A hec­tic pace, but peace rings out

The Ojai Mu­sic Fes­ti­val de­liv­ers a world of in­flu­ences.


OJAI — The first ma­jor work in Western mu­sic for per­cus­sion ensem­ble, Edgar Varèse’s 1931 “Ioniza­tion” in­sti­gated the per­cus­sion revo­lu­tion in mod­ern mu­sic. But Thurs­day night at the Ojai Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, this year’s mu­sic di­rec­tor, per­cus­sion­ist and con­duc­tor Steven Schick, noted some­thing pos­si­bly even more rev­o­lu­tion­ary about this 20th cen­tury clas­sic.

In­stru­ments from cul­tures un­able to get along then or now were asked to sit side by side. Find­ing com­pat­i­bil­ity be­tween Euro­pean

mil­i­tary snare drums, Latin Amer­i­can bon­gos, Asian gongs and African drums, Schick ob­served, could be­come “a model for an en­vi­ron­ment of co­hab­i­ta­tion … that we could all as­pire to live up to.”

Schick did not go so far as to pro­pose com­pat­i­bil­ity and co­hab­i­ta­tion as a fes­ti­val theme. But by pack­ing the 69th Ojai fes­ti­val into marathon days of con­certs from dawn (and be­fore!) un­til mid­night, he, in fact, turned the five-day fes­ti­val into a de-facto Davos of mu­si­cal diplo­macy. No model so­ci­ety emerged, but there were help­ful hints of how we might pro­ceed.

In the­ory, the fes­ti­val was meant to be Pierre Boulez­cen­tric and thus a cel­e­bra­tion of cere­bral mu­sic. In honor of Boulez’s 90th birth­day and in recog­ni­tion of the French com­poser and con­duc­tor hav­ing seven times been Ojai’s mu­sic di­rec­tor, the fes­ti­val be­gan Wed­nes­day in Libbey Bowl with a spe­cial mul­ti­me­dia Boulez trib­ute and ended Sun­day with a per­for­mance of Boulez’s 48-minute “Dérive 2” from 2009 and one of his most re­cent works. There were fur­ther daily doses of Boulez, added to a heady diet of con­tem­po­rary mu­sic.

Over five days at Ojai, Schick con­ducted dozens of works, rang­ing from Aaron Co­p­land’s “Ap­palachian Spring” to the world pre­miere of Ju­lia Wolfe’s string or­ches­tra ar­range­ment of “Four Marys.” ICE (In­ter­na­tional Con­tem­po­rary Ensem­ble) was the im­pres­sive main in­stru­men­tal group in res­i­dence, and Schick, who is based at UC San Diego, also led the San Diego en­sem­bles red fish blue fish and Renga.

In­de­fati­ga­ble, Schick worked around the clock. On Fri­day night, he of­fered a flab­ber­gast­ing recital of Euro­pean, Amer­i­can, Fin­nish and Chi­nese avant-garde solo per­cus­sion pieces, in­clud­ing Vinko Globokar’s ag­o­niz­ingly out­landish “?Cor­porel,” in which a bare-

chested Schick sat cross­legged and played his body. He fol­lowed that with a latenight ap­pear­ance in Roland Auzet’s “La Cathé­dral de Mis­ère” — a vul­gar stag­ing, with elec­tron­ics and psy­che­delic light­ing, of Kurt Sch­wit­ters’ “Ur­son­ate,” a 35minute Dada poem that Schick de­liv­ered with be­yond-flab­ber­gast­ing vo­cal vir­tu­os­ity.

Satur­day night found Schick con­duct­ing de­mand­ing 8 and 10:30 p.m. con­certs in Libbey Bowl. On Sun­day morn­ing at 5 at the nearby Ojai Arts Cen­ter, he joined ICE flutist Claire Chase and pi­anist Sarah Rothen­berg for Mor­ton Feld­man’s “For Philip Gus­ton.” A score of repet­i­tive, ethe­real un­world­li­ness, it lasted 4 hours and 38 min­utes.

Some lis­ten­ers brought sleep­ing bags to the arts cen­ter and were strewn on the floor as though stranded at an air­port. The haunting bells, the call-to-prayer flute lines and solemn pi­ano chords were given the added buzz of snor­ing.

