The 'new boy on the block' is excited to be part of a local institution: SummerFest
By Valerie Scher - February 12, 2006
From SignOnSanDiego.com (Union Tribune)
At the La Jolla Music Society, life's a Beach – as in Christopher Beach, the organization's new boss.
Having assumed the post of president and artistic director in December, the former Manhattan resident is preparing for his first La Jolla SummerFest, which will celebrate its 20th year in August with an array of events in La Jolla, North Park and downtown.
“I'm the new boy on the block,” says the effusive and articulate Pittsburgh native whose enthusiasm is nearly boyish, despite the flecks of gray in his beard. Beach, 54, has been busy making contacts, planning events and getting to know the music society's staff, board members and supporters – all in an effort to learn how he can best serve the organization.
The La Jolla Music Society's new president and artistic director, Christopher Beach, is an East Coast administrator adjusting to West Coast wonders.“When I was first called about the job, I was told that the music society was looking for someone to continue the growth and expansion. I said 'I'm your guy,' ” recalls the former director of the Performing Arts Center at New York's Purchase College, where he worked for 16 years. “The opportunity to build on the music society's strengths is really exciting to me.”
That involves presenting “great orchestras, world-class soloists and chamber music ensembles” as part of a varied mix that also includes jazz, world music and dance.
“Our mission is to bring the world of the performing arts to San Diego,” says Beach, whose musical tastes range from Bach to pop, Evgeny Kissin to Aretha Franklin.
As a newcomer to SummerFest, slated for August 3-20, he has a fresh appreciation for its blend of classical and contemporary music, dance and jazz. The 20th edition will include new works by resident composers Leon Kirchner, Magnus Lindberg, Bright Sheng and Bruce Adolphe as well as by Grammy-winning jazz innovator Wayne Shorter.
In addition, local choreographer Allyson Green will set works to music by Bach and Tan Dun. And the festival – which will honor the 100th anniversary of Shostakovich's birth and the 250th anniversary of Mozart's – will bring together two generations of festival participants to honor its own heritage.
The major planning was done by festival director and violinist Cho-Liang Lin in conjunction with Beach's predecessor, Mary Lou Aleskie, who left the music society to run Connecticut's Arts & Ideas New Haven. (She earned approximately $204,000 a year here; Beach's salary has not been disclosed.)
“I had never met Christopher until his appointment,” says Lin, now in his sixth year heading the festival. “I briefed him about SummerFest. He's a very fast study – very much up to speed on so many of the festival's aspects.”
Yet Beach has yet to adapt to other aspects of San Diego, including its relaxed approach to fashion. On a recent afternoon, he looked like a model for elegant East Coast office wear, from his custom-made monogrammed shirt to his sleek leather shoes.
“He's always dressed immaculately,” says Lin. “I feel like a homeless person next to him.”
Resident composer Bruce Adolphe presided at a SummerFest master class last year that included violinist Andy Leu. More such events are expected this summer. Beach is also adjusting to the availability of fish tacos (“they're so strange I haven't had one yet”) and the sight of palm trees from the music society's downtown La Jolla headquarters. He even went so far as to describe La Jolla as “Greenwich with palm trees” in the New York Times.
Considerably more familiar to him are the posters and memorabilia that decorate his office. They're reminders of other places he has worked, including New York's Metropolitan Opera, where he served as an administrative assistant to director of production John Dexter in the late 1970's and returned in 1985 for a three-year stint as director of operations. There's also a framed composition – a “musical portrait” of Beach composed by the late composer-critic Virgil Thomson, whom Beach considered a friend.
Ask Beach what made him want to come to San Diego and he cites his experience last fall at a La Jolla cocktail party with music society board members and donors.
“I thought it was going to be easy,” he recalls. “But no – they stood me up and fired questions at me for 45 minutes. That was when I realized that the organization is committed to quality and that I wanted this job.”
Music – if not the music society – has long been integral to his life. The eldest of seven children from various marriages, he compares his mother to Katharine Hepburn and his late father to Frank Sinatra, saying that's why they divorced. The arts were highly valued in his large, blended family, and Beach began piano lessons at age 3.
“I can't even remember how many years I studied,” says Beach, who spent his formative years living on Cape Cod. “Countless piano teachers spent untold hours trying to find a grain of talent in me and failed.”
