Free music flows with summer

by John?Pixley

It’s funny how a certain memory will stick.

I guess I will always remember my mother raving about the horn player.

It must have been when I was in elementary school. My parents had gone to a concert. There had been a horn soloist, and my mother said repeatedly that she had never heard a horn played so well. The concert was part of something called the Claremont Music Festival or the Claremont Summer Music Festival, and it took place at the colleges during the summer, when the students were gone and my father wasn’t teaching.

Maybe that’s why I remember my mother going on about how good the horn player was. Because it was at the colleges in the summer, when nothing was going on at the Colleges.

I probably remember it, because I keep wondering why there is no longer a Claremont Summer Music Festival, why there hasn’t been one in years.

Just like I wonder why the American Conservatory Theater no longer plays in residence at the colleges during the summer, as it did years ago. The San Francisco-based company put on an outstanding series of plays at Garrison Theater one or two summers, and there were fun stories of the actors eating and hanging out at the old Danson restaurant in the Village.

I think of all the wonderful theaters at the colleges – Big Bridges, Little Bridges, Garrison Theater, Balch Hall – closed and locked up for the summer? Why aren’t they used for performances in the summer. There is also the Greek Theater at Pomona College, which would be a stunning, lovely venue for outdoor performances on summer evenings.

There’s a Claremont Summer Music Festival or a Claremont Summer Theater Festival just waiting to happen. Or—why not?—both.

Which is why it was a thrill and a delight to go to the Claremont Clarinet Festival Concerts last month. It wasn’t just because clarinets playing together are indeed delightful – musical champagne, bubbly and crisp, perfect on a summer afternoon or evening.

The concert certainly brought back the memory of my mother talking about the horn player.

Actually, I went to three of the five concerts that were at Pomona College’s Bridges Hall (Little Bridges) and Lyman Hall during the week of June 16-22. The concerts, which were free and open to the public, were part of the Claremont Clarinet festival, a weeklong summer workshop with about 20 advanced clarinetists, under the direction of Margaret Thornhill, a Los Angeles-based clarinetist and teacher, and with the assistance of a few other musicians. Apparently, this has been going on for five years.

There used to be something like this held at Pomona College for cellists. I haven’t heard of this still going on, but, in any case, it’s nice to have the clarinetists here.

The concerts may have been a bit long, with mysterious pauses between pieces and musicians sometimes having to be hunted down (“Mr. Feiler, you’re on now”), and there were confusing program changes. Things were more informal than at the usual concert, but it was exciting to hear some great talent being developed, and the price was nothing to gripe about. This was definitely a treat.

Speaking of treats, one concert featured a special guest, SQWONK, a terrific duo (Jonathan Russell and Jeff Anderle) from San Francisco who played the biggest clarinets I’ve ever seen. Who knew the clarinet was so hip? Their rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was astounding. Another concert featured a particularly delicious piece for clarinet and tabla by Christin Hablewitz, the clarinetist. And one of the piano accompanists during the week was Althea Waites, who I remember giving recitals years and years ago.

The last concert was on a Saturday afternoon, and that evening I went to Pasadena to attend another free concert, this one by Mr. Littlejeans, part of the Summer Nights series put on by public radio station KCRW (89.9 fm). Unfortunately, this was the second of only 2 concerts at One Colorado, a brick-lined courtyard in Old Town Pasadena, which is quite pleasant on a summer evening, but this annual free outdoor series continues through August at the Hammer Museum in Westwood and in LA’s Chinatown. Check out

A few blocks from One Colorado and only about 40 minutes from Claremont is Pasadena’s Memorial Park, where there are free concerts going on Wednesday through Sunday evenings through the end of August. The line-up, produced by the Levitt Pavilion, which has a connections to a Scripps College grad and puts on free outdoor concerts kicking off and ending the school year on the campus, includes children shows, folk and Americana music, jazz and lots of ethnic groups. The schedule is at I particularly like this venue, with its natural grass bowl and twinkling lights in the surrounding trees—magical on a summer evening.

The Levitt Pavilion also has free concerts, on roughly the same nights, at McArthur Park in LA. There is also the free Grand Performances series (, with an even more eclectic, perhaps challenging line-up, at the California Plaza on Bunker Hill in downturn LA, where one should be sure to have a comfortable seat and watch out for astronomical parking fees.

Of course, if one doesn’t want to brave the big or not-so-big city, there is free music here in Claremont, even with all those college theaters locked up tighter than a drum and especially now that the Fourth is over and summer has let it rip full-on. In addition to the music going on all over the Village on Friday evenings, the Monday night concerts are just about to start up in Memorial Park.


Submit a Comment

Share This