New Music Festival director
sounds upbeat tone
by Bret Bradigan
Tom Morris had an Ojai Music Festival moment during last year's
performance of Olivier Messiaen's "From the Canyon to the
During this ambitious composition about the French composer's
visit to Utah's canyonlands, "performed at such a high level"
by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he leaned back in his chair
and saw the moon surrounded by a nimbus of stars, peeking through
the oak-tree arbor.
That moment, when music reaches perfect pitch with its surroundings,
is "about as magic as it gets," he said.
Morris, recently announced as the successor to Ernest Fleischmann
as the prestigious festival's next artistic director, spent the
past few days this week getting to know the festival staff and
board of directors, to meet the people who create that magic.
He was the featured guest at board member Linda Hodges' house
Tuesday night and consented to an interview Wednesday morning
at Joan Kemper's house.
Besides the fame and acclaim he has earned as the executive director
of the Cleveland Orchestra, which has earned a reputation as
one of the world's finest, Morris consults with symphonies and
their boards about fund-raising and development.
He was hired by the Ojai Festival this past fall to conduct
a board retreat, then was asked to apply for the artistic director
post, which he will assume for the 2004 season.
"I've known about Ojai for years and years," he said.
His first festival attendance was for Pierre Boulez's production
Ojai's reputation as a showcase for edgy dispatches from the
frontiers of musical expression excites him. He used the divided
reaction to Messiaen's "From the Canyon to the Stars"
as an example. "Great music should create a reaction,"
he said. "The worst thing is indifference."
While saying it was premature to declare what personal imprint
he planned to make on the festival, some hint might emerge from
the young composers he admires.
One composer, Matthias Pintscher, is currently the Daniel K.
Lewis Young Composer Fellow on a two-year seat with Morris' Cleveland
Symphony Orchestra, with a debut of his new work by the orchestra
scheduled for May.
Other he admires are Brits Mark Anthony Turnage and Tom Ades,
American Augusta Read Thomas, as well as Austrian Olga Neuwirth,
and Swede Magnus Lindberg, who was co-founder in the early 1980s,
with LA Philharmonic's Esa Pekka Salonen, of Toimii, an ensemble
dedicated to musical experimentation.
"In my view, they're all different," he said. "But
they represent the most creative voices today writing music."
Morris is interested in bring a multi-year view to the Ojai Music
Festival, but plans to shy away from particular themes. "One
of the greatest things about music is contrast and juxtaposition,"
he said, and so structuring a festival around a theme might be
limiting. "One tends to find music that fits the theme ...
The program comes first."
An example was the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra's "Great
Disappearing Orchestra" production, with Pierre Boulez conducting,
in which 105 piece played Stravinsky's "Song of the Nightingale,"
then reduced to 65 for a Messiaen composition, further reduced
to 35 pieces for another Messiaen composition, then concluded
the performance with Stravinsky's "Soldiers Tale" with
a mere seven musicians remaining.
After each piece, the seats were removed and the spotlight focused
in on the remaining performers, until the huge stage was reduced
to those seven final musicians. "The effect it had, was
it focused concentration so strongly the audience erupted at
the end," he said.
These level of expertly-played, innovative performances are key
to perpetuating the appeal of symphonies, and ushering in a new
generation of fans, he said. "By keeping programs fresh
and exciting, and doing it at an extremely high level, is the
best thing for ensuring future audiences," he said. "Our
audiences (in Cleveland) are not going down,
and not getting older."
And so, for the Ojai Music Festival, patrons can continue to
expect "music that pushes the envelope in some way,"
Morris said. "The moral creed is to lead taste and not follow.
"The great purpose of art is to provoke, and not to entertain,"
he said. "That's not to say it can't be enjoyable. And people,
in their grand design, follow that."
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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MORRIS, executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra, will add
artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival to his curriculum
vitae in 2004.