has been selected for the way it honors and takes inspiration from the music of the past while also transmuting it into something new. The first performance showcases works by Caroline Shaw, Chris Cerrone, Gabriella Smith, and Lang himself, and the second, a week later, features music of Ted Hearne, Nina Young, Timo Andres, and Julia Wolfe.
A long list of other concerts and events round out the SummerFest season, including the world premiere of a new work for violin and piano by composer and pianist Conrad Tao, and the West Coast premiere of violist Brett Dean’s Seven Signals. For the very first time, SummerFest’s gala celebration, with Sergio Mendes headlining, will take place at The Conrad. After Sergio’s sizzling performance, an after party will take place in the Wu Tsai QRT.yrd. The stellar roster of outstanding chamber musicians assembled for the summer also includes soprano Susanna Phillips, baritone Tyler Duncan, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, the Brentano String Quartet, clarinetist Anthony McGill, clarinetist and conductor Osmo Vänskä, composer and pianist Timo Andres, pianist Jonathan Biss, and a host of other world-class artists.