No matter. He began working backstage at area theaters as a teenager and, after graduating from Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, he gained valuable experience at such performing arts institutions as Baltimore Opera Company, Santa Fe Opera, and Santa Fe Festival Theatre, which he founded in 1980 as New Mexico's first professional theater company.
After serving as managing director of PepsiCo Summerfare, the festival that took place on Purchase College's campus outside New York City, he became head of the college's Performing Arts Center in 1989 – a post he held until December.
During his 16 years there, the number of performances grew from 21 to 144 and ranged from classical music and jazz to dance and theater. At the same time, the center's budget expanded from $1.5 million to $5.2 million – making it larger than the music society's $3.2 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
“I learned how to patiently make something grow,” says Beach.
He'll apply those lessons at the music society, which continues to expand the range of SummerFest, both geographically and artistically. No longer simply a La Jolla chamber music festival featuring visiting musicians in venerable repertoire, SummerFest actively champions contemporary works.
But finding an audience-pleasing balance between new and old music isn't easy. Beach found that out a few months ago at a social gathering when he met a married couple who are music society donors.
“The woman said she just loved Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. The contemporary stuff – forget it,” Beach remembers. “About a half-hour later, I spoke to her husband. He said he didn't care about Mozart, Beethoven and the others. He loved the contemporary work!”
Both Beach and Lin hope to build on last year's successes. That included strong turnouts at downtown concerts by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road project as well as Lalo Schifrin's tango-influenced “Letters From Argentina.” Meanwhile, most of the seats were filled at SummerFest's primary venue, La Jolla's 492-seat Sherwood Auditorium in the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, where attendance was approximately 95% of capacity.
“We really want this year's SummerFest to be festive in the way it looks at what it has accomplished and what it will continue to do,” says Lin.
In a bow to the past, the opening night repertoire includes Martinu's “La Jolla Sinfonietta,” commissioned in 1950 by the Musical Arts Society of La Jolla, a forerunner of the La Jolla Music Society. And former artistic director Heiichiro Ohyama, the conductor-violist who guided the festival from 1985-1997, is on the performance roster, which also features such accomplished musicians as pianist Yefim Bronfman, violinist Gil Shaham and violist Cynthia Phelps.
This year's list of venues includes the recently renovated Stephen and Mary Birch North Park Theatre, which is new to the festival, along with downtown's Copley Symphony Hall and Sherwood Auditorium.
Sherwood is only about a mile from the cozy La Jolla house that Beach is renting. He shares it with his partner of 27 years, Wesley Fata, a former Martha Graham dancer who's on the faculty of the Yale School of Drama.
And Beach – long accustomed to Manhattan traffic – looks forward to the ease of driving from home to Sherwood Auditorium during the festival.
“I'll have no excuse to say I was stuck in traffic and late to a performance,” he says with a smile.
La Jolla Summerfest 2006 schedule
Valerie Scher - February 12, 2006
From SignOnSanDiego.com (Union Tribune)
Concerts will be held in Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B St., downtown; Stephen and Mary Birch North Park Theatre, 2981 University Ave.; and Sherwood Auditorium in the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 700 Prospect St., La Jolla. The SummerFest gala will be held Aug. 12, with program, ticket prices and venue to be announced.
Subscriptions are $100 to $695. Single tickets – priced from $10 to $75 ($5 for children at the Family Concert) – go on sale May 15. Information/tickets: (858) 459-3728 or www.lajollamusicsociety.org.
Still to be announced are dates, times and locations for the following free programs: Coaching workshops, roundtable discussions (“Encounters”), National Public Radio's “Performance Today” sessions (“Perf-Chats”) and Guided Open Rehearsal Tours.
Copley Symphony Hall
7:30 p.m. Aug. 3: “SummerFest 20th Anniversary Opening Night Celebration.”
Martinu's “La Jolla Sinfonietta”; Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-Flat Major, K. 482; Beethoven's “Triple Concerto” in C Major. With conductor-pianist Jeffrey Kahane, violinist Chee Yun, cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Jonathan Biss.
Stephen and Mary Birch North Park Theatre
7:30 p.m. Aug. 7: “Modern Composers at SummerFest – Mavericks and Movement Across the Pacific.”
