2023 Music Director Rhiannon Giddens and Artistic Director Ara Guzelimian Share Updates to the 77th Ojai Music Festival
“I am so excited to get to work with the Ojai Music Festival as Music Director for 2023. With Ojai, I am able to sit at the crossroads of all that I am artistically and feel fully supported by the Festival team and by Ojai’s audiences. With the artists that we’re bringing out next June, the future is in celebration of how we come together as humans – despite boxes, boundaries, and borders thrown up with the intent to keep us apart.” – Rhiannon Giddens, 2023 Ojai Festival Music Director
Ojai welcomes guest artists to the 2023 Festival, including Wu Man (pipa), Kayhan Kalhor (kamancheh/composer), 2015 Ojai Music Director Steven Schick (conductor/percussion), Francesco Turrisi (multi-instrumentalist), Seckou Keita (kora), Gloria Cheng (piano), Emi Ferguson (flute), Justin Robinson (fiddle), Michi Wiancko (violin), and Leonard Hayes (piano); featured singers Cheryse McLeod Lewis (mezzo-soprano), Limmie Pulliam (tenor), and Michael Preacely (bass-baritone); guest ensembles Attacca Quartet, red fish blue fish (percussion), and members of the Silkroad Ensemble: Mazz Swift (violin), Mario Gotoh (violin/viola), Karen Ouzounian (cello), and Shawn Conley (double bass)
Highlights of the 2023 Festival programming:
• The Festival opens with Gabriela Ortiz’s Liquid Borders performed by red fish blue fish directed by Steven Schick alongside the Attacca Quartet in works of John Adams, Flying Lotus, Rhiannon Giddens, Philip Glass, Haydn, Kayhan Kalhor, and Squarepusher
• World Premiere of Omar’s Journey, an Ojai commissioned suite for voices and chamber ensemble drawn from the opera Omar by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels with Giddens (soprano) singing the role of Julie. The new work, placed in the context of the journey of Omar Ibn Said (1770-1864), is contextualized by the music of Senegal and the Carolinas
• World Premiere of an Ojai Music Festival commission by Aida Shirazi, founding member of the Iranian Female Composers Association (IFCA), for kamancheh and electronics; and Festival-wide programming in honor of the IFCA with works by Niloufar Nourbaksh, Nina Barzegar, Nasim Khorassani, and Golfam Khayam
• A reimagining of Tan Dun’s pioneering Ghost Opera for pipa and string quartet with Wu Man, Attacca Quartet, PeiJu Chien-Pott (dancer/choreographer), and Jon Reimer (director)
• An acoustic concert with Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi with music ranging from the Baroque to Appalachian ballads and traditional Black American songs as well as excerpts from Songs of Flight by Shawn Okpebholo
• Carlos Simon’s Between Worlds, four solo string works placed in visual context by their source of inspiration: the paintings of self-taught artist Bill Traylor (1853-1949) whose lived experience spanned the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Great Migration
• An “Early Music” concert curated by Francesco Turrisi with music spanning from ancient pipa music to works of Dowland and Monteverdi
• “Strings Attached” concert – a festive finale of string instruments from cultures across the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East
• Activities designed to welcome and engage the community throughout the Festival include four free events – two early morning concerts with Niloufar Shiri (kamancheh) and Mario Gotoh (violin), and with Seckou Keita (kora); an interactive community concert performance of Elliot Cole’s Flowerpot Music led by Steven Schick; and a reading/musical performance by Rhiannon Giddens of her new children’s book Build a House
Additional works featured throughout the Festival by Margaret Bonds, Chou Wen-chung, Tyson Gholston Davis, Ge Gan-Ru, Lei Liang, Jessie Montgomery, Shawn Okpebholo, and Edgard Varèse
OJAI, California — March 15, 2023— The 77th Ojai Music Festival, June 8 to 11, 2023, welcomes acclaimed musician and composer Rhiannon Gidden as Music Director. Along with Festival Artistic Director Ara Guzelimian, Giddens shares additional details for the upcoming Festival which will include more than 20 music events in the beautiful setting of the Ojai Valley.
“Rhiannon Giddens has an extraordinarily wide embrace of music, history, and culture. She uses her art to tell essential stories, to illuminate, and to create deeper understanding, dissolving false boundaries between people and cultures,” adds Guzelimian. “Rhiannon’s programs for the 2023 Ojai Festival touch on so many of her interests across musical genres, from Baroque music to Black traditions in American roots music, from classical music from China and Persia to the influence of non-Western music on American contemporary works. This is a Festival that celebrates liquid borders between cultures and musics, so we appropriately begin the programming with Gabriela Ortiz’s work of the same name. I am thrilled to be working with all our 2023 Festival artists and with Rhiannon as we bring her range of musical interests to Ojai audiences.”
