Ojai Music Festival Goes Virtual

Ojai Music Festival - "Yet Unheard" by Courtney Bryan 6/10/2017 Libbey BowlOjai Music Festival - "Yet Unheard" by Courtney Bryan 6/10/2017 Libbey Bowl | Credit: David Bazemore Photo

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Under normal, non-pandemic conditions, this would be the week that the 805 goes global. The Ojai Music Festival, which replaces its ambitious long weekend program with an enticing menu of virtual events, has the most significant impact on world culture (albeit under the admittedly specialized rubric of contemporary classical music).

As a measure of its importance, the New York Times and the New Yorker frequently come out to cover the fest. Ojai’s lofty list of composer-directors in charge over its seven-plus decades includes Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Pierre Boulez, Lukas Foss, John Adams, Steve Reich, Peter Maxwell-Davies, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and in the past two years, powerhouse women — Patricia Kopatchinskaya and Barbara Hannigan.

This year, the year that live music died (or was temporarily quarantined), the eagerly anticipated edition of the 74th annual festival, under the guidance of heralded composer-conductor Matthias Pintscher, is forced to go global in a different sense, taking to the worldwide web.

Pintscher’s programming held great promise, featuring world premieres, showcasing important Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth, the contemporary-centric Calder String Quartet, and “minimalist” master Steve Reich (who was a featured guest composer in the memorable 2006 festival). Instead, from the comfort of our homebound circumstances, we can experience Zoomed-in discussions with those artists — Pintscher on Thursday; Neuwirth on Friday; Calder on Saturday; and Reich on Sunday — in dialogue with Pintscher and festival artistic director designate Ara Guzelimian, and including generous doses of prerecorded musical performances.

Santa Barbara has gotten to know Pintscher in recent years courtesy of his engagements with the Music Academy of the West. The composer’s vivid piece, “Bereshit,” was given its west coast premiere at the Granada in 2013 and was broadcast Thursday, June 11) as part of the discussion-plus-music event with Guzelimian. Also, on Thursday’s musical plate was Boulez’ sur Incises, a natural program-mate.

Pintscher’s ties to Ojai come more in the form of a smaller-than-six-degree link to Boulez, one of the greatest Ojai figures, last toasted in his 90th birthday year, in 2015. Besides championing Boulez’s tough-but-sensuous music, Pintscher is the current music director of the Boulez-founded Parisian Ensemble Intercontemporain, out of IRCAM. That ensemble, long a towering presence in contemporary music, would have made its Ojai debut this year.

In an interview last summer, during another MAW visit, Pintscher spoke excitedly though cautiously about the festival program-in-the-works. As he noted then, the program was to be “about the invisible bridge between the two continents, the old continent and the new world, and how they interact and question each other. Boulez, obviously, was in Ojai four times. It’s going to be a celebration and clearly also a celebration of Pierre’s spirit and what needed to be done to keep things moving. It doesn’t matter what direction it moves, but it needs to move,” he laughed.

A sure part of the ambient charm of the Ojai festival is Ojai itself, and the chance to settle into this idyllic small town, hidden away yet highway close to Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles. As some appeasement, the festival has cooked up some inventive virtual flavor, including recipes from area eateries, scenic side tripping (virtually), and other atmospheric additives.

Ironically, this year may be an especially ripe time to pick up one of the 74th Ojai Festival hats (online, of course), given its historic status as the festival that never was…and yet, in its way, was and is. Tune in.

411: Ojai Music Festival, Matthias Pintscher, Olga Neuwirth, Steve Reich, Calder String Quartet. Discussions and musical presentations, Thursday through Sunday, June 14. Call (805) 646-2053 or click here.

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