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Yuja Wang, Joffrey Ballet, Béla Fleck set for La Jolla Music Society’s first fully live season since COVID

Yuja Wang, shown
Yuja Wang, shown in concert at the Hollywood Bowl, will perform a Nov. 10 La Jolla Music Society concert at the Balboa Theatre. Her duo concert will team her with Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Other confirmed artists include Lang Lang, Lila Downs, Emanuel Ax and mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital, the society’s new Education Ambassador

Chinese piano superstar Yuja Wang, The Joffrey Ballet, jazz great Wynton Marsalis and 22-year-old English cello sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason are among the record number of artists set to perform during La Jolla Music Society’s 2021-22 winter season.

The season opens with an Oct. 15 performance by the Takács Quartet and concludes June 3 with quadruple-Grammy Award-winning Latin-jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and his band. The lineup also includes violin star Joshua Bell, the multinational Silk Road Ensemble and Mexican-American troubadour Lila Downs.

“Our goal is to serve as many communities as we can,” said La Jolla Music Society CEO-President Todd Schultz. “By offering a broad range of genres and artists, my hope is we can do that, as well as serving the art itself.”

The upcoming 43 confirmed performances include 27 debuts. Both numbers mark record highs for the society. The 53-year-old nonprofit is eager to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted an abrupt halt to the second half of its 2019-20 season.

The society pivoted to online-only performances for the majority of its truncated 2020-21 season.

The 2020 edition of its annual SummerFest was reduced from 18 concerts to just six, all sans in-person audiences. They were livestreamed from the society’s $82 million Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, whose spring 2019 opening came only 11 months before last year’s COVID-fueled shutdown of live events across the globe.

“It’s not what we signed up for, but it’s what we’re stuck with,” Schultz said. “And everyone at the society has been willing to consistently respond, quickly, and with a really good attitude.”

Sister and brother duo Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Mason
British sister and brother piano and cello duo Isata and Sheku Kanneh-Mason will perform as part of La Jolla Music Society’s 2021/2022 season. The 22 year-old British cellist, a sensation at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle, has become one of the best-selling artists in classical music.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Rejuvenated by 2021 SummerFest

The recently concluded 2021 SummerFest expanded to 16 concerts. They were enthusiastically attended by in-person audiences, the vast majority of whom voluntarily wore masks. (One concert fell through at the last minute because of a COVID-related scare after cello star Alisa Weilerstein tested positive.)

Some of this year’s SummerFest performers had originally been booked for last year’s edition. Because of the continuing pandemic, at least 15 artists in the society’s upcoming 2021-22 season had their scheduled performances from the previous two seasons canceled or postponed.

Monitoring this constantly shifting landscape — and putting everything back on track as schedules and health protocols have repeatedly changed — is comparable to playing several multidimensional chess games simultaneously, but with several key distinctions. The pieces kept abruptly shifting and, in some cases, suddenly vanished.

“I’m very excited about our new season, but putting it all together was really hard,” acknowledged Leah Rosenthal, the society’s tenacious artistic director.

“We use a software program called ArtsVision and multiple Excel spread sheets to keep track of which artists’ performances had been moved from which month and which year. It has been like a moving target for the past three seasons, and we are holding some dates for our 2022-23 season for artists we haven’t been able to reschedule yet. I can’t wait to see them all on stage again.”

Did the constant changes and false starts she encountered over the past 18 months make Rosenthal at least periodically prone to profanity?

“I would be lying if I said it didn’t!” she replied with a hearty laugh. “But it was just part of the process. Working in COVID times, you just relinquish control, keep your head down and try to march forward.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have a job through all this. But a lot of the artists have really struggled, and you can’t imagine what they’ve gone through. There are still challenges we all have to navigate ahead. But I think there will be a real renaissance in the music and arts world in the next few years as we come out of this.”

Society honcho Schultz also laughed when asked if he had been prone to profanity because of the constant changes and uncertainty.

“All the scheduling changes did not drive me to profanity,” Schultz said. “Like the vast majority of nonprofits, we’ve been sustained over the past 18 months by the generosity of our donors, whose support has been humbling and thrilling.