One of the 2023 Festival program anchors will be Omar’s Journey, an Ojai-commissioned suite for voices and small chamber ensemble drawn from the recently premiered and widely acclaimed opera Omar by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels. For Ojai, this intimate concert version of Omar will be placed in the context of the journey of Omar Ibn Said (1770-1864), a Muslim scholar who was captured from his native Senegal and enslaved in North and South Carolina. Omar’s Journey will pair the new Giddens/Abels suite with the musical traditions of Senegal and the Carolinas of his lifetime. This world premiere features Giddens, soprano, singing the role of Julie for the first time, joined by Cheryse McLeod-Lewis (mezzo-soprano), Limmie Pulliam (tenor), and Michael Preacely (bass-baritone).
During this 77th edition of the Ojai Festival, additional music centerpieces include a reimagining of Tan Dun’s pioneering Ghost Opera performed by Wu Man and Attacca Quartet. Written in 1994, Tan’s Ghost Opera evokes the spirits of Bach and Shakespeare, standing with the ancient folk traditions of traditional shamanistic Chinese music. Ojai’s reimagined performance of Tan’s work is directed by Jon Reimer with dancer/choreographer PeiJu Chien-Pott.
Gabriela Ortiz’s Liquid Borders performed by red fish blue fish directed by Steven Schick opens the Festival. Liquid Borders will be followed by works of John Adams, Flying Lotus, Rhiannon Giddens, Philip Glass, Haydn, Kayhan Kalhor, and Squarepusher curated and performed by the Attacca Quartet.
A complete performance of Carlos Simon’s Between Worlds, a quartet of string works placed directly in the visual context of the art of Bill Traylor (1853-1949), will be performed by members of the Silkroad Ensemble – Mazz Swift, Mario Gotoh, Karen Ouzounian, and Shawn Conley – with projection mapping by Ross Karre. Traylor’s lived experience spanned the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Great Migration. Carlos Simon wrote, “Themes of mystical folklore, race, and religion pervade Traylor’s work. I imagine these solo pieces as a musical study; hopefully showing Traylor’s life between disparate worlds.”
The Saturday morning concert, “The Willows are New,” celebrates a range of works by Niloufar Nourbakhsh, one of the founding members of the Iranian Female Composers Association (IFCA), Lei Liang, Ge Gan-Ru, and Chou Wen-chung followed by solo improvisations by renowned kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor.
Ojai’s “Early Music” concert on Sunday, June 11, curated by Francesco Turrisi, plays on the idea of “old music and on music for the first hours of the day.” Turrisi’s program celebrates thousand-year-old works for solo pipa, to Renaissance consort music, from ancient Persian melodies to modal jazz improvisations.
The 2023 Festival concludes with an exuberant musical summit performed by Rhiannon Giddens, Wu Man, Kayhan Kalhor, Seckou Keita, Justin Robinson, Francesco Turrisi, Michi Wiancko, and members of the Silkroad Ensemble – Mario Gotoh, Karen Ouzounian, Mazz Swift, and Shawn Conley. This family jam session “Strings Attached” features solos and collaborations among the bowed and plucked string instruments from cultures across the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
In honor of what would have been his 100th birthday, the Festival will feature works of Chinese American composer Chou Wen-chung coupled with the music of Edgard Varèse who was Chou’s mentor. The Festival will also present music by Michael Abels, John Adams, Nina Barzegar, Margaret Bonds, Tyson Gholston Davis, Flying Lotus, Ge Gan-Ru, Rhiannon Giddens, Philip Glass, Kayhan Kalhor, Golfam Khayam, Nasim Khorassani, Lei Liang, Jessie Montgomery, Niloufar Nourbakhsh, Shawn Okpebholo, and Caroline Shaw.
2023 Featured Artists
Rhiannon Giddens’ 2023 collaborators include a mix of Festival debuts and returning artists. Audiences will be introduced to Leonard Hayes (piano), Kayhan Kalhor (kamancheh/composer), Seckou Keita (kora), Justin Robinson (fiddle), Michi Wiancko (violin), members of the Silkroad Ensemble including Mazz Swift (violin), Mario Gotoh (violin/viola), Karen Ouzounian (cello), and Shawn Conley (double bass), and singers Cheryse McLeod-Lewis (mezzo-soprano), Limmie Pulliam (tenor), and Michael Preacely (bass-baritone).
