Ojai Reviews – June 2007

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Out West Arts blogspot
Ojai Day 2
June 11, 2007

Sometimes I wonder why I go to the Ojai festival. I hate sitting outdoors in the sun, or even worse, freezing at night. Nor is sitting on a hard bench for up to 6 hours a day my idea of fun. (Those cushions help but let’s not kid ourselves, shall we?) Needless to say I am not one for rural climes either and one can exhaust the other attractions in Ojai in a little under an hour. But there is one thing the festival does have: great performances from some of the world’s most interesting musicians and composers in what can really be described as an intimate setting. In fact it sometimes boggles my mind that there aren’t more people who take advantage of the festival.

The concert in question on Sunday morning was a performance from the percussion ensemble, Nexus. The five members presented an enjoyable grab bag of short pieces from virtually every genre you can think of that the solo percussion repertory is drawn from. Probably the two highlights for me were the opening Music for Pieces of Wood by Steve Reich and a collection of Ancient Military Aires played on drums fit for the purpose. Both pieces were astounding with what they could achieve in sheer musicality with so little: much more than rhythm but a whole sound world complete with melody, emotion, and even humor.

And here’s more news for those new music doubters – the military aires alone prove that ‘minimalism’ as a legitimate and effective musical style was around long before Glass or Reich or Riley ever put pen to paper. The rest of the show was dominated by pieces based on various cultural traditions and a humorous work composed almost entirely of bird whistles and calls by Nexus member William Cahn appropriately titled The Birds. There was also a recent commission from Linda Catlin Smith, Blue Sky, that was mostly comprised of esoteric and lightly played cymbals and other metallic instruments that I did not find completely engrossing in this outdoor context. Somewhere elsewho knows? Still, ample talent was clearly evident and if anyone needed a reminder, all they had to do was hang around the dirty bare-foot, patchouli drum circle crowd in the north part of the park during the afternoon break between shows. All the au fait caterwauling irritated me as much now as it did in college and it is a stark reminder that just because one can hit a drum does not mean that one can actually play one.

Sunday at Ojai: It Ended Too Soon
New Music Rebloggers, June 11, 2007

The Sunday morning concert was the ‘feel good’ concert of this season, with the Nexus Percussion Ensemble giving us a world exposure. Nexus captured us at the beginning with Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood (1973), and over two hours later we still wanted more after a medley for xylophone and marimbas of ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ and ‘Bye Bye Blues’. (Thank you, Bob Becker.) Someone missed a good special-interest report by not covering the logistics problems associated with getting all of those Nexus instruments from point to point. The three-dozen-or-so devices for bird calls would have been easy to pack, but all of those other instruments would be challenging.

This was a good series of concerts. I wasn’t ready to leave. Next year’s Ojai Festival will have David Robertson as music director and will feature a return of Dawn Upshaw. Put June 5 – 8 on your calendars. The next three months look pretty empty of contemporary music. Why is it that groups and programmers think that summer is a time to stop new music?

Originally posted by JerryZ from Sequenza21/, The Contemporary Classical Music Community, ReBlogged by newmusicrebloggers on Jun 11, 2007 at 08:02 PM

Ventura County Star, California
June 12, 2007
by Rita Moran

Aimard lets Ojai hear why piano is his forte
Eotvos also conducted Saturday night’s final work, a robust incarnation of Stravinsky’s “Les Noces” with soloists and an array of percussionists, including the premiere ensemble Nexus.

Nexus held forth on its own Sunday morning, filling the bowl with a remarkable selection of drums, gongs, bird calls, rattles, marimbas and xylophone, all played with easy expertise by members Bob Becker, William Cahn, Robin Engelman, Russell Hartenberger and Garry Kvistad. Also contributing to the weekend’s distinguished assemblage were The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, with Scottish conductor Douglas Boyd, and Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Opaque or translucent, this year’s music continued in the honored tradition of introducing mind-expanding music along with consensus treasures. The total audience of 7,100 who scurried to concerts and satellite events has learned to celebrate the challenges along with the easy pleasures.

The Santa Barbara Independent
June 14, 2007

Ojai Music Festival at the Libbey Bowl, Ojai: Modern Music Stays Young
By Charles Donelan

These internationally known concerts are going strong in their 61st year, and continue to attract a sophisticated audience to Ojai’s historic Libbey Bowl. Friday evening’s program was a perfect example of why this festival remains great: three incredible pieces of music, four pianos, six percussionists, one living (and conducting) composer_-_Peter Eötvös_-_and, for the finale, four singers plus the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Could this really be an entire evening of dense, gorgeous, ravishing classical music, without a violin, viola, clarinet, flute, or cello in sight? Yes, because that’s the kind of adventure the Ojai Music Festival delivers, year in and year out.
The opener was the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion of Béla Bartók, played by this year’s musical director, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, on piano, along with Tamara Stefanovich (piano), and the extraordinary percussion ensemble known as NEXUS. This work in three movements has an almost cult-like status among fans of Bartók, and the performance at Ojai was thrilling. In addition to the two pianos, which act as percussion instruments much of the time, the orchestration also calls for three kettledrums, a xylophone, two side-drums, cymbals, suspended cymbal, bass drum, triangle, and tam-tam. It’s a whirlwind of pulsing, carefully calibrated lyricism, with an opening that sprawls in waves and then subsides, a middle section in a nocturnal mode that got the crickets going, and a finale in which the xylophone figures prominently until the final, subtle note is struck.
The second piece, Sonata per sei by Eötvös (2006), was written to accompany the Bartók. The addition of a third keyboard player on sampler allowed Eötvös to take Bartók’s fascination with the sonority of parallel lines played at intervals to another level.
After so much beauty, it was hard to imagine how the final piece, Stravinsky’s operatic ballet/cantata Les Noces, would compete. Yet nothing could possibly have prepared us for this wonderfully idiosyncratic work. It’s a tour de force for four pianos, six percussionists, four singers, and a chorus. Russian folk melodies are the basis for its stark and memorable solos and choruses. The fact that Stravinsky directed the Ojai festival in 1955 and 1956 brought even greater poignancy and impact to this impressive performance, which will certainly stand as one of the most memorable of 2007 in any venue, anywhere.
Bravo Ojai!

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