“What did drive me to profanity was the emergence of the Delta variant. Because we spent two months this summer with this false sense of security that the worst of COVID was behind us. And perhaps it is. But it’s not over, and that’s what is so frustrating.”

The $82 million Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center
La Jolla Music Society’s $82 million, 49,200-square-foot Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center opened in April 2019. The center subsequently received an Orchid Award for its architecture.
(Photo by Darren Bradley for The San Diego Union-Tribune)

New season, new health protocols

Unbowed, the society is forging ahead with its new season, which — at least from a health standpoint — will be unlike any in its previous 52 years.

New health protocols will be implemented for the society’s upcoming concerts at the 513-seat Baker Baum Concert Hall — the crown jewel at its Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center — and at the center’s adjacent venue, The JAI, whose capacity can vary between 116 to 300.

“What we have determined is that we will be requiring face masks to be worn indoors and during all of our concerts for the upcoming season,” Schultz said.

“As per state requirements, we will also require proof of vaccination or negative COVID test results within the past 72 hours. We’ll have the same health protocols for the concerts we present in downtown San Diego at the Balboa Theatre and the Civic Theatre.

“Our goal was to create a policy that’s absolutely consistent across the entire season, which will make it easier for our attendees to know what to expect.”

What can also be expected is what appears to be the most diverse roster of artists in the society’s history.

The lineup mixes superstar pianists Yuja Wang and Lang Lang with such rising talents as the Irish traditional music quintet Goitse, Cuban piano fireball Roberta Fonseca, Ukrainian “ethno chaos” band DakhaBrakha, young Russian piano Alexander Malofeev and the Georgia-bred gospel vocal ensemble Trey McLaughlin & Sounds of Zamar.

The schedule will also feature the society’s first vocal recital in the 14 years Rosenthal has been on board, an April 7 concert by celebrated German baritone Matthias Goerne.

“About 50 percent of our season is classical music, which is what the society is built on,” Schultz said.

“Leah is extremely knowledgeable about classical, jazz, dance, Latin, bluegrass, World Music and more. And she really keeps abreast of interesting new artists. So we have consistency and surprises from year to year, even with the pandemic, which is critical to sustaining our subscriber base and to drawing new audiences.”

Rosenthal is similarly happy to sing Schultz’s praises, saying: “La Jolla Music Society is so fortunate to have his leadership guiding us.”

She regards the upcoming season as a triumph for the society and for the artists it will present. Virtually all those artists saw their live performance schedules evaporate last year and have only started to resume tour dates this summer.

“You want everything to be in a neat little box and this has been anything but that,” said Rosenthal, who cites society artistic programming adviser Sarah Campbell as a vital team member.

“But as challenging as it has been, we’ve all persevered and we’ve diversified our offerings. As a result of the pandemic and all the schedule changes, we’ve forged close bonds with The Joffrey Ballet, Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and a lot of the other artists we work with.

“Everyone has united because we’ve all faced the same challenges — not just the artists and presenters, but also the talent agents and managers. We’ve all realized how intrinsically linked we all are to each other. It’s been a real labor of love for everyone. And it’s been so rewarding to see it come together, finally.”

Lila Downs
Grammy Award-winning musician Lila Downs traces her musical diversity and social activism to her days as an avid follower of the Grateful Dead.
(Agencia Reforma )

La Jolla Music Society 2021-22 winter season

New subscription packages and renewals go on sale today; single tickets go on sale Sept. 22. Tickets and more information are available at (858) 459-3728 and at ljms.org. All event times and prices are subject to change. Masking and proof of COVID vaccinations or negative tests will be required of all concertgoers.

Friday, Oct. 15: Takács Quartet. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $28-$72.

Friday, Oct. 22: Les Violons Du Roy, with Avi Avital. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $28-$72.

Sunday, Oct. 31: Alexander Malofeev. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 3 p.m. $38.

Saturday, Nov. 6: Jazzy Ash & The Leaping Lizards. The JAI. 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. $15-$25.

