The 66th annual run of the world-famous Ojai Music Festival starts this Thursday and continues through Sunday.
Participating artists at this year’s festival will include Music Director Leif Ove Andsnes, conductor-composer Reinbert de Leeuw, clarinetist Martin Fröst, pianist Marc-André Hamelin, the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, percussionist and director Steven Schick, mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn, soprano Lucy Shelton and violist Antoine Tamestit, while the participating composers will be John Adams, John Luther Adams, Eivind Buene, Hafliði Hallgrímsson and Bent Sørensen.
Now, while the program for this year’s festival contains works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Edvard Grieg and Wolfgang Mozart — performed, it is safe to predict, with passion and precision and love — no one who knows anything at all about Ojai would mistake it for the usual sort of summer festival. Ojai was, is and ever will be defiantly modern, adamantly contemporary.
Those composers just mentioned are not there as museum exhibits, but because they have never ceased — in these works, anyway — to speak to us directly, as contemporaries. Similarly, the inclusion on the program of such celebrated “modern” composers as Charles Ives, Béla Bartók, Alban Berg, Igor Stravinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich or Leoš Janáček — all dead, some for a long time — would seem to signify that they have yet to harden into “classics.”
From the list of artists and participating composers, one would tend to conclude that this year’s festival has a distinctly Northern orientation. There is nothing Mediterranean about it, nothing tropical.
American composer John Luther Adams is probably the most emphatically Northern — not to say Arctic — in his outlook. Not an Alaskan by birth, he adopted the state as his physical home and his spiritual core after visiting on a Guggenheim Fellowship some decades ago. To me, he sounds a religious minimalist, like the Estonian Arvo Pärt, but with Alaska at the mystical center instead of Pärt’s ethereal Christianity. His words tend to be calls to contemplation, with very few events, but hauntingly beautiful nonetheless.
Other highlights, in a program of highlights, are a performance of the two-piano version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and the string orchestra version of Janáček’s String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Pages”. If you are unfamiliar with the latter, then you might prepare yourself for a powerful emotional experience. It may just prove the greatest music you have never heard.
All of the information on the festival is available in great but never overwhelming detail on the festival’s attractive and well-organized website by clicking here, which is also the place to go for tickets and schedules, maps and phone numbers.