Laguna Music Festival to celebrate 20th anniversary with three concerts

Mandolinist Chris Thile. Photo courtesy of Josh Goleman

By Christopher Trela | LB Indy

The Laguna Playhouse is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, but there’s another milestone being celebrated April 1-3 at Laguna Playhouse: the 20th Anniversary of the Laguna Music Festival, presented by The Philharmonic Society of Orange County and Laguna Beach Live!.

The Laguna Playhouse has hosted the Laguna Music Festival many times in the past. The intimacy of the Playhouse, with 420 seats, is an ideal venue to experience the variety of musical artists that take part in the festival.

Several years ago, I served as the Communications Director for the Laguna Playhouse, and recall sneaking into the theater one afternoon to watch internationally-renowned violinist Joshua Bell rehearse a concert for the Laguna Music Festival.

This year, four-time Grammy Award-winning mandolinist, singer, songwriter and composer Chris Thile serves as Festival Artistic Director.

Thile has been described as a true master artist with an insatiable curiosity and passion for musical creativity, Thile will guide audiences through inventive, thought-provoking musical collaborations as he and fellow guest musicians perform everything from Bartók and Bach to bluegrass, folk, jazz, spirituals, and original works.

Guest artists include vocalist/flutist Nathalie Joachim, award-winning violinist Tessa Lark, and virtuoso bassist Michael Thurber.

Although they play different instruments, Bell and Thile do have something in common—both instruments share the same tuning, making it relatively easy to perform violin-based music on the mandolin.

According to information from the Laguna Music Festival, the exploration of music in its many forms and the diverse and fascinating ways music intersects with art, dance, and culture has been at the heart of the Laguna Beach Music Festival.

For the past 20 years, the Festival has curated intimate experiences for audiences through salons, open rehearsals, meet-the-artist events, and lively discussions, as well as engaging, educational activities with local schools and students.

Past Festival Artistic Directors have included: pianist-composer Conrad Tao, violinist Ray Chen, pianist Joyce Yang, tenor Nicholas Phan, violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Johannes Moser, composer Paul Chihara, the Ahn Trio, Brooklyn Rider string quartet, pianist and radio personality Christopher O’Riley, pianist-conductor Jeffrey Kahane, violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Shai Wosner, pianist-composer Pablo Ziegler, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Turtle Island String Quartet, cellist Lynn Harrell, bassist-composer Edgar Meyer, pianist Claude Frank, and pianist-composer Bruno Canino.

In addition to the festival concerts, a special Festival Prelude fundraiser will be held on Wednesday, March 30, at a private residence in Laguna Beach.

Tickets for the 2022 Laguna Beach Music Festival are now on sale and can be purchased at


Friday, April 1, 8 p.m.: LBMF Opening Night: An Evening with Chris Thile

Chris Thile proves that music has no limits as he continuously crosses from classical to rock to jazz and bluegrass, creating a distinctly American canon and unique musical experience for audiences around the globe.

For this first concert, Thile showcases his musical versatility in an intimate recital performing works from his recent, soul-searching soliloquy of an album, “Laysongs” (released June 4, 2021, on Nonesuch). Audiences will hear works from the classical canon such as Bach’s Partita No. 3 and Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin (arranged for mandolin) to bluegrass covers such as Hazel Dickens’ “Won’t You Come and Sing for Me,” and more.

Saturday, April 2, 8 p.m.: Chris Thile & yMusic

The second concert of the Festival features a collaboration between Thile and New York City-based sextet yMusic, a uniquely configured chamber ensemble consisting of string trio, flute, clarinet, and trumpet. Among other works, the program features the piece Difference, written by Grawemeyer and Grammy Award-winning composer Andrew Norman, hailed as “the leading American composer of his generation” (Los Angeles Times).

Sunday, April 3, 3 p.m.: Chris Thile & Friends

The Festival concludes with a unique musical experience featuring Thile in collaboration with vocalist and flutist Nathalie Joachim, violinist Tessa Lark, and bassist Michael Thurber. The program begins with selections from Nathalie Joachim’s Fanm d’Ayiti (Women of Haiti), an evening-length work for voice, flute, string quartet and electronics. A celebration of some of Haiti’s most iconic yet under recognized female artists, as well as an exploration of Joachim’s Haitian heritage, Fanm d’Ayiti features original songs incorporating the recorded voices of Joachim’s grandmother and the girls’ choir of her family’s home farming village of Dantan; new arrangements of songs by some of the greatest known female voices in Haitian history; and recorded interviews with these artists about their lives fighting for social justice and uplifting the people of Haiti.

The second half of the program features Tessa Lark and Michael Thurber with music from their new album Invention, exploring the Two-Part Inventions of J.S. Bach which illuminates the full expressive possibility for two musical voices. In the spirit of these Inventions, Lark and Thurber have ‘invented’ their own set of duos which will be performed alongside Bach’s works. Just as Bach’s Inventions are explorations in counterpoint, these duos explore the full range of what is possible for their specific two voices: violin and bass.


Chris Thile is a MacArthur Fellow and Grammy Award-winning mandolinist, singer, and songwriter who the Guardian calls “that rare being: an all-round musician who can settle into any style, from bluegrass to classical,” and NPR calls a “genre-defying musical genius,” is a founding member of the critically acclaimed bands Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek. For four years, Thile hosted public radio favorite Live from Here with Chris Thile (formerly known as A Prairie Home Companion). With his broad outlook, Thile creates a distinctly American canon and a new musical aesthetic for performers and audiences alike, giving the listener “one joyous arc, with the linear melody and vertical harmony blurring into a single web of gossamer beauty” (New York Times).

