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Time for the show to go on: Summerfest kicks off in La Jolla featuring some of the greats of chamber music

One year ago at Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego, more than 2,000 chamber music lovers sat awaiting the start of SummerFest, the premiere annual event of the La Jolla Music Society.

Christopher Beach, who had been on the job as president and artistic director of La Jolla Music Society for about six months, stepped to the stage to welcome the crowd in what amounted to his public debut. Beach’s mouth started moving, but the crowd heard nothing - his microphone was out.

So Beach started hollering.

“ ‘The show must go on’ is in my blood,” Beach said, laughing at the memory.

The show did go on, and the Music Society’s first SummerFest under Beach was a rousing success. For SummerFest 2007, which begins Friday, Aug. 3 at Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla, Beach and SummerFest music director Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin have assembled one of the strongest lineups since the festival was established in 1986.

More than 70 world-class artists will perform 16 concerts through Aug. 26 at this year’s festival, titled “Bach, Beethoven...and Beyond.” New to the festival this year is a Tuesday night series focusing on the work of one particular composer that will start with a logical subject: Beethoven. The festival has also added a dance performance, to be held Aug. 24 at the Stephen and Mary Birch North Park Theater.

Also new this year is a series titled “An Evening With...” which will showcase a different individual artist each Wednesday night of the festival. The series begins Aug. 8 with Lin who in addition to being SummerFest music director, is also a world-class violinist and a faculty member at The Juilliard School and Rice University. His presence at La Jolla Music Society was a major draw for Beach when he chose to leave behind his post as artistic director at The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College in New York to come to La Jolla.

“Jimmy is nothing short of brilliant,” Beach said. “I think many people in San Diego don’t know how extraordinary his worldwide reputation is.”

Lin’s excellence was something Beach knew he could count on when he made his move west. Other things came as surprises: The passion and skill of his 30-person staff at the Music Society, the commitment and generosity of the Music Society’s 34-person board of directors, the brilliance of his colleagues at other San Diego arts institutions, and the knowledgability and attentiveness of San Diego audiences.

“That’s what my 18 months here have been: One after another expectation surpassed,” Beach said. “This is the best audience I’ve ever had at any theater I’ve ever worked in. They are more knowledgeable, more attentive, more caring and quieter than anybody else.

“Not only are they silent in between two movements of a piece, they’re silent in the middle of a piece, so that a particular musical phrase can end in silence,” Beach said, drawing out the word while pulling slowly on the bow of an invisible violin, “then begin again. It’s a joy for musicians to be able to play for an audience like that.”

Musicians also enjoy playing for full houses, and they should encounter plenty at SummerFest 2007. The opening night performance at Sherwood Auditorium presenting a program of works by Dvorak, Smetana and Brahms is sold out, as is the finale, featuring six concertos by Bach. Ticket sales for the Music Society’s season on the whole are up 10 percent from last year.

Ask Beach if there’s anything on this year’s program he’s particularly excited about, and he repeats the question back with incredulity.

“Everyone always asks, ‘What’s your favorite,’ and it’s just impossible,” he said.

He does mention the new “Shakespeare Through Song” performance to be held Aug. 18 at Sherwood, featuring works by 10 different composers including Haydn, Stravinsky, Korngold and Beethoven, who were inspired by the works of William Shakespeare. Beach also mentions cellist Lynn Harrell, who he calls “one of the two or three greatest people playing that instrument in the world right now” and will be featured in the “An Evening With...” series on Aug. 22.

Selected SummerFest performances will be heard on radio in San Diego on KPBS-FM 89.5, and on public and private radio stations nationwide and in Canada and Europe.