Making welcome returns to Ojai will be percussionist/conductor Steven Schick, Music Director for the 2015 Festival, and pipa player Wu Man who last appeared with Schick. From the 2021 Festival will be multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, Emi Ferguson (flute), and the Attacca Quartet (violinists Amy Schroeder and Domenic Salerni, violist Nathan Schram, and cellist Andrew Yee), as well as Gloria Cheng (piano) and red fish blue fish (percussion ensemble), both last seen at the 2015 Festival.
An integral part of the immersive Ojai Festival experience are the free community activities that occur in the Libbey Park and throughout Ojai. The 2023 Festival will include two morning Meditations at Chaparral Auditorium, the first begins Saturday, June 10 with Niloufar Shiri, kamancheh and Mario Gotoh, violin. On Sunday, June 11 the Morning Meditation features Seckou Keita, kora.
Percussionist/conductor Steven Schick welcomes everyone to make music together in the Libbey Park on Sunday afternoon. Led by Schick, the Ojai community and patrons will be invited to participate in an interactive performance of Elliot Cole’s Flowerpot Music.
On the same Sunday afternoon at Libbey Park, Rhiannon Giddens offers a special family event for children of all ages. Giddens will do a reading and musical performance of her debut book Build a House. The picture book, published by Candlewick Press, was inspired by a song that Giddens wrote and recorded with Yo-Yo Ma to commemorate Juneteenth 2020.
Beyond Ojai: Online Offerings
The Ojai Music Festival lives beyond the flagship four-day festival in June, allowing further engagement with audiences worldwide. These include the Festival’s state-of-the-art live streaming and archived library of concerts; Virtual Ojai Talks with featured Festival artists and alum leading up to the Festival; and OjaiCAST, the podcast series that provides insights on upcoming programming. The Festival’s digital projects are available at OjaiFestival.org.
Ojai on the Air with WQXR/New Sounds with host John Schaefer continues this year. The series of programs connects audiences and artists who engage deeply with adventurous new music. The first program, which debuted in October 2022 and is archived and available at NewSounds.org (episodes 4668-4671) featured discipline colliding collective AMOC, Ojai’s 2022 Music Director. Details of the second installment with 2023 Music Director Rhiannon Giddens will be announced soon. Sign up for the New Sounds newsletter to be informed of dates and about other musical adventures also at NewSounds.org.
Single Tickets for the 2023 Ojai Music Festival
Single Tickets are available and may be purchased at OjaiFestival.org or by calling (805) 646-2053. Single tickets range from $150 to $50 for reserved seating in the Libbey Bowl. General admission for the Lawn in Libbey Bowl is $20. Add-on event prices range from $35 to $50. Student discounts, OjaiNEXT young professional discounts, and group sales are available by inquiring with our Box Office.
RHIANNON GIDDENS, MUSIC DIRECTOR OF THE 2023 OJAI MUSIC FESTIVAL
The acclaimed musician Rhiannon Giddens uses her art to excavate the past and reveal bold truths about our present. A MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, Giddens co-founded the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. She most recently won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Album for They’re Calling Me Home and was also nominated for Best American Roots Song for “Avalon” from They’re Calling Me Home, which she made with multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. Giddens is now a two-time winner and eight-time Grammy nominee for her work as a soloist and collaborator.
They’re Calling Me Home was released by Nonesuch last April and has been widely celebrated by the NY Times, NPR Music, NPR, Rolling Stone, People, Associated Press and far beyond, with No Depression deeming it “a near perfect album…her finest work to date.” Recorded over six days in the early phase of the pandemic in a small studio outside of Dublin, Ireland – where both Giddens and Turrisi live – They’re Calling Me Home manages to effortlessly blend the music of their native and adoptive countries: America, Italy, and Ireland. The album speaks of the longing for the comfort of home as well as the metaphorical “call home” of death.
Giddens’ lifelong mission is to lift people whose contributions to American musical history have previously been erased, and to work toward a more accurate understanding of the country’s musical origins. Pitchfork has said of her work, “few artists are so fearless and so ravenous in their exploration,” and Smithsonian Magazine calls her “an electrifying artist who brings alive the memories of forgotten predecessors, white and black.”
Among her many diverse career highlights, Giddens has performed for the Obamas at the White House and received an inaugural Legacy of Americana Award from Nashville’s National Museum of African American History in partnership with the Americana Music Association. Her critical acclaim includes in-depth profiles by CBS Sunday Morning, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and NPR’s Fresh Air, among many others.
