Our Laguna: Music scoring big with Laguna Beach Live!

Music has always been a part of Laguna's art culture, but it has a hit-or-miss history. Lyric Opera Co. was founded here, leading to the formation of Opera Pacific, which moved out of town. The Laguna Chamber Music Society presented concerts at the Artists Theatre until it moved to the Barkley while the high school was being renovated and never came back. The Pacific Symphony played chamber music concerts in the theater until school officials no longer would clear the calendar for them.

But Laguna also has some keepers. Among the hits: Original scores add luster to the Pageant of the Masters. Concerts in Bluebird Park always draw a crowd of local music lovers. No Square Theatre musicals, including "Lagunatics," are special treats. The Laguna Concert Band, which began with six members, now has 60 musicians and performs more than 20 concerts a year, and Laguna Tunes has begun making a splash. Fete de la Musique, organized by the Sister Cities Assn. of Laguna Beach, gets bigger and better every year.

But no organization scores more highly on the scale for local musical events than Laguna Beach Live!, founded in August 2001 by Cindy Prewitt, Joe Byrne and Sam Goldstein.

The piece de resistance is the Laguna Beach Music Festival, presented jointly with the Orange County Philharmonic Society, set this year for Feb. 4 to 10 to showcase the sounds of South America. Performers include the Pablo Ziegler Classical Tango Quartet, Todo Mundo, the Calidore Quartet, Huayucaltia and Regina Carter, winner of the MacArthur Foundation genius grant.

Some events are free and those tickets are going fast, if not already gone, Prewitt said.

Tickets, which can be ordered at http://www.LagunaBeachMusicFestival.com or by phone, are $40. A $100 package includes prime seating, reserved parking and champagne at intermission.

An opening night party at the Laguna Beach Woman's Club is $45. Seating is limited. A champagne reception and dinner at Claes Restaurant, concert tickets, a post-performance dessert party on stage with the musicians, and shuttle transportation to and from the Hotel Laguna is priced at $200.

For more information, visit the festival website or call (949) 715-9713.

The kickoff for the 11th annual festival was hosted by Saltfineart at 1492 S. Coast Hwy., which specializes in Latin contemporary art, a perfect tie-in to the "Sounds of Latin America." The gallery has coordinated exhibitions in city galleries to compliment the festival's musical theme.

Guests at the reception feasted their eyes on art while munching on empanadas and other goodies.

Gallery owner Carla Tesak Arzente spoke about the art of Luis Cornejo and Cecilia Peredes, featured in the current show at the gallery, and announced the upcoming show of works by Esterio Segura, starting Feb. 7.

Guests at the reception included festival director Sandy Robertson and board members John Beneke, Carol Reynolds, Ron Harris and Lauren Conrad, event co-chair with Judy Jelenick; Laguna Beach Live! board members Madeleine Peterson and Betsy Jenkins, festival donors Barbara and Ken McMurray, and Igal and Diane Silver.

"Laguna is known as an art town — we are working to also make it a music town," Prewitt said.

The work has paid off. In the 2011-12 season, the group presented 34 concerts in a variety of genres and venues, including the sold-out Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer concerts in last year's festival.

Less than three weeks into 2013, Laguna Beach Live! has presented a concert at the Laguna Art Museum, one of a series performed there on the second Thursday of the month through May 9, and opened the winter Jazz Wednesday's series in its new venue at Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course's Canyon Grill, still called by many Ben Brown's.

Expansion of the group's educational component is planned. The program already includes participation by guest artists from the museum concerts conducting a program at the Boys & Girls Club in the afternoon before the performance.

Wednesday's sold-out concert featured the Latin Jazz Syndicate, led by trumpeter Bijon Watson. Laguna Niguel music lover Dick Malek attended the concert with his wife, Deanna.

Also in the audience were Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson, city Arts Commissioner Mary Ferguson, Laguna Beach County Water District General Manager Renae Hinchey, Festival of Arts Event Coordinator Susan Davies, Playhouse Executive Director Karen Wood and Artistic Director Ann Wareham, Kathy and Larry Nokes, Old Pottery Place owner Joe Hanauer, Sue Kempf, Katherine Watson-Jones of Laguna Woods and Patsy Hadlich of Dana Point.

The series continues Jan. 30 and concludes April 17. Summer Jazz Wednesday concerts will be held in the Hotel Laguna Rose Garden.

Also scheduled for this year: a free Feb. 14 Valentines' Day Concert at Laguna Art Museum, featuring pianists Christine Lenhardt and Joshua Chandon.

Gospel music lovers would be wise to order tickets now for the Gospel Champagne Brunch featuring Yve Evans on March 10 at Tivoli Too. The brunch is part of the annual Laguna Beach a la Carte food and wine festival. It is always sold-out, Prewitt said.

The award-winning Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra will be on stage April 20 at the Laguna Playhouse.

Named Best Big Band in America, the orchestra is co-lead by bassist John Clayton, his brother and reed player, Jeff Clayton, and drummer Jeff Hamilton. The band was the resident jazz orchestra for the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl for several years, according to the Laguna Beach Live! website.

Laguna Beach Live! programs and presentations are supported by ticket sales, grants, donations and membership fees, starting at $100.

Major donors include the city, the Business Improvement District that is funded by local hotels and restaurants, the National Endowment for the Arts, Joan Havajian and members of the board Jelenik, Jenkins and Tom Ellerbe, which also includes Joe Becker, Cody Engle, Paul Freeman, Glenn Gray, Goldstein, Pearson, Peterson and Prewitt. They would welcome new members.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4618 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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