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Gerald Carpenter: Ojai Music Festival Celebrating ‘Boulez at 90’

Maestro Pierre Boulez conducts during his 1967 debut as Ojai’s music director.
Maestro Pierre Boulez conducts during his 1967 debut as Ojai’s music director. (Contributed photo)

The world-renowned festival of contemporary music in Ojai will make its 69th run this week, Wednesday through Sunday, in every available venue of the town.

This year's music director is Steven Schick, percussionist and conductor; the artistic director is Thomas Morris.

Other participating artists will include theatrical director Roland Auzet, cellist Maya Beiser, the CalArts Ensemble, the Calder (String) Quartet, flautist Claire Chase, pianist Gloria Cheng, tabla player Sandeep Das, trumpeter Peter Evans, pianist Jacob Greenberg, scholar and lecturer Ara Guzelimian, soprano Mellissa Hughes, ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), percussionist Jacob Nissly, percussionist Joseph Pereira, pianist Vicki Ray, the red fish-blue fish percussion ensemble, the Renga Music Ensemble, bassist Gyan Riley, pianist Sarah Rothenberg, clarinetist Joshua Rubin, video and live electronic music designer Wilfried Wendeling, and pipa virtuoso Wu Man.

The most prominent organizing theme of the 2015 festival is "Boulez at 90," a tribute to the unique maestro of the modern Pierre Boulez, who entered his 91st year as of March 26. As composer, writer, conductor and pianist, Boulez has had an incalculable impact on virtually every aspect of modern music. He began as an enfant terrible and held that status well into his 50s.

His compositions have, like so much modern art, had their greatest impact on his fellow creative artists. His conducting, both live and on recordings, has reached a much larger audience. His bright, clear-sighted and exhilarating approach swept away so much that was hide-bound and solemn in European conducting that it is quite difficult to reconstruct the atmosphere of pre-1960s concert halls without access to recordings. Of particular note in this regard is his 1976 production, in Bayreuth, of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, directed by Patrice Chéreau. Without changing the score, he clarified and lightened Wagner's murky, thick-limbed miasma, and presented the music dramas with classical transparency.

Boulez began his association with the Ojai Music Festival in 1967, and has served as music director seven times, most recently in 2003 — more than any other artist. There is not another living music that this festival could more appropriately honor.

One does not go to Ojai to have one's prejudices flattered. In fact, if one has any strong musical prejudices, it is best to leave them at home — or, at least, in the car — and, in addition to works by Boulez and my bête noire, Béla Bartók, the composers represented in this year's festival are John Luther Adams, Mark Applebaum, Carlos Chávez, Mario Diaz de Leon, Du Yun, Tan Dun, Julio Estrada, Mohammed Fairouz, Suzanne Farrin, Morton Feldman, Gabriela Lena Frank, Alberto Ginastera, Vinko Globokar, Osvaldo Golijov, Michael Gordon, Lei Liang, Olivier Messiaen, Pauline Oliveros, Lou Harrison, Michael Harrison, Glenn Kotche, David Lang, George Lewis, Steve Reich, Kaija Saariaho, Bright Sheng, Rand Steiger, James Tenney, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Chinary Ung, Huiran Wang, Julia Wolfe, Iannis Xenakis and Evan Ziporyn. For more on these musicians, I recommend the festival's very informative composers page available by clicking here.

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.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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