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Gerald Carpenter: Ojai Music Festival Rings Modern Tone

The world-renowned event runs through Sunday in various venues

The world-famous Ojai Music Festival begins its 64th season on Thursday and runs through Sunday at various venues in and around the community of Ojai. Thomas Morris continues as artistic director of the festival — 2004 was his first year — and British composer George Benjamin debuts as music director.

Participating musicians this year will include Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, conducted by Benjamin or Brad Lubman, contralto Hilary Summers, soprano Anu Komsi, pianists Eric Huebner, Ueli Wiget and Hermann Kretzschmer, Wildcat Viols (Joanna Blendulf and Julie Jeffrey on treble viols and Elisabeth Reed on bass viol with guest artist Annalisa Pappano on bass viol), flautist Dietmar Wiesner, violists Megumi Kasakawa and Patrick Jüedt, and a classical Indian ensemble consisting of Aashish Khan on sarode, Javad Ali Butah on tabla and John Stephens on sitar.

The accent is decidedly on the modern, as always, with a few new takes on ancient tunes, and a few delightful diversions outside the western tradition altogether.

The principal composers represented will be Saed Haddad (Le Contredésir), Steve Potter (Paradigms, U.S. premiere), Elliott Carter (Oboe Quartet for oboe and string trio), Arnold Schönberg (Five Pieces for Orchestra, Opus 16, chamber version arranged by Schönberg), Johann Strauss Jr. and Schönberg (Emperor Waltzes), Frank Zappa (music from Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions, works from The Yellow Shark), Edgard Varése (Density 21.5; Octandre), Olivier Messiaen (Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus; Oiseaux Exotiques), Igor Stravinsky (L’Histoire du Soldat Suite), Benjamin (Viola, Viola; At First Light; Into the Little Hill — West Coast premiere), Henry Purcell (Fantazias for three and four viols), Pierre Boulez (Memoriale), Oliver Knussen (Songs for Sue), György Ligeti (Chamber Concerto), plus some North Indian Classical Morning Ragas.

New to this year’s festival is a three-part “Festival Symposium,” under the direction of Ara Guzelimian in the Matilija Auditorium. Part I deals with “The 21st Century Musician”; Part II is “A Conversation with George Benjamin”; and Part III will explore “The World of [Frank] Zappa,” with Guzelimian, Gail Zappa, Ian Underwood, Steve Vai, Todd Yvega and Wiesner.

Over its 64 years of existence, the Ojai Music Festival has grown ever more important to the life of new classical music, moving ever closer to the whirling center of the enterprise itself. It is no longer possible to imagine a world without it. Most of the analogies that a hack might come up with to give some sense of the festival’s magnitude would probably call on some competition — the “World Series of Modern Music” or the “Super Bowl of Contemporary Sound” — but there is, in fact, nothing less like competition than a musical performance, when it is done right.

Anyway, if you have heard of the Ojai Music Festival, then you probably already know what a great event it is. For more information, click here to visit its amazingly comprehensive Web site or call 805.646.2094.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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