Classical Music: My 5 Favorite Things of 2021

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In what most would agree to be, at best, a chaotic and unpredictable year, San Diego’s classical music scene not only prevailed but flourished. In fact, earlier this month, Musical America Worldwide – the country’s oldest and most prestigious classical music publication – included two San Diegan residents among its winners of “30 Professionals of the Year: The Pandemic. : Meet the moment ”. Congratulations to San Diego Symphony CEO Martha Gilmer and Principally Mozart CEO Nancy Laturno. Thanks to them and other tireless music lovers in San Diego for taking on the challenges and providing wonderful sound options. Here are five of the many memorable moments of 2021.

Rafael Payare conducts the San Diego Symphony and guest cellist Alicia Weilerstein at the sold-out August opening of The Rady Shell in Jacob Park.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Rady Shell of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra in Jacobs Park

Many were eagerly awaiting the August gala of the San Diego Symphony at its new outdoor gem, the Rady Shell in Jacobs Park. But the event exceeded expectations as the orchestra’s musical director Rafael Payare (who first appeared in dramatic figure) led the enthusiastic orchestra in its first live performance in 16 months. The excellent acoustics and panoramic views over the Bay of The Shell, a monumental effort led by Martha Gilmer, will be enjoyed for years to come. Guest artists for the gala included French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet playing “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin, cellist Alisa Weilerstein (wife of Payare) performing Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 and bass baritone Ryan Speedo Green presenting opera classics by Rossini and Mozart.

Brandon Steppe (center), Rashad Graham (right), Joseph Mac (left)

David’s Harp Foundation founder Brandon Steppe (center) with his partners Joseph Mac (left) and Rashad Graham (right). Their San Diego nonprofit for at-risk youth this year received a surprise grant of $ 1 million.

(San Diego Union-Tribune file photo)

David’s Harp Foundation

The David’s Harp Foundation in East Village had a huge surprise in June: an unsolicited million dollar donation from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. Co-founded by Brandon Steppe in 2009, David’s Harp offers free recording time, technical training and mentorship to at-risk youth. The association rewards those whose behavior and school grades improve with extra time in the studio. Joseph Mack, the foundation’s director of programming, told the Union-Tribune shortly after hearing the news: “Tears were streaming down Brandon’s face, and I literally fell to my knees and cried. .

Steven Schick Music Director of La Jolla Symphony & Chorus.

Steven Schick, who has conducted the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus for 15 years, will retire next year.

(Photo by Bill Dean / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Steven schick

Since the mid-1950s, La Jolla Symphony & Chorus has offered musical excellence and a daring repertoire, performing at the Mandeville Auditorium at the University of California, San Diego. With a small team and a group of around 200 volunteer musicians and singers, it has enjoyed lasting success. Much of this is due to its multi-talented and fearless musical director and conductor, Steven Schick, who has been associated with the symphony for over 30 years. Schick will step down as Music Director at the end of the 2021-2022 season after 15 years in this role. The renowned UCSD music teacher and percussionist will stay connected as he becomes the first director emeritus of La Jolla Symphony. Separately, the symphony orchestra has appointed Arian Khaefi of the University of San Diego as interim choir director for this season and has also signed a three-year contract with its current executive director, Stephanie Weaver Yankee.

Award-winning composer Gabriela Lena Frank

Award-winning composer Gabriela Lena Frank hosted two of La Jolla Music Society’s 2021 SummerFest concerts.

(Mariah Tauger / Courtesy of La Jolla Music Society)

La Jolla Music Society SummerFest

In 2020, La Jolla Music Society reduced its annual SummerFest to six live broadcast programs due to the pandemic. But in 2021, the arts organization – led by CEO Todd Schultz, Artistic Director Leah Rosenthal and SummerFest Music Director Inon Barnatan – presented 16 live concerts, several of which also broadcast live. Despite changing artist schedules, a shorter planning period, and the uncertainties of COVID, SummerFest’s lineup was stellar and its lineup admirably diverse. Both Takeover @ The JAI concerts were hosted by Grammy-winning Latin American composer Gabriela Lena Frank. Only one of the 16 concerts scheduled at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center was canceled – due to a positive COVID test from a featured (and vaccinated) artist – but the rest of SummerFest continued successfully.

Mainly Mozart's Star Orchestra

Primarily, Mozart’s All-Star Orchestra spent driving concerts halfway through 2021.

(Courtesy photo by Ken Jacques)

Mainly Mozart

In 2021, Nancy Laturno, CEO of Mainly Mozart, continued the drive-through parking lot gigs that made the organization’s headlines last year. The non-profit organization presented several double orchestral performances for the public in cars at the Del Mar Exhibition Center. The Los Angeles Philharmonic teamed up with the San Francisco Symphony in February, while the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra performed with the Washington DC National Symphony in April. Then, from June 11 to 19, Michael Francis conducted the Mainly Mozart All-Star Orchestra at the outdoor Del Mar Surf Cup Sports Park. At the same location, a five-day concert series was conducted by former Del Mar resident David Chan, who also co-directed the February and April concerts. Mozart’s September series began primarily with a concert marking the 20th anniversary of September 11, featuring jazz and classical saxophonist Branford Marsalis.

Wood is a freelance writer.


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