Most recently, Chris recorded Laysongs, out June 4, 2021, on Nonesuch. The album is his first truly solo album: just Thile, his voice, and his mandolin, on new recordings of six original songs and three covers, all of which contextualize and banter with his ideas about spirituality. Recorded in a converted upstate New York church during the pandemic, Laysongs’ centerpiece is the three-part “Salt (in the Wounds) of the Earth,” which was inspired by C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. The album also features a song Thile wrote about Dionysus; a performance of the fourth movement of Béla Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin; “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” based on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s adaptation of a Leonard Cohen poem; a cover of bluegrass legend Hazel Dickens’ “Won’t You Come and Sing for Me,” and “Ecclesiastes 2:24,” original instrumental loosely modeled after the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin in E major.

yMusic, “six contemporary classical polymaths who playfully overstep the boundaries of musical genres,” (The New Yorker) performs in concert halls, arenas and clubs around the world. Founded in New York City in 2008, yMusic believes in presenting excellent, emotionally communicative music, regardless of style or idiom. Their virtuosic execution and unique configuration (string trio, flute, clarinet, and trumpet) has attracted the attention of high-profile collaborators—from Paul Simon to Bill T. Jones to Ben Folds—and inspired original works by some of today’s foremost composers, including Nico Muhly, Missy Mazzoli and Andrew Norman.

Nathalie Joachim is a Grammy-nominated flutist, composer, and vocalist. The Brooklyn-born Haitian-American artist is hailed for being “a fresh and invigorating cross-cultural voice” (The Nation). She is co-founder of the critically acclaimed duo, Flutronix, and comfortably navigates everything from classical to indie-rock, all while advocating for social change and cultural awareness. Her authenticity has gained her the reputation of being “powerful and unpretentious” (The New York Times).

Ms. Joachim, a United States Artist Fellow, has performed and recorded with an impressive range of today’s most exciting artists and ensembles, including Miguel Zenón, Bryce Dessner, and the International Contemporary Ensemble, and is the former flutist of the contemporary chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird. As a composer, Joachim is regularly commissioned to write for instrumental and vocal artists, dance, and interdisciplinary theater, often highlighting her unique electroacoustic style. Upcoming premieres include Joachim’s symphonic debut commissioned by St. Louis Symphony and the In Unison Chorus; new large-scale chamber works for Roomful of Teeth, So Percussion, and Fuse Ensemble; a micro-chamber opera commissioned by Boston Lyric Opera; and a site-specific performance installation commissioned for Yale University’s Schwarzman Center.

Violinist Tessa Lark is one of the most captivating artistic voices of our time, consistently praised by critics and audiences for her astounding range of sounds, technical agility, and musical elegance. In 2020, she was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category and received one of Lincoln Center’s prestigious Emerging Artist Awards, the special Hunt Family Award. Other recent honors include a 2018 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship and a 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Silver Medalist in the 9th Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, and winner of the 2012 Naumburg International Violin Competition. A budding superstar in the classical realm, she is also a highly acclaimed fiddler in the tradition of her native Kentucky, delighting audiences with programming that includes Appalachian and bluegrass music and inspiring composers to write for her.

Tessa plays a ca. 1600 G.P. Maggini violin on loan from an anonymous donor through the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

Songwriter/Producer/Multi-Instrumentalist Michael Thurber is a musical chameleon. Whether composing scores for The Royal Shakespeare Company, playing bass in The Late Show With Stephen Colbert house band, scoring commercials for Vanity Fair and BBC, or co-founding the hit YouTube channel CDZA (30 million views), Thurber has been guided by Duke Ellington’s principle: There are only two genres of music—good and bad. Make the good kind.

As a theater lyricist/composer, Michael made his international debut scoring Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Oscar-winner Tarell McCraney. He has scored numerous Public Theater productions, including Shakespeare in the Park’s Merry Wives, Romeo Y Julieta starring Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o and Richard II starring André Holland. Michael’s Broadway-bound musical GODDESS will have its world premiere at Berkeley Rep in the spring of 2021.

As a bassist, Michael has performed with James Taylor, Willie Nelson, Lianne La Havis, CeeLo Green, Yo-Yo Ma, The Zombies, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jon Batiste, Tessa Lark and many others.

Founded in 1954 as Orange County’s first music organization, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County presents national and international performances of the highest quality and provides dynamic and innovative music education programs for individuals of all ages to enhance the lives of Orange County audiences through music.

For more than 65 years the Philharmonic Society has evolved and grown with the county’s changing landscape, presenting artists and orchestras who set the standard for artistic achievement from Itzhak Perlman, Gustavo Dudamel, Yo-Yo Ma, and Renée Fleming to the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and many others. In addition, the Philharmonic Society celebrates multi-disciplinary performances under its Eclectic Orange brand and embraces music from a wide range of countries with its World Music performances. Its celebrated family concerts introduce children to classical music with creative and inspiring performances, instilling music appreciation for future generations.

Laguna Beach Live!, founded in 2001, is a non-profit organization that strives to increase the awareness of and participation in diverse musical experiences through the presentation of high quality live musical performances that are accessible…affordable, intimate and in our community. From Jazz Wednesdays, a cabaret series in summer and winter, Live! at the Museum, monthly chamber music concerts, and Live! Music Insights, education programs for adults, to our annual Bluegrass Festival and distinctive classical multi day Music Festival co-presented with the Philharmonic Society, and special concerts of Gospel, Blues, Big Band, and Pop, we present over 34 performances year-round plus free outreach programs to our youth and seniors.

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