Music Society looks for homes for SummerFest musician

La Jolla Music Society wants you to know that classical musicians make fine houseguests.

The Music Society is seeking volunteers for its SummerFest host program. Some of the world’s most talented classical musicians will come to town in August for SummerFest 2007, a three-week concert festival to be held at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Sherwood Auditorium in La Jolla and at the Stephen and Mary Birch North Park Theater. Most of the musicians will stay at homes throughout La Jolla.

Each year, about 70 musicians are taken in by La Jollans as part of the SummerFest host program. A few stay for the duration of the festival, some stay for a week, and some of the more established artists are only in town for a few days before and after their performance. Host families are expected to provide little beyond a roof over the artist’s head. In return, they get up close and personal with some of the biggest stars in classical music. The host program has been an integral part of SummerFest for more than 15 years.

"(SummerFest) is such a shining star here for La Jolla, and it’s nice to be a part of it,” said Betty Martin, who has hosted an artist almost every year since the program began.

Martin said the lasting relationships she formed with several of the artists who have stayed in her home more than made up for the work that went into housing them.

“We’ve remained in contact with a lot of these people,” she said. “It’s so easy. They basically need a bed, bath and space in the refrigerator - it’s not a huge job.”

The artists who have shared the Martins’ home and made a lasting impression on their hosts include the violinist Alexi Preucil, pianist Riko Higuma and a married couple, pianist Gloria Lin and cellist Jesus Castro-Balbi.

“They’re a delightful couple,” Martin said.

Martin also fondly remembers violinist Ani Kafavian, who stayed at their home with her young son and cooked a big Greek dinner one night during her stay.

“She insisted on cooking,” Martin said. “Even in her busy schedule, she said she was going to cook one night, and she did it.”

Martin’s husband, Jim Martin, said he and his wife have preferred to host younger artists over the years. This year, they will host cellist Wolfram Koessel of the American String Quartet.

“We find them refreshing,” he said. “And we’re interested in helping out younger people in their music careers.”

Betty Martin was formerly a piano teacher, and their piano at home has been played by some of the greats of classical music. But Jim Martin said their love of music is only part of their motivation for participating in the host program.

“The personal relationships are as important as the music,” he said.

Joan Snider chairs the host program for La Jolla Music Society.. Using a number of factors, including the size of the accomodations and the number of people a host is willing to take in, Snider matches artists with hosts.

Some hosts will ask to have the same artist stay with them many years in a row.

“Once in a while, someone will say, ‘We absolutely have to have so-and-so back, is he coming?’ ” Snider said. “Once in a while they’ll say, ‘I didn’t particularly care for that person, we didn’t communicate well.’ But it’s never anything horrible.”

Jim Martin agreed that some guests are fussier than others but said he’s never had a bad experience as a SummerFest host.

“They’re all good people,” he said.

In the early days of SummerFest, some artists were housed in dormitories at UCSD. Betty Martin, who once chaired the host program, said housing the artists in La Jolla homes makes for a better music festival.

“It adds to the quality of SummerFest because of the cohesion between the artists and the families,” Martin.

Snider said the program can also provide an interesting insight for music fans.

“Hosting a musician is a great opportunity to learn about the lifestyle of a successful artist,” she said.

The La Jolla Music Society is still seeking host volunteers for SummerFest 2007. Hosts are needed for as little as three days and for as long as the 26-day duration of the festival. Call Emilia at the La Jolla Music Society for more information on hosting at (858) 459-3724.