Giddens was featured in Ken Burns’ Country Music series, which aired on PBS, where she spoke about the African-American origins of country music. She is also a member of the band Our Native Daughters with three other black female banjo players, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah, and co- produced their debut album Songs of Our Native Daughters (2019), which tells stories of historic black womanhood and survival.
Giddens is in the midst of a tremendous 2022. She recently announced the publication of her first book, Build a House (October 2022). Lucy Negro Redux, the ballet Giddens wrote the music for, had its premiere at the Nashville Ballet (premiered in 2019 and toured in 2022), and the libretto and music for Giddens’ original opera, Omar, in collaboration with Michael Abels, based on the autobiography of the enslaved man Omar Ibn Said, premiered at the Spoleto USA Festival in May. Giddens is also curating a four-concert Perspectives series as part of Carnegie Hall’s 2022–2023 season. Named Artistic Director of Silkroad Ensemble in 2020, Giddens is developing new programs for that ensemble, including one inspired by the history of the American transcontinental railroad and the cultures and music of its builders. As an actor, Giddens had a featured role on the television series Nashville.
Rhiannon Giddens made her debut at the Ojai Music Festival in September 2021 with Music Director John Adams.
ARA GUZELIMIAN, ARTISTIC AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Ara Guzelimian is Artistic and Executive Director of the Ojai Music Festival, having begun in that position in July 2020. The appointment culminates many years of association with the Festival including tenures as director of the Ojai Talks and as Artistic Director from 1992–97. Guzelimian stepped down as Provost and Dean of the Juilliard School in New York City in June 2020, having served in that position since 2007. At Juilliard, he worked closely with the president in overseeing the faculty, curriculum, and artistic planning of the distinguished performing arts conservatory in all three of its divisions: dance, drama, and music. He continues at Juilliard as Special Advisor, Office of the President.
Prior to the Juilliard appointment, he was Senior Director and Artistic Advisor of Carnegie Hall from 1998 to 2006. Guzelimian serves as artistic consultant for the Marlboro Music Festival and School in Vermont. He is a member of the steering committee of the Aga Khan Music Awards, the artistic committee of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust in London, and a board member of the Amphion and Pacific Harmony Foundations. He is also a member of the music visiting committee of the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. In 2020, Guzelimian was appointed to the advisory panel of the Birgit Nilsson Foundation in Sweden.
Previously, Guzelimian held the position of Artistic Administrator of the Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado, and he was long associated with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the beginning of his career, first as producer for the orchestra’s national radio broadcasts and, subsequently, as Artistic Administrator. Guzelimian is editor of Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society (Pantheon Books, 2002), a collection of dialogues between Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said. In September 2003, he was awarded the title Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government for his contributions to French music and culture.
OJAI MUSIC FESTIVAL
The Ojai Music Festival represents an ideal of adventurous, openminded, and openhearted programming in the most beautiful and welcoming of settings, with audiences and artists to match its aspirations. Marking its 75th anniversary season last year, the Festival remains a creative laboratory for thought-provoking musical experiences, bringing together innovative artists and curious audiences in an intimate, idyllic outdoor setting. Each Festival’s narrative is guided by a different Music Director, whose distinctive perspectives shape programming — ensuring energized festivals year after year.
Throughout each year, the Ojai Music Festival contributes to Southern California’s cultural landscape with in-person and online Festival-related programming as well as robust educational offerings that serve thousands of public-school students and seniors. The organization’s apex is the world-renowned four-day Festival, which takes place in Ojai, a breathtaking valley 75 miles from Los Angeles, which is a perennial platform for the fresh and unexpected. During the immersive experience, a mingling of the most curious take part in concerts, symposia, free community events, and social gatherings. During the intimate Festival weekend, considered a highlight of the international music summer season, Ojai welcomes up to 5,000 patrons and reaches 35 times more audiences worldwide through live and on- demand streaming of concerts and discussions throughout the year.
Since its founding in 1947, the Ojai Music Festival has presented broad-ranging programs in unusual ways with an eclectic mix of new and rarely performed music, as well as refreshing juxtapositions of musical styles. Through its signature structure of the Artistic Director appointing a different Music Director each year, Ojai has presented a “who’s who” of music including the multi-disciplinary colliding collective AMOC* (American Modern Opera Company), Vijay Iyer, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, and Barbara Hannigan in recent years; throughout its history, featured artists have included Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, Michael Tilson Thomas, Kent Nagano, Pierre Boulez, John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Robert Spano, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, David Robertson, Eighth Blackbird, George Benjamin, Dawn Upshaw, Leif Ove Andsnes, Mark Morris, Jeremy Denk, Steven Schick, Matthias Pintscher, and Peter Sellars.