Blithely ignoring a “no reading” sign at a coffeehouse in La Jolla a few summers ago, I was told by a waitress to close my book or leave. That incident followed an uninspired chamber music program by New York performers who were phoning it in and I resolved to swear off SummerFest La Jolla. The resolution didn’t last long. In this once vacuously pretty seaside village, SummerFest has developed into an impressive and stellar chamber music event, thanks to the leadership of violinist Cho-Liang Lin. Top-rank performers this summer include pianists Garrick Ohlsson, violinist Gil Shaham, cellist Carter Brey and pipa player Wu Man. The composers-in-residence are big names -- the Chinese-born Tan Dun, the Cambodian-born Chinary Ung and the quintessentially American William Bolcom.
The festival begins on Aug. 1 with blue-chip Beethoven and then launches into the theme of East meets West. Among the attractions: a concert on Aug. 5 titled “Beyond the Silk Road,” with the first performance of a suite from Philip Glass’ “Sound of a Voice,” a new opera with a libretto by David Henry Hwang and Glass’ first work to use Chinese instruments. Also on that noteworthy program: Tan’s “Ghost Opera,” staged by the composer.
Other festival highlights include a celebration of Leon Fleisher’s 75th birthday on Aug. 10, in which the great American pianist will participate in works by Brahms. On Aug. 17, American conductor Alan Gilbert tackles Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” (Song of the Earth) in a provocative chamber arrangement by Schoenberg and Reiner Riehn. The concerts take place in the Sherwood Auditorium, which may be acoustically adequate at best, but its ocean views are stunning, and this summer the view will include Andy Goldsworthy’s new environmental sculpture “West Coast Cairn.”
-- Mark Swed