Mainly Mozart Spotlight Series set to begin stellar new season in Rancho Santa Fe

Mainly Mozart is warmed up and ready for a new season of concerts.

It begins with the 19th Spotlight Series, in which renowned musicians from around the world perform in intimate settings in Rancho Santa Fe, La Jolla and Carlsbad between February and May.

“They (the artists) are true legends in the chamber music world,” said Nancy Laturno Bojanic, Mainly Mozart’s executive director.

This year’s Spotlight Series – curated for the third consecutive year by Anne-Marie McDermott – will feature many returning musicians, along with some new faces. McDermott said she took special care when choosing the artists and matching them up together for the series, “which can make or break a performance.” She said that she strives to create passionate performances where everyone is inspiring one another, where there is a sense of spontaneity, and there’s a love of music and a great sense of bonding among the players.

“I want it to feel like a family of artists so the public can get to know them,” McDermott said.

Furthermore, she balances out the season by ensuring there are a variety of instruments, from piano trios to string quartets.

The first engagement in the Spotlight Series is Feb. 6-8, featuring violinist Erin Keefe (concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra), cellist Ronald Thomas (Mainly Mozart Artistic Partner for the Chamber Players series in June and Artistic Director Emeritus, Boston Chamber Music Society), and pianist Adam Neiman performing Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, No. 26 in B-Flat Major, K. 378 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50.

Next, from March 6-8, violin virtuoso Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will pair with McDermott (who is also a pianist) to perform Ernest Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet in D Major, Op. 21 in a program that also features The Miami String Quartet. Bojanic noted that because Salerno-Sonnenberg and McDermott regularly collaborate, “they play like sisters.”

“I’m head-over-heels in love with this piece,” McDermott said.

Later in the month (March 27-29), McDermott’s Opus One cohorts – violinist Ida Kavafian, violist Steven Tenenbom and cellist Peter Wiley – will play a program of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, transcribed (by Dmitry Sitkovetsky) for string trio.

“(This is) one of the greatest pieces ever known; it’s like the Bible for music,” McDermott said. “But it’s not something people hear very often.”

It’s also not usually performed by a string trio; typically, it’s played on the piano, according to McDermott.

“Ida, Steven and Peter are truly chamber music superstars,” Bojanic said. “With their breadth of experience, there is a lot of respect (for them).”

May is the busiest month for the Spotlight Series, starting with a concert on May 8 and 9. McDermott, Pedja Muzijevic, Anton Nel, and Stephen Prutsman (Artistic Partner for Mainly Mozart’s Evolution series) will join forces for Carl Czerny’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 148, and J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Four Pianos in A minor, BWV 1065. These particular performances will result in a very full house, Bojanic said – there will be four pianos on the stage at the La Jolla venue, and in Rancho Santa Fe, there will be four on the floor with the audience seated in a full circle around them.

A week later (May 16-17), three members of the New York Philharmonic – violinist Sheryl Staples, violist Cynthia Phelps and cellist Carter Brey – will perform a program with pianist Shai Wosner that will include Mozart’s Duo No. 2 in B-Flat Major for Violin and Viola, K. 424 and Dvorak’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 87.

Finally, the series will wrap up with Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra concertmaster Steven Copes and Dallas Symphony concertmaster Alexander Kerr playing a program alongside violist Hsin-Yun Huang, Seattle Symphony principal cellist Efe Baltacigil, and pianist Jon Kimura Parker. They will play a program of Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K. 546, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4, and Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Op.44.

“I’m completely thrilled with the upcoming season,” McDermott said.

“It was such a privilege putting it together,” she added.

This year, there is a new venue for the series in Rancho Santa Fe: the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, 15150 San Dieguito Road, which has a capacity for up to 150 people. For $70, patrons are welcomed with a Champagne and Bellini reception, followed by an hour-long concert and a question-and-answer session with the artists on stage. Finally, guests are invited to post-performance mingling with the musicians while enjoying hosted hors d’oeuvres.

Those who have previously attended Mainly Mozart Spotlight Series events will recognize the other two locations. In La Jolla, the performances are held at The Auditorium at The Scripps Research Institute, 10620 John Jay Hopkins Drive, and the $55 ticket price includes a pre-concert wine-and-cheese reception. Meanwhile, the $25 Sunday matinees are held at the St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Carlsbad.

Later in the season (June 6-20) will be the 27th annual Mainly Mozart Festival, which will be helmed for the first time by Michael Francis. Mainly Mozart’s new music director will conduct all of the concerts of the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra, while also serving as music director for the Florida Orchestra and chief conductor and artistic adviser to Sweden’s Norrköping Symphony Orchestra.

Francis first established himself as a conductor in January 2007, when he replaced an indisposed Valery Gergiev for concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra during the BBC Gubaidulina festival at the Barbican Centre. A one month later – with only two hours’ notice -- Francis was asked to fill in for composer/conductor John Adams with the LSO at the Philharmonie Luxembourg. In January 2009, he replaced André Previn leading a German tour of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony.

Other career highlights for Francis include debuts with the New York and Royal Philharmonic, European engagements with the London Symphony Orchestra and working with symphonies in Asia. He has also recorded several albums and was involved in the performance of the score for several of the “Star Wars” films.

For Mainly Mozart’s 2015 season, Francis plans to close an era led by his predecessor, David Atherton, before announcing and launching a new direction.

“I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with the programming,” Francis said.

“What we have here is something outstanding, with international class,” he added.

Francis said this year will be a showcase of many of Mozart’s greatest masterpieces.

“In 35 years, Mozart did more than what it would take us to do in three lifetimes,” Francis said. “His desire to create dramatic music … just encapsulates all that we love in art.”

One event in particular that the maestro looks forward to: On June 14, as part of the Balboa Park Centennial, Mainly Mozart will invite 34 adult amateurs to play onstage alongside concertmasters and principal players of the nation’s leading orchestras, along with the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra, which will play down in the front.

Additional Mainly Mozart events planned for this year include Mozart and the Mind (slated for the fall), and performances by the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra and the Chamber Players.

“Mainly Mozart is something really amazing,” Francis said. “People are not quite aware of how amazing it is. They’re seeing the best of the best.”

For tickets or additional information about Mainly Mozart and its concerts, call (619) 466-8742, or go to www.mainlymozart.org.

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