Wednesday, Nov. 10: Leonidas Kavakos & Yuja Wang. Balboa Theatre. 8 p.m. $41-$88.

Friday, Nov. 12: Avi Avital & Miloš Karadaglić. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $28-$72.

Saturday, Nov. 13: Bria Skonberg. The JAI. 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. $45-$65.

Thursday, Dec. 9: Nat Geo Live! “Skiing the Dream Line,” with Hilaree Nelson. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 7 p.m. $33-$67.

Saturday, Dec. 11: The Queen’s Cartoonists holiday concert. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 3 and 8 p.m. $28-$72.

Thursday, Dec. 16: Béla Fleck, “My Bluegrass Heart.” Balboa Theatre. 8 p.m. $28-$78.

Friday, Jan. 7: Emanuel Ax. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $41-$92.

Sunday, Jan. 16: Zoltán Fejérvári. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 3 p.m. $38.

Thursday, Jan. 20: Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Civic Theatre. 8 p.m. $25-$85.

Saturday, Jan. 22: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, with Wynton Marsalis. Balboa Theatre. 8 p.m. $33-$102.

Monday, Jan. 24: Jazz at Lincoln Center ensembles, with Wynton Marsalis. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $41-$115.

Saturday, Jan. 29: Trey McLaughlin & Sounds of Zamar. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $28-$72.

Friday, Feb. 4: Counterpoint, with Conrad Tao & Caleb Teicher. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $28-$72.

Wednesday, Feb. 9: Dreamers’ Circus. The JAI. 6:30 & 8:30 p.m. $45-$65.

Thursday, Feb. 10: Nat Geo Live! “Spinosaurus: Lost Giant of the Cretaceous,” with Nizar Ibrahim. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 7 p.m. $33-$67.

Saturday, Feb. 12: 123 Andrés. The JAI. 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. $15-$25.

Friday, Feb 25: Goitse. The JAI. 6:30 & 8:30 p.m. $45-$65.

Saturday, Feb. 26: Dover Quartet, with Escher String Quartet. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $28-$72.

Sunday, Feb. 27: Xavier Foley & Kelly Lin. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 3 p.m. $38.

Friday, March 4: Beatrice Rana. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $41-$92.

Thursday, March 10: Avital Meets Avital, with Avi Avital and Omar Avital. The JAI. 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. $45-$65.

Monday, March 14: Academy of St Martin in the Fields, with Joshua Bell. Civic Theatre. 8 p.m. $35-$95.

Friday, March 18: Lang Lang, WinterFest Gala. Copley Symphony Hall. 8 p.m. $33-$102.

Sunday, March 20: Arod Quartet. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 3 p.m. $38.

Friday, March 25 and Saturday March 26: Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. on March 25; 3 and 8 p.m. on Mar. 26. $28-$72.

Thursday, March 31: Nat Geo Live! “Ocean Soul,” with Brian Skerry. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 7 p.m. $33-$67.

Sunday, April 3: Silk Road Ensemble “A Home Within.” Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 7 p.m. $28-$72.

Thursday, April 7: Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $28-$72.

Friday, April 8: Chris Botti. Balboa Theatre. 8 p.m. $33-$102.

Sunday, April 24: DakhaBrahka, Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 7 p.m. $28-$72.

Saturday, April 23: Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Isata Kanneh-Mason. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $28-$72.

Thursday, April 28: Gunhild Carling. The JAI. 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. $45-$65.

Wednesday, May 4: Lila Downs. Balboa Theatre. 8 p.m. $33-$78.

Saturday, May 7: The Okee Dokee Brothers. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 3 p.m. $15-$25.

Saturday, May 14: The Joffrey Ballet. Civic Theatre. 8 p.m. $35-$95.

Sunday, May 15: Behzod Abduraimov. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 3 p.m. $41-$92

Thursday, May 19: Roberto Fonseca. The JAI. 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. $45-$65.

Thursday, May 26: Spektral Quartet “Letters From Home.” Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $28-$72.

Friday, June 3: Arturo Sandoval. Baker-Baum Concert Hall. 8 p.m. $41-$92.


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