Show going on
By Jesse Phelps
The wind blowing through Ojai
this week may be sighs of relief from Ojai Music Festival organizers.
The world-renowned festival, scheduled for this weekend, Wednesday
through Sunday, suddenly lost a key performer last week but gained
two excellent replacements. Pianist Mitsuko Uchida, one of the
headliners and much appreciated among local audiences, had to
pull out due to exhaustion after what festival director Jeff
Haydon called "an aggressive" performance schedule.
Uchida is recovering well, says Haydon, but "She needed
a break. We hear she's doing better, she's very sorry she missed
it, and she's already told (festival coordinators) that she's
very interested in coming back." Haydon says that Uchida
canceled, at her doctor's request, a performance with the Los
Angeles Philharmonic scheduled for this week with the hope she
could pull through for the Ojai Music Festival. Doctors, however,
nixed the idea, saying she needed at least two weeks recovery
Piano aficionados need not worry, however. "Her replacement
is great," according to Haydon.
Helene Grimaud, who will perform Bartok's Concerto No. 3, replacing
the Mozart concerto originally scheduled, at the festival finale
on Sunday afternoon, is "also an internationally regarded
pianist," says Haydon. "Actually, a lot of people know
her not only for her piano performances, but she's also an avid
Haydon thinks the change may actually create new and wonderful
juxtapositions. "The combination of Bartok (no.) 3 and Mahler
(no.) 9, people are just going to walk away with just an incredible
Haydon said it was a real coup for the festival to be able to
get Grimaud, who will fly out to practice later this week, then
fly back to her home in New York to deal with her furry companions,
then fly out again to perform on Sunday. "It's actually
pretty amazing that we got her," says Haydon.
He says that feedback has been extremely positive in the wake
of the change. "We're really sorry (Uchida) is not coming
but we're amazed at the replacement," said one caller.
In Saturday night's main event, Uchida will be replaced by Los
Angeles' Mark Robson, another extremely talented performer.
One thing that hasn't changed will be the presence of Marino
Formenti on piano on Saturday, beginning at 2:30. Actually, the
Formenti program will begin at 1:30 with a "chalk talk."
According to those who have met him, Formenti is a big personality
with an even bigger musical gift. Haydon says no other performer
will give a pre-performance talk but that Formenti loves to do
so. "He's not afraid to go out and embrace everybody and
say, 'I'm excited about this music and I want you to be excited
about it, too."
Formenti has something of a reputation as a larger-than-life
persona. "Everybody has their Marino story," says Haydon.
"He's Italian, he's good looking, he's just incredibly brilliant
and gifted playing the piano." Haydon relays that Formenti
is so connected to his instrument that it's necessary to have
a piano on hand for him at all times during his visit. "He's
just one of these people who devours music," says Haydon.
Formenti released two albums in the past months, neither of which
has been available prior to this weekend on American soil. Haydon
says both should be available at the festival.
An early release of the recording revealed much.
On "Nothing is Real," named from the Beatles classic
"Strawberry Fields," Formenti builds suspense with
silence and atmosphere through octave changes. Piano mixed with
stock audio, notes with knocks and noise, combine to create a
soundscape something like the surreal score to a whimsical horror
The familiar refrains of "Strawberry Fields" appear
over a windy background, dramatic in their simple, hanging phrasing.
Formenti builds a remarkably structured record from there; it's
out but it's cohesive. He segues experimentally between various
forms of noise and semi-silence and into themes like a discordant
ringing noise capable of putting cats' tails on end.
he monotonal jangling creates
the feeling that Formenti is, on some level, angling toward the
essence of music itself through the exploration of a single note.
This delving into the primordial resonance of a simple element
through staccato repetition is suddenly counterbalanced by unexpected
harmony. Music which moments ago became a hypnotic meditation
creates balance and equilibrium in the ensuing silence. The original
motif, now beautifully heightened, becomes a melancholy resolution.
For his part in the runup to his first Ojai Festival, Haydon
expressed much joy at being a part of a festival with so much
international acclaim, such a diverse, cutting-edge lineup of
performers and such a powerful volunteer force of more than 200
people working to make it happen. He says that, so far, everybody
has shown tons of support.
"I just really look forward," says Haydon, "to
after the festival is done, spending some more time within the
community, getting to know the community better and them to get
to know me, finding more ways that we can work together and bring
the festival even closer to the community."
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
Pierre Boulez conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a photo
from the 1996 Ojai Music Festival.