Featured image
La Jolla Music Society’s highly anticipated Grand Opening Weekend to inaugurate The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center.

The La Jolla Music Society (LJMS), one of the West Coast’s foremost performing 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 Music Society’s new home, The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, a $82 million complex, opened just in time to celebrate LJMS’s 50th anniversary season.


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.”

La Jolla Cove, with turquoise water and a white sand beach, is popular with swimmers, sea gulls, and sea lions alike. I lived across the street at one time, and this was my spectacular view.
View of La Jolla Shores from the private La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. On this stretch of beach, the locals play during the day and enjoy BBQs on the beach at night.


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.”

The La Valencia Hotel, in the village center, has been a landmark since 1926 and is also known as the “Pink Lady,” with her signature pink exterior and iconic tower.
MCASD was originally the home of Ellen Browning Scripps, a newspaper heiress and philanthropist, and was designed by noted architect Irving Gill in 1915.
Athenaeum Music & Arts Library is a non-profit membership library incorporated in 1899.


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.

The Salk Institute was founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine. Designed by famed architect Louis Kahn, the campus overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
Geisel Library, on the UCSD campus, was donated by the late Audrey and Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), who authored more than 60 children’s books.
Photo of J. Craig Venter Institute, a pioneer in the genomic and bioinformatics research.


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 Prebys Performing Arts Center, aka “The Conrad.” is located in La Jolla’s art district.


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.

The Epstein Joslin Architects’ rendering best explains the juxtaposition of The Baker-Baum Concert Hall, The Wu Tsai QRT.yrd (courtyard) and Garden Lobby, and The JAI.
The 49,200-square-foot Conrad center was designed and built for $82 million, which is remarkable as it was underwritten entirely by private donors.


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.

Toyota uses software he developed specifically for concert halls to ensure that the music sounds as natural, warm, rich, and well-balanced as possible.


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 Wu Tsai QRT.yrd (courtyard) and Garden was designed as a place for social gathering and it also connects the two-performance halls, The Baker-Baum Concert Hall and The JAI.


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.

From the construction photos, you can see the shape of the concert hall: a two-level semi-circular form whose shape recalls a horse-shoe opera house.
Still in progress, you can view the extensive use of wood inside the hall that conveys a sense of warmth, which is why it is often called “the nest.”
The stage backdrop design borrows from nature, the silhouette of tall palms represented by a vertical wood lattice. The theatrical colored lights can change to produce different lighting effects.


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 2,000-square-foot JAI can accommodate 116 to 300 people, depending on its configuration.


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.

Gala Chairs Sheryl Scarano, Peggy Preuss, Katherine Chapin, Debbie Turner, Sue Wagener, and Susan Hoehn.
Opening night guests gathered in the courtyard as the committee welcomed all and thanked them for their support of this amazing achievement.


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.”

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; Opening Weekend Chair Peggy Preuss.
Congressman Scott Peters; Newly appointed President & CEO Ted DeDee and Board Chair Katherine Chapin.


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.’”

Jubilee Chair Debbie Turner, life partner of the late Conrad Prebys, enjoyed the honor of cutting the ribbon, after which guests headed to The Baum-Baker Concert Hall for the concert.
Donors Brenda Baker, John and Raffaella Belanich, Debbie Turner, and Steve Baum gathered for the ribbon cutting ceremony.


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.

L. to r.: Violinist Hilary Hahn opened the evening with Bach’s “Partita for Solo Violin No. 3,” the same piece that christened Toyota’s Disney Hall in Los Angeles; Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro performed Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” along with along with Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”
New SummerFest music director Inon Barnatan at the piano with Joshua Gindele on cello.
Dancer Lil Buck performing the swan from composer Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals.”
A chamber music quartet featured four former music directors of Summerfest—violinist Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, violist Heiichiro Ohyama, pianist Wu Han, and cellist David Finckel.
Jimmy Lin unveiled a new solo violin piece by Lalo Schifrin, “Letters to My Father,” while abstract images were projected on a huge screen created by technologist Osman Koç.
Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet performed Chopin’s “Nocturne, Op. 9, No.2” and Liszt’s “Consolation No. 3” on a Steinway piano.
Jake Shimabukuro played ukulele with Miro Quartet violinist William Fedkenheuer for an animated version of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Students on string instruments joined Shimabukuro, Hah, Lin, Buck, and the Miro Quartet for an encore performance of “Over the Rainbow” that received rousing applause.


Brenda Baker and Steve Baum, after whom the Baker-Baum Concert Hall is named, with their family.
L. to r.: The Wu Tsai QRT.yrd (courtyard) is named in honor of Clara Wu Tsai and her husband Joseph Tsai; The JAI was named by philanthropist Joan and Irwin Jacobs.
L. to r.: Opening Weekend co-chair Peggy Preuss and husband Peter Preuss; Peter and Erin Preuss.
John and Raffaella Belanich with their family.
L. to r.: Opening Weekend co-chair Sue Wagener and husband Peter Wagener; Bob Scarano and Jubilee Chair Sheryl Scarano.
Aaron and Lori Contorer with Marina and Rafael Pastor.
L. to r.: Peter Cowhey and The Hon. Judge Margaret McKeown; Marc Akiyama, Jessica Greenfield, and Landon Akiyama.
Aaron and Lori Contorer with Marina and Rafael Pastor.
L. to r.: Leslie Simon, Carolyn Yorston-Wellcome, and Henry Morgan; Patsy and Dave Marino.
LJMS CEO and President Ted DeDee, Pamela Hinchman, and Martha Gilmer.
L. to r.: Aloysia Friedmann, Jackie Parker, and Sophie Parker; Joy Frieman, Dave Johnson, and Wendy Frieman.
Andrew Viterbi and daughter Audrey Viterbi.
L. to r.: Andy Helgerson, Erica Poole, and JD West; Christopher Beach, Steve Baum, and Peter Wagener.
Julie Meier Wright, Karin Winner, Anne Evans, and Martha Dennis.
Jeanne Larson, Peter Wagener, and Pam Fadem Palisoul.
Mary Ann Beyster, Jim Beyster, Elaine Darwin, Jeannette Stevens, Richard Goetz, and Lehn Goetz.
L. to r.: Richard Leung and Hanaa Zahran; Former New Yorkers Linda Chester and Kenneth Rind.
Monica Fimbres, Elisa Jaime, and James Brailean.
Robert and Nina Doede with Noni and Drew Senyei.
Steven and Sylvia Re with Ed Dennis.
Board Chair Katherine Chapin, Joslin Epstein project manager Ray Porfilio, and Jeanne Lawrence.
Rita Atkinson and Dr. Richard Atkinson.
Dane Chapin, Dolly Woo, Clara Wu Tsai, and Victor Woo.
Paula Hauer, George Hauer, Susan Shirk, and Sam Popkins.
Dave Abad, David Miller, Tia Metcalf, Cedric Staton, and Chris Benavides.
Dolly Woo, Katrina Wu, Jacob Tsai, Clara Wu Tsai, Sheldon Lou, Lully Chen, and Kuangyi Lou
Heiichiro Ohyama and Patty Clark.
Marge and Neal Schmale.
The Opening Night ended with mingling back in The Wu Tsai QRT.yrd (courtyard) and Garden, just the type of occasion for which the courtyard was designed.

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

Recent Posts