The La Jolla Music Society (LJMS), one of the West Coast’s foremostperforming arts institutions, this spring held three consecutive days of concerts and celebrations to launch its 50th season and celebrate moving to its new home, The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, known as “The Conrad.” As I had lived for many years in La Jolla and it’s dear to my heart, I flew out to participate in this highly anticipated and historic evening.
LA JOLLA VILLAGE IN SAN DIEGO
The village of La Jolla (“la HOY-ah”) is a seven-mile-long coastal neighborhood in the city of San Diego, which boasts sandy beaches, costal cliffs, incredible vistas, historic structures, magnificent sunsets, and mild climate all year round.
The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center is the latest addition to the many attractions of La Jolla village, which has earned it the title of the “French Riviera of the U.S.”
MORE THAN A BEACH COMMUNITY
La Jolla is much more than a typical beach town—it’s affluent and sophisticated with lodging, dining, shopping, finance, real estate, a biotech and pharmaceutical hub, and golf clubs.
The Village boasts cultural institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla Historical Society, and the La Jolla Playhouse, which has sent numerous productions to Broadway, including, most recently, “Come from Away” and “Jersey Boys.”
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND HIGHER EDUCATION
La Jolla is also known for its institutions of biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, biomedical science, scientific research, and higher learning such as the The Salk Institute, University of California San Diego (UCSD), the Scripps Research, J. Craig Venter Institute, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, San Diego Supercomputer Center, Qualcomm, and the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute.
A BIG VISION FOR THE MUSIC SOCIETY
Back in 1941, Nikolai Sokoloff, former conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, founded the organization that would later become the La Jolla Music Society. It played in various venues and eventually found a performance home for two decades in the Museum of Contemporary Arts San Diego (MCASD) auditorium, Sherwood Hall. For decades, each summer, world-renowned artists and ensembles appeared at the popular annual LJMS Summerfest chamber music festival.
When MCASD decided to expand and dismantle Sherwood Hall, LJMS initiated the bold and ambitious idea to build their own permanent performance hall. Along came the late philanthropist Conrad Prebys, who donated $30 million in seed money to make that happen. In his honor, The Society named the final $82 million facility The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center.
The Conrad campus was designed by Epstein Joslin Architects, Inc., known for their work on the Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, Strathmore Music Center in Baltimore, and Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA, among other important cultural centers.
To create a harmonizing design reminiscent of the Village’s environment, the firm studied local vernacular landmarks of San Diego, like the Irving Gill-designed La Jolla Women’s Club and Scripps Hall at The Bishop’s School.
ACOUSTICS BY NAGATA
The Epstein Joslin team collaborated with Tokyo-based Yasuhisa Toyota, president of Nagata Acoustics America, which has designed the acoustics for Los Angeles’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, and Bart’s College Upstate New York.
For me, it is the intimacy of the hall and the superb acoustics that make it distinctive. The sound was so clear you could hear almost every sound in the audience, so you couldn’t even whisper.
THE WU TSAI QRT.yrd and GARDEN
As you enter The Conrad, you are first introduced to The Wu Tsai QRT.yrd (courtyard) and Garden, designed as an outdoor lobby/reception/event space for social gatherings. Here, patrons and artists who love music can mingle, but it’s open to the public for receptions, galas, and civic gatherings.
THE BAKER-BAUM CONCERT HALL
From the courtyard, guests enter into the lobby of The Baker-Baum Concert Hall. Architect Alan Joslin describes the space as “a wooden nest that floats inside the concrete and masonry shell.”
The 513-seat state-of-the-art concert hall can transform into a setting equally appropriate for jazz, world music, dance, light opera, film, and lectures. It is named for two major donors, retired Sempra CEO Stephen Baum and his wife, Brenda Baker.
THE JAI PERFORMANCE SPACE
On the opposite side of the courtyard is The JAI, a multi-function performance space named in honor of music aficionados and donors Joan and Irwin Jacobs (JAI is their initials). Irwin is the retired co-founder of Qualcomm, the telecommunications equipment company.
The space, with the tree-like mullioned window, was designed as a flexible cabaret-style theater that may be used as a jazz club, a dance studio, and reception area.
THE GALA COMMITTEE
For this historic night at The Conrad, guests celebrated with drinks and nibbles, a welcoming committee, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and had the opportunity to be the very first to hear a musical performance in the Baum-Baker Hall. The Gala committee can be proud of this perfectly planned and executed magical evening and weekend.
The Committee welcomed guests from the second-story Belanich Terrace that overlooks the courtyard and surrounding neighborhood.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer hailed The Conrad as “a tremendous gift” to the city, saying, “The smiles and memories you create tonight will last for a generation. Art and culture are alive and well in San Diego.”
As is tradition, to anoint The Conrad, donors participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony that preceded the Gala performance. Debra Turner, a current LJMS board member and Prebys’ longtime companion quoted Conrad: “He said, ‘I have done so much for so many, but this [center] is for me. Music is in my soul—this is my legacy.’”
OPENING NIGHT INAUGURAL PERFORMANCE
The opening night performance in The Baker-Baum Concert Hall featured an eclectic mix of live music that included works both classical and modern to highlight the diversity of music.
SEEN IN THE CROWD
Since I was flying back to New York City the next day, regretfully I missed the sold-out shows on Saturday (Grammy Award-winner Seal played his greatest hits) and Sunday (new-swing band The Hot Sardines performed). But I was delighted to have been present at such a thrilling opening night with fabulous performers in a place where I’ve shared so much history.
Photographs by Douglas Gates Photography & Epstein Joslin Architects