Libbey Bowl has its 'Phil'
By Jesse Phelps
The 57th annual Ojai Music Festival
hit all the right notes, according to organizers and audiences.
New executive director Jeff Haydon expressed his thanks to the
artists, community and audiences that came together to make it
happen on Monday, as the various performers were leaving town
and the pace around the festival office began to return to normal.
"The audience is just probably one of the most educated
and focused audiences anywhere," said Haydon in the aftermath
of the world-renowned concert event. This year's festival centered
on the music created and influenced by world-famous composer
and conductor Pierre Boulez and pieces that inspired him.
The long weekend got off to an entertaining and educational start
with a master class taught by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham at the
Ojai Valley Foursquare Church on Wednesday. "Susan Graham,
not only did she inspire these students but she entertained the
audience. They don't really expect that from a master class,"
A symposium on "Boulez, French Modernism and the Music of
the 20th Century" was the main course for Thursday and continued
Friday morning. Former Ojai Music Festival artistic director
Ara Guzelimian's interview with Pierre Boulez took place before
a packed church, Haydon said, and those who attended witnessed
some fascinating discourse. "As (Guzelimian) put it afterward,
'I've interviewed Boulez so many times, it's amazing how many
interesting new things I learned,'" said Haydon.
Then it was on with the performances. Friday night Boulez took
to the stage, conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic with inspirational
performances of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, Ravel's
Shéhérazade and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
"Oh my gosh," Haydon said. "To me the most spellbinding
moment - keep in mind this was the ending of the Shéhérazade
- Susan Graham holding the last note and Boulez cutting the orchestra
off. And there was this moment of silence after she held the
note. Then the croaking of frogs - then this wave of applause
just comes over the Bowl."
The Bartok piece, written for his dead wife, was an incredible
finale for the evening, jumping from cascades of melody through
playful, almost cartoonish sections, through thunder and into
the final movement, evocative of rebirth after love or perhaps
the ascent of a soul.
Pianist Marino Formenti took the stage Saturday, playing a range
of music "around Boulez." He was light and deft with
the more classical stylings of Bach and Beethoven and a seemed
a mad genius in his performances of more modern works, rising
from his bench to pluck strings within the piano frame or put
the weight of his entire body into certain notes.
"That concert just gave us a tremendous amount to think
about and I think it segued perfectly into Saturday night,"
said Haydon. "Few get the experience to listen to Boulez's
works. The technical demands of his music alone, for instance
the double piece for clarinet - that's technically a very challenging
piece because it requires sophisticated technical and audio equipment.
On Saturday, Boulez completely altered our preconceptions about
what sound and music should sound like and gave us a glimpse
of what the future of music holds."
That Saturday night program - comprised solely of Boulez's compositions
- featured a variety of master musicians led by the man himself.
"Boulez hears things that no other conductor hears,"
said Haydon. "That's the advantage of having the most gifted
composer alive, who's also a gifted conductor. The combination
of the two - he understands how the compositions are constructed
and how sound works beyond even the most advanced listener."
Graham was back in action Sunday afternoon for a solo concert,
which one local resident who attended termed brilliant. Haydon
agreed. "Susan Graham's recital," he said, "Was
just unparalleled. She just demonstrated what every artist should
strive for. Artistically the concert was at the highest level.
And the stage presence, not only was it professional, it was
engaging and it was fun, and the music, the programming, was
perfect. It was a wonderful balance of playful and serious."
Sunday night's finale, according to Haydon, provided a rare opportunity
and an appropriate counterpoint to a seminal moment in modern
music. "Very few opportunities do you have to hear Mahler's
9th performed in an outdoor setting," he said. "It
was reminiscent of Boulez's performance with the LA Phil(harmonic)
about ten years ago when Ernest Fleischmann was still executive
director. It was one of those seminal moments for them artistically.
It was very fitting to summarize the artistic achievement that
Ernest Fleischmann has helped instill in the Ojai Festival and
the partnership he has with Boulez."
In all, said Haydon, this year's festival went very well, with
packed houses and an ambience that can't be beat. "Ojai's
nature is just incredible," he said. "The city just
really comes together to make it possible."
He thought that a special chemistry occurred this year, a synergy
between crowd, volunteers, community and performers. "The
artists were so supportive of each other," said Haydon.
"I got a call 40 minutes before the family concert on Saturday
that Mr. Boulez was coming to hear it. He attended every single
concert at the festival. These were decisions that he made on
a per-concert basis before they started. They all supported each
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