Music Fest Remains Forever Young

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Composer Ellen Reid wrote “Stellar Remnants,” work for cello and electronics premiering at this year’s Laguna Beach Music Festival, which begins next week.
Composer Ellen Reid wrote “Stellar Remnants,” work for cello and electronics premiering at this year’s Laguna Beach Music Festival, which begins next week.

Bach and Schubert, Grieg and Villa Lobos. Michael Jackson, Ellen Reid and Stephanie Cheng Smith?

While the first three are staples of classical music, the late king of pop is another matter, and then who are Ellen Reid and Stephanie Cheng Smith?

Reid has composed “Stellar Remnants,” a piece of music for cello and electronics premiering at this year’s Laguna Beach Music Festival, where music by the first four composers will be performed. It takes place at the Laguna Playhouse and select city venues, Feb. 8-12.

Smith is a composer and sound artist who has designed and programmed an electronic musical sensor system to be used as cellist Johannes Moser performs Reid’s composition.

Reid, Smith and Moser are all in their early to late 30s and well-acclaimed, giving the festival the youthful but polished ambience it has steadily cultivated. The Calder Quartet returns to add energy befitting the Festival’s 15th birthday celebration.

Once again, the Festival is a collaboration between Laguna Beach Live and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, now led by John Mangum. “Our goal is to feed the community artistically and to give promising artists a platform to share their work in a supportive setting,” Mangum said.

For example, avid supporters of new music and Laguna Beach residents Justus and Elizabeth Schlichting have underwritten Reid’s composition and are sponsoring the Feb. 10 concert. Mr. Schlichting took up the cello later in life. He praises Moser’s virtuosity. “His tone is gorgeous. I would sell my soul to someone to have his tone,” he mused.

The desire to share rich aspects of classical and contemporary music with a diverse community motivated Festival organizers to select Moser, an internationally acclaimed cellist and educator, as this year’s artistic director.

The son of a German father, who first taught him to play the cello at age 8, and a Canadian mother, who is a singer and Juilliard professor, Moser is here for the first time. Born in Munich, he now lives in Cologne. “Everybody is so enthusiastic here. Playing a concert is not a one-way street, I need to engage with the audience and show that classical music is not a stuffy past time,” he said.

Cellist Johannes Moser
Cellist Johannes Moser

Stuffy? His cello may be 300 years old, but Moser, 37, is also an athlete who has biked across Europe. “You can’t be a touring musician and not be athletic; it’s a very challenging job,” he said.

As part of the Festival’s community outreach, he will introduce his music to Laguna Beach High School music students and the Calder Quartet will perform Mozart and modern fare at Thurston Middle School. Yoshika Masuda and Andrew Moses will perform at the Boys and Girls Club. These performances are closed to the public.

But, no one will be short-changed: Masuda and Moses will also perform at the Laguna Art Museum, and Moser and the Calder Quartet will hold an open rehearsal at the Laguna Playhouse. Moser shares his music and holds a question and answer session at the Susi Q Community Center. (See sidebar)

A highlight of the season will be “One to Twelve: The Johannes Moser Project” where Moser has invited 11 cellists from Southern California to perform a wide range of music with him. For example, Klengel’s “Hymnus” will feature 12 cellos and a Villa Lobos piece eight cellos and one soprano.

Opening night yields a surprise in Smith’s two-fold musical installation. The first part is a set of sensors trained on Moser performing “Stellar Remnants.” The sensors connect Moser’s movements to a set of prerecorded audio tracks, which allow him to control which music the audience actually hears, explained Smith. The second is a sound sculpture that will interact with the incoming audience. As people approach the work, it will play recorded selections from Festival concerts depending on the angle and distance it’s approached. “The piece relies on spatial effects, people’s distance and movements control it,” said Smith whose passions include computer programming.

Reid collaborated with Smith on the sculpture. “We wanted to bring the audience into the piece, to whet their appetite for the concert,” she said.

Reid, a native of Tennessee and now resident of New York City and Los Angeles, has made a name in contemporary opera circles for composing parts of “Hopscotch,” a mobile opera set in 24 cars that cruised sections of Los Angeles in a limited performance last September.

“Stellar Remnants” is a musical translation of conversations with Moser about what he likes to perform, she explained. “The music became something personal, otherworldly with harmony and suspension and also inspired by the vastness of the world and space,” she said.

Coming back to Laguna Beach has been something she had hoped for since her first trip here when she was still in high school. “It’s nice to return in an entirely different way,” she said.

Music Festival Lineup:

Special event: Festival Prelude at Seven-Degrees, Wednesday, Feb. 8. 5:30 p.m.

Includes fest alumni Angella Ahn, the Calder Quartet, Stan Freese and artistic director Johannes Moser. Tickets $200 [email protected] or


Friday, Feb. 10. 7 p.m. Introduction with artists. 8 p.m. Bach: Cello Suite No. 4 E-flat major (Johannes Moser); Reid, “Stellar Remnants”; Hindemith, Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 25, No. 3 (Moser).

Saturday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m. Introduction by John Mangum. 8 p.m. Schoenberg: Transfigured Night for string sextet (Moser, Calder Quartet); Schubert: String Quintet in C major (Moser, Calder Quartet)

Sunday. Feb. 12, 3 p.m., Johannes Moser Project: Moser and 11 Southern California cellists. Bach, Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 in G major; Michael Jackson, “Smooth Criminal” (two cellos); Werner-Thomas Mifune, Compressed Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert (four cellos); Grieg, Holberg Suites (six cellos); Villa Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 and No. 5 (eight cellos and soprano); Klengel, Hymnus (12 cellos).

Open to the public, ticketed or free


Wednesday, Feb. 8, 10 a.m., Susi Q Senior Center

Johannes Moser, cello selections from festival program. Followed by Q&A session.

Reservations: 949-553-2422 x.1 or


Thursday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m., Laguna Art Museum

Live! At the Museum: Yoshika Masuda & Andrew Moses, chamber music.

RSVP: 949-494-8971 x203


Saturday, Feb. 11. 4 p.m Laguna Playhouse

Open rehearsal: Johannes Moser and Calder Quartet




Tickets: or Laguna Playhouse

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