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Random thoughts from Ojai 2015 so far (updated 2:30pm Saturday)

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It’s an overcast and relatively muggy Saturday morning in Ojai. Still here for the 69th edition of the town’s iconic Music Festival and we’re about 45 minutes away from today’s first concert of Day Four (or Three if you don’t count Wednesday night).

Planning on detailed reviews of the entire festival experience, but wanted to get some quick thoughts out there of the stuff I’ve seen and heard so far Wednesday night and all day Thursday (UPDATE:  plus some snippets about Saturday’s 11am concert):

  • Wednesday night’s A Pierre Dream:  A Portrait of Pierre Boulez, the multimedia production imported from the Chicago Symphony as part of their “Beyond the Score” series in its West Coast premiere, was good. The “Ojai Talks” that preceded it — Ara Guzelimian chatting on stage with Tom Morris, William Kraft, Ralph Grierson, and Gerard McBurney — were even better. The conversation with Messrs. Kraft and Grierson was particularly fun and enlightening, each sharing one-of-a-kind moments they had with the composer/conductor. It was the highlight of the evening.
  • Steven Schick, this year’s Music Director, was great in his own Ojai Talk on Thursday morning. He is as gregarious and insightful and as funny in a big-group setting as he was in my interview with him a few weeks ago. See my Twitter feed for a few of the better quotes from him that day.
  • After my 2013 experience with John Luther Adams’s music here at Ojai, I approached with equal parts trepidation and open-mindedness the West Coast premiere of Sila: The Breath of the World, his hour-long piece for 80 musicians scattered throughout the heart of Libbey Park. It uses a similar minimalist, slow-developing passages as he often uses. Much to my relief and even delight, I enjoyed it.
  • The Calder Quartet was spectacular in the first and second Bartok String Quartets.
  • Mr. Schick and his UCSD percussion ensemble, red fish blue fish, played Varèse’s Ionisation, the iconic harbinger of modern percussion works, twice. I’m very glad he did. Hearing something like that done twice back-to-back is a rare treat
  • All four Varèse works on Thursday’s program (Intégrales Ionisation, Density 21.5, and Déserts) were fascinating; however, I found Déserts, with its pre-recorded passages of industrial and electronic sounds interspersed between those played live by the musicians onstage, the least satisfying.  As interesting as those sounds may have been on their own, momentum was lost every time they were played.
  • Toccata for Percussion by Carlos Chavez was the most fun and easiest-to-digest work all of Thursday, full of straight-forward rhythms, discernable meters, and the most tonal sounds non-tuned instruments can make.  That said, the tight interplay between the various instrumentalists (Mr. Schick among them) made the work much more difficult to play than to listen to.
  • Ginastera’s Cantata para América Mágica was the best kind of assault on the ears, sonically residing somewhere past threatening while never become outright violent.  I wish they could’ve played that one again.
  • Pianists Gloria Chng and Vicki Ray are national treasures.  Their absolute command of Messiaen’s Visions de l’amen prove once again how lucky Southern California music fans are to be able to hear them play on a regular basis.
  • The decision to juxtapose and intertwine two works (one by Ravel, the other by Boulez) inspired by French writer Stéphane Mallarmé:  seemingly obvious, yet absolutely brilliant nonetheless.

The 69th Ojai Music Festival:  June 10-14, 2015; Libbey Bowl (Ojai, CA)

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10

Ojai Talks | 7:30 PM
Libbey Bowl

Part I: Working with Pierre Boulez, with Thomas W. Morris
Part II: Boulez in Ojai, with Ralph Grierson and William Kraft
Part III: Boulez and Beyond the Score®, with Gerard McBurney

Ara Guzelimian, Ojai Talks director

Concert | 9:00 PM
Libbey Bowl

ICE
red fish blue fish
Mellissa Hughes, soprano
Josephine Chan, piano
Anna Bowen, actress
Charlotte Cannon, Margaret Cook, Colin Creveling, Derek Herman, Joseph Galizia, Nyle Kenning, actors
Steven Schick, conductor

Beyond the Score ® A Pierre Dream: A Portrait of Pierre Boulez
WEST COAST PREMIERE

THURSDAY, JUNE 11

11:00am – 1:30pm
Ojai Valley Community Church (907 El Centro St)

Part I: The World of Percussion, with Steven Schick

Ara Guzelimian, Ojai Talks director

3:30- 4:45pm
Libbey Park

Steven Schick, director
ICE
red fish blue fish
CalArts ensemble
JOHN LUTHER ADAMS: Sila: The Breath of the World (West Coast Premiere)

Part I: 6:00-7:00pm | Part II: 8:00-10:00pm
Libbey Bowl

Part I: Bartók Boulez I
ICE
Steven Schick, conductor
Calder Quartet

PIERRE BOULEZ: Dérive I
BÉLA BARTÓK: String Quartet No. 1
BÉLA BARTÓK: String Quartet No. 2

Part II:
ICE
red fish blue fish
Claire Chase, flute
Gloria Cheng and Vicki Ray, pianos
Mellissa Hughes, soprano
Steven Schick, conductor

EDGARD VARÈSE: Intégrales
EDGARD VARÈSE: Ionisation
EDGARD VARÈSE: Density 21.5
EDGARD VARÈSE: Déserts (with tape)
CARLOS CHAVEZ: Toccata for Percussion
ALBERTO GINASTERA: Cantata para América Mágica

SATURDAY, JUNE 13

11:00am-12:45pm
Libbey Bowl

Gloria Cheng & Vicki Ray, pianos
Mellissa Hughes, soprano
ICE
red fish blue fish
Steven Schick, conductor

OLIVIER MESSIAEN: Visions de l’amen
MAURICE RAVEL: Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé: Soupir
PIERRE BOULEZ: Improvisation sur Mallarmé I: Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd’hui
RAVEL: Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé: Placet futile
BOULEZ: Improvisation sur Mallarmé II: Une dentelle s’abolit
RAVEL: Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé: Surgi de la croupe et du bond

—————
Photo credit:  CK Dexter Haven

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