For many area arts organizations, the ongoing recession has forced cutbacks, postponements, and a certain amount of downsizing. So it’s a pleasant surprise to check out the schedule for this year’s Ventura Music Festival and discover a lineup that would not be out of place at Carnegie Hall.
Consider the first weekend of the 10-day event, which kicks off on Thursday, April 29. Friday night: Sharon Isbin, one of the greatest living classical guitarists. Saturday night: superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman. Sunday afternoon: legendary jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock.
How did they manage to pull this off? Artistic Director Nuvi Mehta credits a mix of long-range thinking and smart budgeting.
“We’ve felt the same effects as many arts organizations, but maybe not to the same degree,” he said. “We’ve always been very conscientious about how we spend our money. We never spend a dime we haven’t raised ahead of time. Going into the recession, we had a healthy little surplus. Like a smoothly oiled shock absorber, it has allowed us to withstand this jolt.”
The festival’s focus this year is a time and place that suffered some jolts of its own: Vienna from approximately 1780 to 1850. That turbulent period, in which the economic and social order was challenged as never before, encompasses the final 10 years of Mozart’s life and the entire career of Beethoven.
“It’s a period that saw the inception and growth of all of the ideas of the Romantic period,” Mehta noted. “That revolutionary furor we see codified in Beethoven’s music was very much a product of the times. Beethoven was a revolutionary, but it was Mozart who stood up to the aristocracy when there was no precedent for that.”
“I often think of 1792-94, when Beethoven was settling in Vienna. The aristocracy was coming to terms with the fact that Mozart had died young (in 1791), and it was feeling guilty about that. I have a feeling Mozart paved the way for Beethoven, in that there was remorse in certain circles that made members of the elite very malleable to putting up with the next foul-mouthed genius that came along. I really think Beethoven benefited from Mozart’s experience in a very direct way.”
So with a couple of exceptions (obviously including Hancock’s jazz performance), all festival programs will feature music from that period. Perlman will perform a Mozart sonata, as well as music of Stravinsky and Richard Strauss.
On May 7, the Escher quartet will play string quartets by Beethoven and Schubert. “They’re very young, but they’re talented beyond their years,” Mehta said of the players, who are protégés of the renowned Emerson String Quartet. “I’ve never heard a young quartet play like this.”
The closing night, Saturday, May 8, will feature a recital by pianist Yeol Eum Son, silver medalist at last year’s Van Cliburn piano competition. She will play music of Beethoven and Schubert, plus Schumann’s “Carnival.”
Mehta attended the competition, and “I really liked her,” he said. “She is very personable in terms of her demeanor on stage. She has a very bravura technique. Her fingers can do so much that it’s very hard not to show that off sometimes. I think she will bring down the house with the Schumann.”
The Ventura Music Festival will take place at a variety of locations around the city of Ventura (except for the Perlman recital, which will be at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center). Tickets for the various concerts range from $25 to $50; for many, $15 student tickets are also available. For more information, call 648-3146 or go to venturamusicfestival.org, which has links to maps to all the venues.