La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest continues artful association with Museum of Contemporary Art

"Electric Night" by Lee Mullican, part of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's collection
“Electric Night” by Lee Mullican, part of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s collection, is representing the La Jolla Music Society’s 2023 SummerFest.
(Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego)

Lee Mullican’s 1967 painting ‘Electric Night’ is the featured artwork for this year’s music festival, which is themed ‘The Great Unknown.’


The La Jolla Music Society’s 37th annual SummerFest, which arrives Friday, July 28, is an artistic convergence of 75 global musicians for a four-week chamber music festival.

It also is maintaining another tradition: the collaboration of the Music Society and La Jolla’s Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in selecting artwork to represent the event.

This year’s SummerFest — themed “The Great Unknown” — will showcase Lee Mullican’s “Electric Night,” a 1967 piece by the late artist that is part of MCASD’s collection.

The painting, an abstract depiction of a night sky, fits the festival’s theme with its “whimsical nature … starry feeling [and] otherworldly look,” according to La Jolla Music Society Artistic Director Leah Rosenthal.

“Electric Night” became SummerFest’s signature art after an annual process in which the Music Society’s graphic designer sends theme details to the museum’s curator, who then suggests a selection of seven or eight artworks from the museum collection.

A committee of LJMS staff members narrows the options until one piece remains — the chosen work for SummerFest’s posters, brochures, program books and more.

The La Jolla Music Society's SummerFest promotional materials
The La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest promotional materials use the artwork chosen through its collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
(La Jolla Music Society)

The artwork also dictates the color palettes, themes and fonts for the printed materials, Rosenthal said.

“The Great Unknown” theme is described in the 2023 brochure as celebrating “the joy of discovery and rediscovery [and] the delight in the unexpected” within the bounds of traditional chamber music.

“Electric Night” has abstract, dynamic qualities that invite “different ways to approach something as recognizable as the night sky,” said Jenna Jacobs, MCASD’s senior director of curatorial affairs.

This year’s lineup at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center will feature 21 performances from July 28 to Aug. 26.

April 3, 2023

“Electric Night” is not currently on view in the MCASD galleries but will be hung in the museum’s Axline Court by July 28 to coincide with SummerFest.

Axline Court is free to the public and often contains works that focus on regional artists or community art partnerships, Jacobs said.

“It makes perfect sense to have the SummerFest artwork highlighted in Axline,” she said

The work will be on display past SummerFest’s end date Saturday, Aug. 26, and through MCASD’s annual gala on Saturday, Sept. 9.

The collaboration between the Music Society and the Museum of Contemporary Art for SummerFest began in the early 2000s, when LJMS staged performances in the museum’s Sherman Auditorium before the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center was built.

“Soon after, we grew the relationship to really collaborating and connecting works from the collection with SummerFest,” Jacobs said. “There was this intention for the arts organizations to bring their two modes of arts to audiences.”

“It was a beautiful coming together,” Rosenthal said.

The 37th annual festival will feature five pairings who are partners in life as well as music.

July 12, 2023

The SummerFest association between the institutions took a break from 2017 to 2021, when the museum was closed for extensive renovations. It resumed in 2022.

By then, SummerFest Music Director Inon Barnatan had begun his role at LJMS in 2019, amplifying the “idea of an overarching theme during the festival,” Rosenthal said. “That has been a really interesting and fun way to look at the artwork we were selecting differently.”

Before SummerFests were themed, LJMS committees selected “gorgeous pieces … that resonated with us,” Rosenthal said. “Now it’s again taken on a different level and a different meaning. ... The artwork is more intrinsically connected to the festival.”

MCASD “is such an important part of the cultural landscape in this city, and especially being a neighbor to us in La Jolla,” Rosenthal said.

The collaboration between the two “has been an important tradition of the festival. … There’s just a lovely history there.”

Jacobs agreed, saying it’s a “cross-Village partnership that we can nurture and support.”

“It’s a great opportunity for both of our organizations working together to highlight La Jolla as … an arts destination.”

For more information about SummerFest, visit