Nei­ther Schick, nor Ojai, can do it all. Late Feld­man (“For Philip Gus­ton” was writ­ten in 1984, three years be­fore Feld­man died) and late Boulez have lit­tle in com­mon. The com­posers were born less than a year apart, and each ac­cused the other of lack­ing el­e­gance. This year, each might have been proved cor­rect but not for their rea­sons. Feld­man’s mu­sic goes back to essen­tials and cleans the air, leav­ing logic out of the equa­tion. Boulez’s mu­sic is a fas­ci­nat­ingly com­plex world of ex­pres­sive logic.

“For Philip Gus­ton” was given a mag­is­te­rial per­for­mance in a messy set­ting. “Dérive 2” had the op­po­site prob­lem of seem­ing too well scrubbed. While ICE played bril­liantly, Schick’s con­duct­ing, which lacks the nu­ance of his solo play­ing, al­lowed no room for es­sen­tial messi­ness, the ex­pres­siv­ity of the in­tri­cate lit­tle de­tails that give Boulez’s mu­sic its life.

Nor was mix­ing small ear­lier Boulez pieces with Bartók string quar­tets in early evening con­certs illu- mi­nat­ing. Although a great Bartók con­duc­tor, Boulez al­ways con­sid­ered the Hun­gar­ian the least im­por­tant to him of the great 20th cen­tury com­posers. But the re­fined yet vis­ceral Bartók per­for­mances by the Calder Quar­tet were com­mand­ing.

Still, Schick was ter­rific at pro­vid­ing an at­mos­phere in which mu­si­cal re­ac­tions might oc­cur. The West Coast pre­miere Thurs­day af­ter­noon of John Luther Adams’ re­cent “Sila” for dozens of mu­si­cians sta­tioned around Libbey Park gave the im­pres­sion of the trees tak­ing au­di­ble breaths, the ground groan­ing, the wind in happy duet with the flow­ers and the stones danc­ing. I have never seen such con­tented-look­ing mu­si­cians and lis­ten­ers.

At the other ex­treme, Schick con­ducted a strong per­for­mance of Varèse’s lonely, pes­simistic “Déserts” later that night, and the en­vi­ron­ment now felt in dan­ger. But a cou­ple of nights later, Adams came to the res­cue with his f luid, life-af­firm­ing “Be­come River” for cham­ber ensem­ble.

The Is­raeli cel­list Maya Beiser proved par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive in tap­ping into Ojai’s spir­i­tual essence with Michael Har­ri­son’s dron­ing, elec­tronic “Just An­cient Loops” (ac­com­pa­nied by a Bill Mor­ri­son film) and her chant­ing in Mo­hammed Fairouz’s haunting ar­range­ment of the Kol Nidrei.

Wu Man was the soloist in Lou Har­ri­son’s Con­certo for Pipa With String Or­ches­tra, but here there could be no cul­tural de­tente with an elo­quent Chi­nese soloist and Renga’s poorly tuned and timid strings.

Olivier Mes­si­aen’s twopi­ano “Vi­sions de l’Amen” added mys­ti­cal Catholi­cism to the mix, and a glo­ri­ous Ojai mo­ment was the Satur­day morn­ing per­for­mance by Glo­ria Cheng and Vicki Ray. Mes­si­aen had been Boulez’s teacher, but the con­nec­tion was cu­ri­ously stronger with Feld­man, whose “For Philip Gus­ton” has a mys­ti­cal Jewish char­ac­ter.

There were vast amounts more, too much to ab­sorb, re­mind­ing us that marathon diplo­macy is show busi­ness and that real un­der­stand­ing takes time. Nonethe­less, Schick demon­strated that there is no place bet­ter for real peace talks than Ojai, some­thing mu­si­cians this year knew well and some­thing that gov­ern­ments would do well to check out next year, when Peter Sel­lars will be the mu­sic di­rec­tor.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times


Ensem­ble vi­o­list Mark Men­zies per­forms John Luther Adams’ “Sila” on Thurs­day at Libbey Park.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

MU­SI­CIANS PLAY to a cap­ti­vated Ojai Mu­sic Fes­ti­val au­di­ence Thurs­day at the Libbey Bowl.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

AN AIR of con­tent­ment greets the play­ing of John Luther Adams’ “Sila.”

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