It’s a bit startling to note the ages of the artists who are headlining this year’s Ventura Music Festival. More than ever, it seems, youth is no barrier to international acclaim — even in the rarified realms of classical music and jazz.
Eldar Djangirov, a jazz pianist praised by the late greats Dave Brubeck and Billy Taylor, will perform Friday night, May 3. He’s 26.
Petrit Çeku, 2012 Gold Medal Winner of the Christopher Parkening International Guitar Competition, will give a recital Saturday night, May 4. He’s 28
Pianist Haochen Zhang, the first native of China to win the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, will give a concert Thursday night, May 9. He’s 22.
And then there’s the annual “rising stars” concert, which will take place Tuesday night. It features 14-year-old violinist Julia Zhu and pianist David Huang, a sophomore at Westlake High School.
“This year, we chose the theme of the festival — vivacity — after the artists were selected,” said Executive Director Ellen Pasternack. “They’re very young, very talented people.”
A 30-minute drive south seems like a small price to pay to see artists of this caliber perform in intimate venues. Most of the concerts will take place at one of three lovely churches in the city of Ventura, all of which feature splendid acoustics, and none of which seat more than 500.
For classical music lovers, arguably the most exciting event on the schedule is the recital by Zhang, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. on May 9 at the Ventura Missionary Church (500 High Point Dr.). Zhang won the Van Cliburn competition at age 19, making him the youngest pianist ever to do so. His meaty program includes Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3, Beethoven’s late Sonata Op. 109, and works by Liszt, Debussy, and Stravinsky.
What promise to be two of the most popular concerts — one by the Count Basie Orchestra, with guest vocalist Carmen Bradford, and another by the Los Angeles–based a cappella pop-jazz group M-Pact — will take place in the Majestic Ventura Theater, in the historic downtown area. The Basie Band performs at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 5; M-Pact will close the festival with its set at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 11.
“We always try to match the venue to the performer,” said Pasternack. “For the Basie band, we are configuring the theater so there will be reserved seats for everyone, some VIP tables, and also a dance floor. This is music you can dance to!
“I’m hoping that attracts a wonderfully diverse crowd, mixing young people who swing dance with people who saw Basie in person back in the day.”
The presence of the Basie Orchestra and M-Pact on the schedule may be a surprise to those who think of the festival as a classical-music-only affair. Indeed, it started out that way 19 years ago. But jazz has played an increasing role in its programming in recent years.
“The goal is to reach out to various types of music aficionados,” Pasternack explained. “It really is a quite diverse, accessible festival — more diverse than many people understand.”
The Ventura Music Festival takes place May 3-11 at various locations around Ventura. For tickets and information, call (805) 648-3146 or visit venturamusicfestival.org.