Taking Stock of the Ojai Music Festival

YOUR humble correspondent has just returned from the Ojai Music Festival, which continues to be a great place to see classical music. Here are a few highlights of this year’s festival. On one major piece I break from the critical consensus and will get into that tomorrow.

68th Ojai Music Festival - Libbey Park Gazebo - June 13, 2014

Libbey Park’s Gazebo

Music director Jeremy Denk is both a consummate interpreter of Charles Ives and an advocate for the New England maverick, so we got a good dose of his ornery modernism this year.
Given Ives’ originality and weight — perhaps our nation’s first important composer — he remains underperformed in most places in America. He was often neglected or misunderstood in his lifetime; his use of pastiche and musical collage and various avant-garde techniques makes him betted suited to ours. In any case, it was a pleasure to see so much Ives — including the violin sonatas (performed  with the hymns that provided some of their melodies) and Three Places in New England.
Besides Denk himself (who played on the violin sonatas), the young composer Timo Andres spent a lot of time on the piano bench. His recomposition of Mozart’s Coronation Concerto — there are many blank spots for the left hand on Mozart’s original — was one of the weekend’s highlights for me.
68th Ojai Music Festival - Libbey Bowl - June 12, 2014

Jeremy Denk

Kurt Weill was another composer who showed up more than once at the festival. The Seven Deadly Sins (libretto by Brecht) was a lot of fun, and well sung by bombshell Storm Large, portraying a woman who experienced all seven and then some, and quartet Hudson Shad.

68th Ojai Music Festival - Libbey Bowl - June 14, 2014

Storm Large in Seven Deadly Sins


I missed the Sunday-morning-at-8 Hymnfest on Mediation Mount, but heard it was powerful. Last year’s equivalent was a real highlight for me.
The mix of canonical works (Mozart’s Jupiter, Haydn’s  quartet) and new or cutting-edge work worked for me. That said, there was no single piece this year that knocked me out, but I missed some stuff. Mark Swed went to just about all of it; here it his wrap-up.
Ojai remains an absolutely lovely spot, especially Libbey Park, where much of the festival takes place, and the festival is smoothly run: You see what can happen when a community gets behind an arts event. We’re already looking forward to next year.
Caveat: While I’ve reviewed books, jazz records and rock bands, I am not a professional critic but an culture reporter and enthusiast of the arts. I have linked to a credentialed critic; the distinction does, to me, matter.
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  1. says

    You make it sound great, Scott, and I’m jealous I missed it. I’ve seen Denk do Ives a number of times, and that alone would be worth the price of admission. but the inclusion of “The Seven Deadly Sins,” which I love, makes me just plain jealous (one of the seven deadly sins, I believe).

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