-eighth blackbird chamber music ensemble- ------- ---photo: Luke Ratray
Ojai, California, June 11-14, 2009
Overview by Rodney Punt
It was once said of Toru Takemitsu, the late composer of environmental sounds, that he simply loved the whole world. The 63rd Ojai Festival, which concluded yesterday evening, might just as well be called the music festival that loved the whole world.
Artistic Director Thomas Morris invited eighth blackbird (they prefer lower case), a contemporary chamber music ensemble, to be Music Director this year. Only the second ensemble in six decades to be so named – the other was the Emerson Quartet in 2002 – they took full account of Ojai’s aging Libbey Bowl and its leafy, tree-filled park for endless musical experimentation.
Over a four-day stretch beginning last Thursday, the amphitheatre was the main venue for an eclectic mix of sounds that stretched ears and eyes, to say nothing of the mind. Outdoor music installations by Seattle-based artist Trimpin were festooned about Libbey Park, one of them actually participating in a final collective musical number.
Cloudy skies and unusually cool temperatures the first three days lent an appropriately reflective mood to a couple of the darker-themed musical selections. The surrounding hills of Ojai, carpeted in their oak-green majesty, inspired eighth blackbird and a large number of guest musicians to make the whole valley resonate as their chamber.
The Festival offered a world premiere of a new work of Steven Mackey and Rinde Eckert, Slide, the world premiere of a semi-staged version of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, the west coast premiere of David Michael Gordon’s Quasi Sinfonia, major works of Steve Reich, the rarely heard Charles Ives Piano Sonata No. 1, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, George Crumb's Music for a Summer Night in an interesting program with works on the same wavelength, and numerous smaller works, some heard for the first time. One guest ensemble introduced us to the largest collection of recorders (old-style wooden flutes) I have ever seen.
Certain musical forces and artistic styles predominated: an extensive use of percussion; unusual instrumental combinations, timbres and textures; experimentations in form and style; showy virtuosity; cutting-edge musical theatricality; and bizarre intersections of visual, stage, and musical arts.
Big philosophic themes were examined: the origins of music and life, the power of Nature, humanity’s eternal quest for meaning and love, the nature and relationship of the divine in human experience.
The musical fare was almost too immense to digest in full, and concentrated in so short a time period, journalism can scarce do it justice. So we mention only highlights here and will select performances to cover in some detail in later postings.
Bottom line: the 63rd Ojai Festival was an enormous success, highly stimulating, occasionally puzzling, in at least one performance absolutely maddening, in many others lots of fun, and in a select few awesomely magisterial.
It was an essential dose of music for those curious to hear, feel and think in the differing worlds of organized sound.
Not bad for a music festival in a time of economic retrenchment.
-----------------------------------------Photo: Rodney Punt
NOTE: This is a first report on the 2009 Ojai Music Festival. Others will follow, but, as we post newer entries on top of older ones, look UP the blog for successive posts.
NOTE also: The Ojai Festival has an offer to hold ticket prices at current levels for early subscribers to next year's Festival, June 10-13, 2010. Visit OjaiFestival.org, e-mail [email protected], or call (805) 646-2094 for further information. And, while you are at it, book your favorite motel now too.