Summer Festival Preview

By Steven Libowitz   |   June 13, 2019

Finding a selection of events to highlight from the new Music Academy of the West summer festival isn’t an issue. Distilling the 200-some offerings over the eight weeks down to a manageable preview is a much greater challenge. That’s because MAW has been moving in leaps and bounds in its wildly successful recent efforts to become one of the world’s most prestigious summer music festivals, creating programs and policies that have exponentially raised both awareness and standards.

For example, to follow up the landmark four-year partnership with the New York Philharmonic that ended in 2017, MAW extended its reach further east, across the pond to England to collaborate with the London Symphony Orchestra in a similar multi-year pact that began last summer. This year the stakes in that program alone amp up another notch or two, as the LSO will perform three different programs over three day in mid-July, offering the fellows and local classical music lovers a close but even denser approximation to a big city symphony’s typical in-season week.

The trio kicks off July 12 with Voyager, featuring a family space-themed program with accompanying film by Victor Craven at the Granada conducted by Elim Chan, with excerpts from Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (used in 2001: A Space Odyssey), Holst’s “Jupiter” from The Planets, and John Williams’ Flying Theme from E.T. among the selections. Music director Michael Tilson Thomas was to conduct the other two full symphony concerts, but had to cancel due to heart surgery, so instead we’ll get the equally esteemed Daniel Harding, of Orchestre de Paris and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra (and the principal guest conductor of the LSO from 2007-2017), who will wield the baton for the LSO at the Granada on July 13, and the big side-by-side performance of the LSO with the fellows-powered Academy Festival Orchestra (AFO) in a community concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl on July 14. Meanwhile, pianist/composer Thomas Adès, a creative partner of the LSO who has appeared with the orchestra regularly since 2006, steps in to lead the Academy Chamber Orchestra with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Academy Vocal Institute fellows.

Speaking of Aimard, he’s just one of the fearless foursome of 2019’s Mosher Guest Artists – which has already impressed mightily in its ability to attract world renowned musicians to town for residencies at Miraflores – possibly the best lineup yet at least in terms of breadth and depth, as the roster also includes star mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard (who attended MAW in 2005), flutist Claire Chase, and double bassist Edgar Meyer, who is highly regarded in both classical and bluegrass-Americana music circles (Mandolinist-composer Chris Thile is among his collaborators). All of the artists will be offering recitals and masterclasses this summer.

Harkening back to the AFO, the young players not only get a chance to perform in front of 4,000-plus people at the Bowl, they’ll also get to work under the baton and mentoring of Matthias Pintscher a full 11 months before the composer-conductor returns to the region to serve as Music Director of the 2020 Ojai Music Festival, and get guided by Marin Alsop, the music director of both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, and chief conductor designate of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Of course, they’ll first gel under the aegis of MAW favorite Larry Rachleff for the initial two AFO concerts.

But perhaps the most intriguing event of the summer – on both a local and national scale – is August’s opera production, in which MAW follows last year’s repertoire fave of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro with the ultra-modern work Cold Mountain, based on Charles Frazier’s bestselling book set during the Civil War that was made into a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger, set during the civil war. Its Pulitzer Prize winning creator Jennifer Higdon serves as composer-in-residence (her “blue cathedral” will be performed by the AFO), while the West Coast premiere production will be conducted by TED Fellow Daniela Candillari and directed by four-year MAW veteran James Darrah, now the Vocal Institute Creative Director. Singers Leonard and Jay Hunter Morris, who premiered roles in the opera, will be conducting a masterclass for the fellows preparing for their performances. 

Meanwhile, OperaFest has morphed, at least for this iteration on June 29 and July 1, into Shakespeare Salon, a cutting-edge opera, song and theater production based on the Bard’s texts including excerpts from Falstaff, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet,and West Side Story

MAW 2019 is such an embarrassment of riches that we haven’t even touched on the community outreach programs that offer more tentacles than an octopus during low tide at Hendry’s Beach, with adjunct events including book clubs, film screenings, and much more, let alone the masterclasses that still serve as the backbone of the festival for the fellows and their fans. Watch this space all summer for more details as the programs arrive.

This Week at the Music Academy

Friday, June 14: The big event of the week, of course, is the gala benefit concert honoring pianist Jerome Lowenthal, who marks his 50th summer at Miraflores with just a 10-day stint in town. We previewed the party as last week’s cover story, so suffice it to say the music should be very special, as piano alumni and now colleagues pay tribute to half a century of pianism on stage. 

Monday, June 17: Play ball! The public portion of the regular season gets underway with collaborative piano program director Jonathan Feldman leading the first Music Academy masterclass of the Summer Festival, which he will do every Monday throughout the eight-week festival (1 pm; Lehmann Hall; $10)… Tonight also brings the first concert of the summer, a continuation of a recent trend, with the veteran and versatile Takács Quartet performing a program of Haydn’s Quartet in C Major, Op. 33, No. 3 “The Bird”; Bartok’s No. 4, Sz. 91; and Grieg’s No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 27 (7:30 pm; Hahn Hall; $55). 

Tuesday, June 18: Four more instruments make masterclass debuts, including flute (1 pm), oboe, percussion, and viola (all 3:15 pm), plus one for chamber music, which brings the Takács, last night’s performing foursome, in full force to the stage at Lehmann Hall to impart their knowledge to the next generation of classical musicians in various combinations via chamber works famous and obscure (1 pm; $10). 

Wednesday, June 19: Not all that many years ago, the vocal and vocal piano fellows simply made their debut at Hahn Hall during regular masterclass hours, albeit with all of them performing a single selection sans feedback. Smartly, considering the program’s popularity and prestige, the newly-named Vocal Institute singers and pianists now perform more formally at night in a “grand reveal … dazzling showcase of their burgeoning talent.” (No argument here, considering that MAW gets nearly 2,000 applicants for its 140 total fellow slots, accepting less than seven percent, with the vocal program among its most exclusive.) All 21 vocalists (including just two fellows returning from last summer) and six pianists (only Chien-Lin Lu, ‘14 & ‘15, has been here before) get a turn offering arias and songs (7:30 pm; Hahn Hall; $50)… During the daytime, enjoy the first cello (1 pm), horn, bassoon, and double bass masterclasses (3:15 pm) of the season.


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