Bright Sheng's “Three Fantasies” for violin and piano (West Coast premiere co-commissioned by La Jolla Music Society for SummerFest); Steve Reich's “Nagoya Marimbas”; Lou Harrison's Suite for Violin & American Gamelan; Tan Dun's “Elegy: Snow in June.” With conductor Jahja Ling, pianist Andre-Michel Schub, violinists Cho-Liang Lin and Chee Yun, cellist Felix Fan, percussionists David Cossin and Steven Schick, and choreography by Allyson Green.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 17: “Jazz at SummerFest – Wayne Shorter Quartet,” North Park Theatre.
Featuring saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 4: “Encore.”
All-Mozart program consisting of the “Piano Trio” in C Major, K. 548; “Clarinet Quintet” in A Major, K. 581; Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 379; String Quintet No. 6 in E-Flat Major, K. 614. Includes violist Cynthia Phelps, violinists Miriam Fried and Lin, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, pianist Jonathan Biss, and the Orion String Quartet.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 5: “All-Alumni Jam Session Hosted Nationwide by NPR.”
SummerFest's first artistic director, violist Heiichiro Ohyama, joins performers from throughout SummerFest's 20 year history. Includes Mendelssohn's Octet for Strings in E-Flat Major, Golijov's “Last Round” and an adaptation of “Dueling Banjos” for dueling violins by Andy Stein.
3 p.m. Aug. 6: “Heritage of Vienna.”
Mozart's String Quartet No. 16 in E-Flat Major, K. 28; world premiere of Kirchner's String Quartet (co-commissioned by La Jolla Music Society for SummerFest); Schubert's String Quintet in C Major. Includes violinist Sheryl Staples and Chee Yun, violist Phelps, cellist Ben Hong and Orion String Quartet.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 8: “Scandinavian Romance.”
Lindberg's “Piano Etude,” “ ..... de Tartuff, je crois” and world premiere of work co-commissioned for SummerFest; Grieg's Cello Sonata in A Minor; Sibelius' String Quartet No. 2 in D Minor ( “Voces Intimae”). Includes composer/pianist Magnus Lindberg, cellist Anssi Karttunen, pianist Schub and Orion String Quartet.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 11: “Gypsy Songs & Dances.”
Brahms' “Piano Trio” No. 3 in C Minor and selections from “Hungarian Dances”; Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion; selections from Dvorak's “Ciganske Melodie” (“Gypsy Songs”). Includes pianist Joseph Kalichstein and Schub, percussionist Schick, soprano Dina Kuznetsova and cellist Gary Hoffman.
3 p.m. Aug. 13: “Memories of Russia.”
Rachmaninoff's “Vocalise” and other songs; Shostakovich's “Piano Trio” No. 2 in E Minor; Tchaikovsky's “Piano Trio” in A Minor. Includes pianist Jon Kimura Parker, violinists Akiko Suwanai and Lin, and cellist Hoffman.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 15: “A Virtuoso Gathering.”
Shostakovich's “Piano Quintet” in G Minor; Schubert's “Piano Trio” in E-Flat Major. Includes violinists Gil Shaham and Adele Anthony, violist Paul Neubauer, cellist Carter Brey and pianist Yefim Bronfman.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 16: “Dancing at SummerFest – Bach Cello Suite.”
Choreographer Allyson Green creates a new work to Bach's Cello Suite No. 6.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 18: “An American in Paris.”
Poulenc's “Piano and Wind Sextet”; Ravel's “Piano Trio” in A Minor; Faure's “Piano Quartet” in G Minor; world premiere of Wayne Shorter's wind quintet for Imani Winds, co-commissioned for SummerFest. Includes pianists Shai Wosner and Helen Huang, cellist Fan, violist Neubauer, cellist Brey, and Imani Winds.
2 p.m. Aug. 19: Family Concert
Bruce Adolphe's “Zephyronia” – Imani Winds. World premiere of composer Adolphe's work for the Imani Winds based on a story by Louise Gikow.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 19: “Shakespeare at SummerFest – With Vivaldi, Monteverdi and Bach.”
Vivaldi's “Concerto alla Rustica”; “Love Past Cure” (Monteverdi madrigals with Shakespeare sonnets); Bach's Concerto in D Minor for Violin and Oboe and Concerto in C Minor for Two Pianos. Includes pianists Huang and Wosner, soprano Jennifer Aylmer, and the International Sejong Soloists.
3 p.m. Aug. 20: “SummerFest 20th Anniversary Finale.”
Elgar's “Serenade for Strings”; Mozart's Divertimento in E-Flat Major, K. 563; Schubert's “Death and the Maiden.” Includes violinist Lin and the International Sejong Soloists.