San Diego Story
Ken Herman
August 5, 2019

The renewal of La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest is evident on several fronts. This 2019 season, which opened Friday, August 2, is now under the direction of the young pianist Inon Barnatan; the concerts are presented in the organization’s new Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in downtown La Jolla, and Barnatan’s programming projects a refreshing rejuvenation.

Saturday’s program, “Songs of Heaven and Earth,” clustered major sacred works by J.S. Bach, Olivier Messaien and Gustav Mahler, a combination of composers I cannot recall appearing together on a previous SummerFest program—and I have been attending since Heichiro Ohyama inaugurated the festival in 1986. Both the musical progression and the spiritual journey proved unusually compelling.

Opening with J. S. Bach’s solo cantata Ich habe genug, BWV 82a, we explored Bach’s depiction of the soul’s eager anticipation of heavenly bliss in the arms of the Savior. Moving on to “Louange à l’immortalité de Jésus” from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, we were invited to share Messiaen’s mystical communication in the present with the transcendent Jesus, and in the final movement of Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, we were privileged to observe the bliss of a heavenly pastorale as depicted in the song “Das himmlische Leben” from Das Knaben Wunderhorn.