[Dixielandjazz] Ojai Music Festival - It's All About The Music

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Jun 4 07:25:09 PDT 2006

How does this festival succeed? The stage sucks, the sound system sucks, the
audience area sucks etc.., etc., etc. Imagine if this was an OKOM Festival.
We'd all be bitching & moaning.

Yet Ojai succeeds. Perhaps, because the audience hears the music in spite of
the distractions? Or like Louis Armstrong, who commenting on a remark that a
substitute pastor did not have the fire of the regular guy said some like;
I just look over his shoulder and see/hear the word of God just as clearly
as when the regular pastor speaks.

Yeah, it's the music, not the scratches on the record, or a poor sound
system that are important. When you have a large audience, no sound system
will be anywhere near perfect for everybody in it. So why shoot the sound
man? (My favorite sound man, working with him later today, has a two foot
long pony tail and he is excellent for jazz and large venues)

Anyone who is interested in Festivals and/or Mission Statements should read
this article. It points out the complexities of music festivals including
the Jubilee, and other OKOM Festivals around the world.

Steve Barbone

The Ojai Music Festival: Proud to Be Brief, Small and Eccentric


IN Europe 300 years ago, one town's perfect A might have sounded like a G
sharp to musicians just over the mountain; it depended on the tuning of your
local church organ. But the bigger and more easily reached a place is, the
less distinctive its music becomes. Not too long ago French, German and
Russian orchestras sounded different; now they all sound pretty much the

No one will accuse the brief, tiny and decidedly eccentric Ojai Music
Festival, which runs from Thursday through next Sunday, of being like any
other summer festival. For 60 years it has served as a sort of early-June
picnic weekend in Southern California for musically inclined residents of
Los Angeles. Some Ojai loyalists are worried that the festival might be
getting bigger and more normal. It is indeed bigger in the public
consciousness, as more people around the country and the world drop in on
it. Not everyone is comfortable with that kind of bigness, either.

On the face of it, it is a wonder that anyone ‹ musician or ticket buyer ‹
would put up with Ojai in the first place. The stage is a kind of cutout
Quonset hut. The audience space is a dip in a public park. The acoustics?
Well, there are no acoustics, because there is no roof; there are no sides;
indeed there is no hall. The only things standing between musical sound and
the sky are old sycamore and live oak trees that bend over the audience and
deflect at least some of the sound back downward. There is electronic
amplification (not very good) for lawn sitters at the lip of the hill.

Thomas W. Morris arrived as artistic director three years ago, after a long
tenure as executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra, and he reports
among his early concert experiences there a tree frog tuned perfectly to the
orchestra and two squirrels in hot pursuit of each other in the branches
above the audience. Among my memories are Susan Graham's ravishing singing
of Ravel's "Shéhérazade" accompanied by night birds and crickets, and a
deeply touching Schubert B flat Piano Sonata as the falling afternoon sun
shone in Michiko Uchida's eyes.

Stravinsky, Messiaen and Copland were early enthusiasts. Pierre Boulez has
been music director seven times. This year it will be Robert Spano, with his
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Repertory, says Mr. Morris, should reflect what the year's music director
wants. Mr. Spano will feature the composers Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams.
Touches of John Cage and Conlon Nancarrow's player-piano music keep up the
recent practice of anything-goes esoterica, but Mr. Golijov's "Ainadamar"
and "Oceana" will not come as surprises to those who keep up with classical

Music festivals are examples of the tensions between little music and big
music: the remote village versus the global one. Most festivals are
generated by urban orchestras and function as institutional versions of
summer camp, spaces not too far from their cities, where orchestras go after
seasons end. At worst they are make-work programs for musicians being paid
year-round anyway.

Ojai is an anomaly: small but internationally influential, primitive yet
sophisticated. There is worry that it will become less of an adventure and
just one more stop on the summer circuit. That the Cleveland Orchestra
dropped in last summer as part of an ordinary West Coast tour struck some as
un-Ojai-ish. Bach choral pieces, done by singers unprepared for Ojai's
appalling outdoor acoustics, did not do well the year before. Some found
programs watered down.

Some early results reflected money problems. Mr. Morris inherited a deficit
left by free-spending predecessors. The deficit has not gone away. That
first year, too, Ojai conflicted with a major premiere by the Los Angeles
Philharmonic, otherwise a frequent resident for Ojai seasons. The festival
was moved to the second week of June. Mr. Morris will own to no mistakes,
but he does say it has been a learning experience.

Ojai's recent reputation for tough, modern adventure is just that: recent.
"Macbeth" and "Frankie and Johnny" were early theater productions. Charles
Laughton, Irene Dunne and Judith Anderson came up from Hollywood and did
readings. The pianist Lily Kraus played standard-repertory recitals. But
composers like Lukas Foss and Ingolf Dahl were showing up. Elliott Carter's
First String Quartet stirred controversy in 1952.

The festival's recent history owes much to Mr. Boulez and Esa-Pekka Salonen,
the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, both of whom put forward
tough programs of new music that most classical-music audiences would not
abide and that Ojai audiences (60 percent of them from Los Angeles)
devoured. At a Scandinavian festival there seven years ago, Mr. Salonen, the
composer Magnus Lindberg and Finnish new-music performers cavorted like
fraternity brothers at a school reunion.

Those who heard too much of the generic in the last two seasons will take
comfort in the directorship scheduled for 2007: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, a
French pianist, aspiring conductor and general champion of all that is new.
He can be expected to tilt programs away from any threatening populism.

Describing Ojai as remote is not an attack on the California highway
department. The trip from Los Angeles takes only a few hours by main roads,
a little longer if one drives through the green hills and seemingly endless
lemon and orange groves.

It is the neighborly, creatively insular aspect that people want to protect.
With its $1 million budget, Ojai needs more money. And with New York
publicists at work, Mr. Morris is seeking that money from outside Los
Angeles and beyond the tight cluster of affluent local patrons who have kept
the festival going for 60 years. His final words are comforting: physically,
he says, the festival couldn't grow if it wanted to.

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