With a history dating back to 1968, the La Jolla Music Society (LJMS) has operated from several venues during the last half century, including Athenaeum Music & Arts Library and the recently demolished Sherwood Auditorium, eliminated during the renovations at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s La Jolla campus. In April, LJMS — like a butterfly exiting a chrysalis — achieved a bold transformation, now on full display during SummerFest 2019, its annual celebration of chamber and classical music, which runs Aug. 2-23.
The most recognizable change is physical: LJMS’ new permanent home, the $82 million gleaming Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, designed by Epstein Joslin Architects at 7600 Fay Ave., just west of the The Lot movie theater complex. The Conrad, as it’s affectionately known, boasts the 513-seat Baker-Baum Concert Hall, a horseshoe-shaped venue reminiscent of a European Opera House. Encircled by a wood grillage, which brings in slats of natural light, the Baker-Baum provides world-class acoustics, designed by Nagata Acoustics, a firm that was instrumental in the creation of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Kyoto Concert Hall in Tokyo, and the Philharmonie in Paris.
Adjacent to the Baker-Baum on LJMS’s new campus is The JAI, a 2,000-square-foot flexible performance space, which can accommodate some 300 attendees; Atkinson Room, a 1,300-square-foot lecture room; and Wu Tsai Courtyard and Belanich Terra, a 4,000-square-foot outdoor space, beautifully ringed by olive trees.
“Having our own home has opened up a world of new possibilities,” said Jediah McCourt, LJMS marketing manager. “We now have an entire campus to work with.”
With a new home comes new leadership
In March, the 34-member LJMS board of directors appointed Ted DeDee to take the reins — and its $6.5 million operating budget — on April 1, just four days before the opening of The Conrad on April 5. DeDee won out over 91 nationwide applicants. Before joining LJMS, he headed Wisconsin’s $205 million Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, where he was CEO and president from 2012 to 2018. DeDee has a long history of opening new cultural centers across the U.S. and diversifying programming, which he considers the hallmark of his long career.
With LJMS securing new facilities and a new executive director — the nonprofit arts organization completed its string of firsts in 2019 by naming Inon Barnatan, an acclaimed Israeli/American classical pianist, as the new music director for SummerFest 2019. A native of Tel Aviv and a resident of New York City, Barnatan has studied under Victor Derevianko at The Royal Academy of Music and has been honored as the first “Artist in Association” at the New York Philharmonic. Barnatan’s 2012 album, “Darknesse Visible,” was hailed as one of the best classical recordings of the year by The New York Times.
Barnatan has teamed up with Clara Wu Tsai, a trustee with the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and a co-owner of the Brooklyn Nets, to launch the “Synergy Initiative,” which represents all-new programming for LJMS — including vocalists, dance troops, visual artists, and creative technologists. Barnatan’s theme for SummerFest is “transformation,” which dovetails with the “Synergy” initiative and stems from his long-time interest in cross-disciplinary collaborations.
• Synergy Series I: Intersections, Aug. 7 (and sold-out), pairs jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, a three-time Grammy Award-winner called “the finest jazz singer to emerge in the last decade by The New York Times, with Aaron Diehl, a jazz pianist who has been a soloist with New York Philharmonic and The Cleveland Orchestra.
• Synergy Series II: Music at an Exhibition, is slated for Aug. 15 and provides a festival-within-a-festival experience, where attendees can walk through the unique spaces of The Conrad, exploring interactions between the visual and auditory. Caio Fonseca, an American contemporary painter — whose pieces depict curvilinear shapes that evoke piano lids, quarter notes, and the bodies of violins and violas — will exhibit his work. The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian have both acquired Fonseca’s canvases for their permanent collections.
• Synergy Series III: In Step, on tap for Aug. 21 and 22, features the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG), based in New York City, accompanied by Barnatan’s ensemble of hand-selected musicians. Together these two groups will provide a premiere dance performance set to the music of Handel. In conncction with the performance, MMDG is hosting post-performance dance classes at The JAI.
“Synergy has added significant new twists to our traditional SummerFest programming and has been masterfully thought out by Clara and Inon. It’s going to be a welcomed new experience,” said executive director DeDee.
— La Jolla Music Society‘s 2019-2020 Season begins in October 2019. Tickets for SummerFest from Aug. 2-23, 2019 and other LJMS events can be purchased at The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla, calling the box office (858) 459-3728 or visit ljms.org