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Moratorium threatens free summer concert offer

There is only one thing standing in the way of a proposal by La Jolla Music Society to host a free classical concert in Ellen Browning Scripps Park next summer: an existing city Parks and Recreation Department moratorium on new public events in coastal parks.

Christopher Beach, president and artistic director of La Jolla Music Society, asked the La Jolla Town Council at its December meeting to officially support its proposal to hold a free community event as a way of thanking La Jollans for supporting the Society and its music programs over the years.

“For 39 years, La Jolla Music Society has been the largest presenter of music and dance in San Diego, and the crown jewel of our performances have been the month of August, a chamber music festival called Summerfest centered at Sherwood Auditorium,” Beach told the town council. “Our concerts are almost sold out, they’re broadcast nationwide on public radio, but our ticket prices tend to be a little steep, and all of our concerts are indoors. I thought we ought to try and give something back to the community, one free concert beginning this summer at Scripps Park.”

Beach said it is an appropriate time to host a free community concert, given that the Society will mark its 40th anniversary during the 2008-09 season. The proposed free classical concert would be 90 minutes long and be held on a Thursday evening either Aug. 14 or Aug. 21. He added the free concert would involve a small stage and no more than eight classical musicians. “We won’t have concessions,” noted Beach, “though we certainly welcome people to bring picnics and sit on the lawn.”

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“Our concerts normally draw about 500 people and at the Cove I would hope we could draw as many as 800 people,” said Beach. “The challenge, as I understand it, is there’s a moratorium by the city of San Diego Parks and Rec Committee that says no new events.”

The town council’s Parks & Beaches Committee has unanimously approved La Jolla Music Society’s free summer concert proposal.

“It would be nice if there were some way we could get them (Parks) to bend the rules on this,” noted town council president Anne Cleveland.

Esther Viti, chair of the town council’s beautification committee, said she talked to parks official John Hudkins about the music society’s proposal to host a free concert at Scripps Park. “John Hudkins said there has been a moratorium for the past five years for all coastal parks on taking any new events,” Viti said.

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Town council secretary Sherri Lightner pointed out there might be a way to trade-off an existing event to get the free summer music society concert. “We have events like Movies By The Sea,” said Lightner, “we could exchange one of those.”

Town councilmember Gail Forbes suggested that there may be another way to secure an exception to the parks department’s moratorium. “It’s not really a new event but a new venue for an event that’s been in the town of La Jolla for 39 years,” Forbes pointed out.

“I was wondering whether there might be an alternative location at one of the education institutions in La Jolla instead of in the park?,” town councilman Ray Weiss asked Beach.

“I’ve already talked to two people here tonight who had no idea what we did,” Beach replied, “so I think for it to be outdoors is important. If we get turned down (by the city), I’ll try to find another place. But I’ve looked at all the other places and they are a distant third.”

Town councilman Ed Ward had another suggestion for a venue for the proposed concert. “Have you ever considered Mt. Soledad, or is that too remote?,” asked Ward.

“I haven’t considered it,” Replied Beach, “but we would need a platform with a little roof over it just to make sure the sun doesn’t hit the stringed instruments. It gets awfully exposed up there.”

Longtime town councilman Jack Holzman suggested it might be proper procedure for the music society to go ahead and file a formal request for a concert permit first, then if it gets turned down, seek other alternative sites.

To that suggestion, Beach replied that securing an appropriate site is time-sensitive.

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“I have to hire the artists who won’t be in town till August,” he said, “to make sure they’ll be available for this performance on Thursday.”

Town councilwoman Sherri Lightner suggested two actions be taken in a town council letter supporting the free concert: voice council approval for the event that will be a benefit to the community, and ask for modification to the city parks moratorium on new events in coastal parks to allow for the moratorium to be set aside for the community’s benefit.

“I would like to point out,” concluded Beach, “that it is my hope that we do this every year, a free concert in La Jolla every August.”

The town council voted unanimously in favor of supporting La Jolla Music Society’s free summer concert proposal.

The city Parks and Recreation Department could not be reached for comment by the Light.