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Members of the San Diego Youth Symphony’s Chamber Orchestra
perform during an event in May. Matthew Fernie.

New Youth Symphony Series part of effort to expand education and outreach

By James Chute

Don’t get new La Jolla Music Society president and artistic director Kristin Lancino wrong. She loves concerts.

“I think going to a concert, in and of itself, is great,” Lancino said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But when you go to museums, some people want headsets on to go deeper, or you go to theaters and there’s the talk-back afterward.

“So I think there are opportunities at the La Jolla Music Society to expand the experience.”

Lancino will have plenty of room to expand when the La Jolla Music Society moves into the new Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in 2018.


San Diego Youth Symphony Series

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 11 and Feb. 26

Where: MCASD Sherwood Auditorium, 700 Prospect St., La Jolla

Admission: $20 (children $5)

Phone: (858) 459-3728



For its entire four-decade existence, the Music Society has been a renter, with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego as its primary landlord and the museum’s Sherwood Auditorium as its unofficial home base.

But with the Museum of Contemporary Art planning a renovation and expansion that will transform Sherwood into much-needed gallery space for its permanent collection, the Music Society decided to build its own $65 million performing arts center, which will include a concert hall, a multipurpose performance and rehearsal space, and the society’s offices.

“The Conrad is going to open up all sorts of opportunities for, I don’t want to say the La Jolla Music Society, I want to say for us, our community,” Lancino said. A former school music teacher and the first education director at Carnegie Hall — where she later served as director of artistic planning — Lancino is especially excited about the opportunities the Conrad presents for expanding the Music Society’s education and outreach programs.

That’s a vision she shares with former Music Society president and artistic director Christopher Beach, who in anticipation of the Conrad’s opening initiated a new level of collaboration with the organization’s primary educational partner, the San Diego Youth Symphony & Conservatory.

For the first time, the society is offering a “San Diego Youth Symphony Series” in 2015-16 — one that has equal billing with the society’s professional chamber music, piano and visiting-orchestra series. The Youth Symphony’s most accomplished ensemble, the Chamber Orchestra, will perform Saturday and Feb. 26 at Sherwood Auditorium. The series is likely to expand when it eventually moves into the Conrad, as will its programming, as Lancino expects to engage a composer to work with the young musicians in developing a new piece.

The Music Society and the Youth Symphony are also partnering in the formation of a Music Institute aimed at advanced high school music students planning careers in music. It launched in October with weekly classes in music theory, history and chamber music and talks by music professionals (including critics; I gave a recent presentation), and it too will have the Conrad as its eventual home.

“We do something really well, they do something really well, together we can do something even more impactful,” said Lancino, who sees collaboration as a key element of the Music Society’s mission, as did Beach. “It’s not starting every engine; it’s finding all these partners to do things together that are part of a bigger picture.”

The kids are all right

The relationship between the Music Society and the Youth Symphony dates back nearly a decade, when the Music Society invited Youth Symphony musicians to perform “prelude concerts” before several regular series performances, particularly the Discovery Series, which features younger artists.

That partnership deepened when the Music Society and the Youth Orchestra arranged to have the top students from the Music Society’s Community Music Center in Logan Heights receive one-year scholarships to join the Youth Symphony’s core program in Balboa Park.

The Youth Symphony returned the favor by having its advanced students perform in Logan Heights at the Memorial Prep Academy, where the Community Music Center is based.

“The first time I heard them, I closed my eyes and thought, oh my God, these kids are fantastic,” said Leah Rosenthal, the Music Society’s director of artistic planning. “We wanted to give them an opportunity to play in front of people other than friends and family and for our donors to see them.”

The Music Society invited members of the Youth Symphony’s International Youth Symphony to perform at its annual free outdoor SummerFest concert, where the young musicians had the experience of working with artists on the level of SummerFest music director Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin (although scheduling issues precluded the orchestra from performing in 2015).

So it seemed natural, when the prospect of a new performing arts center arose, and with it the opportunity and necessity of having more performances, that one of Rosenthal’s first calls was to the Youth Symphony, which welcomed the showcase for its most polished ensemble and embraced the opportunity presented by the Music Institute.

“Historically, the Youth Symphony has been a bridge from a school music experience to a university or pre-professional experience, and so this is in line with what we have always done,” said Youth Symphony president and CEO Dalouge Smith. “And the intensity that the institute provides them, this very fast-paced sequence of classes and the opportunity to interact very directly and very personally with the artists, and the other speakers in the series, that’s essentially showing these young people what kind of intensity they are going to expect if they go on to conservatory.”

An important element of the San Diego Youth Symphony is also its highly successful Community Opus Project, which is helping to bring arts and music back into public schools from South County to Vista, and Smith envisions some of the youth whose interest in music is awakened in that project will eventually make their way to the Chamber Orchestra and the Music Institute.

“For us, the program is very much a service to young people and their musical aspirations,” Smith said.

Music matters

Rosenthal, whose responsibilities include the educational program, is now booking artists in such a way that for some of them, spending a few days in the community interacting with the Youth Symphony musicians, or even with Music Society patrons and audience members, is built into their contracts.

“I think more musicians are realizing how important education, and giving back, is to the longevity of their career,” Rosenthal said. “Because there is so much more people are asking of musicians than just getting up there and playing. They have to be able to communicate and give back to the community. They can’t just get up and play in a little bubble.”

The 27-year-old violinist Jinjoo Cho, who opens the Music Society’s Discovery Series on Dec. 13 and will work with Youth Symphony students while in San Diego, realizes the value of education. She has set up her own educational foundation, and she finds enormous satisfaction in introducing children to music and helping young musicians.

“Being involved in all these different activities of music education stimulates my brain so much, and it’s very, very rewarding in every sense of the word,” said Cho, who won the gold medal in the 2014 Indianapolis International Violin Competition. “Teaching young students who are trying to be musicians, professional musicians, and teaching young kids, who are just trying to get through life and perhaps introducing them to classical music, I just love doing it.

“I don’t know how else to describe it. I think it’s the most satisfying, rewarding thing in the world.”

That’s exactly what Rosenthal and Lancino want to hear as they explore more ways to energize — and fill — the Conrad.

“We could do programs for K through 12,” Lancino said. “And I’m really interested in young professionals. After you graduate from conservatory or college, there’s kind of a gap, so I like to imagine some of our major artists coming in and spending two to three days with young professionals in our community. …

“And what about families? We don’t really have a huge family experience. The Conrad is going to let us do pillow concerts, instrument petting zoos, things where people get close to the music.

“We’ll do all that stuff that makes music more pertinent to people.”

San Diego Youth Symphony