Director Infuses Youthful Energy in Music Fest


Carla Neuss checks out Laguna Art Museum, one of the upcoming festival venues.

Carla Neuss checks out Laguna Art Museum, one of the upcoming festival venues.

She plays piano and the viola, but majored in English literature at UC Berkeley and medieval literature in Oxford, England. At a South Coast Repertory internship in stage management, she helped produce plays, but in London she juggled budgets for a tutoring firm.

Meet Carla Neuss, 27, whose already diverse portfolio fits the job requirements needed as Laguna Beach Music Festival’s newly minted music director.

“Carla had just returned from England when we saw her resume. It turned out that she needed us and we needed her,” said Cindy Prewitt, president of Laguna Beach Live, which organizes the annual chamber music festival whose early events begin next week.

The director’s post was recently vacated by Sandy Roberts, who accepted a job at UC Santa Barbara as their classical music guru and director of development last year, explained Prewitt. “It’s a coming home for Sandy,” she added.

Undaunted by a somewhat steep learning curve, Neuss jumped in, taking the reins of this year’s festival, though the musical line-up had already been chosen. “I’ve been playing catch-up, but this year’s festival with all its diversity and excitement fits into what I have envisioned for reaching broader and younger audiences,” she said.

Raised in Laguna Hills, Neuss’s musical credentials go beyond her resume. “My family played a big part in my artistic and literal development: My grandmother was an operatic singer, my mother plays violin and piano and my younger brother and sister also play music. Most importantly, we grew up without television,” she explained, adding that music invariably leads to literacy in other art forms.

This year, her primary challenge will be to see that visiting musicians are housed, fed, feted and shown Laguna Beach at its supportive best, she said.

“I’ve less experience than Sandy and my relative youth was a surprise to some, but I am hoping to help create live encounters between musicians and audiences in a communal way,” she said.

Prewitt said that with the new director’s fingers at the pulse of her generation, Neuss is adept in reaching out through social media. Moreover, her theater experience allows her to anticipate the needs of performers at the festival’s range of venues, from professional stages to hotels to private homes.

Neuss’ own musical tastes tend toward classical, jazz, pop and the eclectic, she said.

“I want to get word about out about the festival, to bring people together and getting excited about future visions of how best to get classical music and its audiences develop and grow,” she said.

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