2015 Music Director Steven Schick shared with us a story of how he walked from San Diego at the Mexican border to San Francisco to propose to his wife Brenda. Walking the length of the coast, Steve says, he was “constantly engaged in this world of noise….through your ears you know where we are, what we’re thinking, where we are in the world.”
In that vein, we recently asked Steve if he would make a curated playlist – a list of pieces to listen to in anticipation of the 2015 Festival. He enthusiastically responded with an annotated “Ojai Themes Listening List,” which we have put into audio and video playlists below. While we were able to find most of what was on Steve’s list online, there were some that eluded us…if you happen to stumble across them, let us know and we’ll add them in!
Listen to the playlist using Spotify and read/watch the complete list here >>
Caught by the Sky with Wire – Nick Didkovsky (oo-discs)
Industry – Michael Gordon (SONY)
Both of these pieces come from my time with Bang on a Can. Maya was the founding cellist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars. I love her aching version of Michael’s piece, especially the way she leans into those shifting thirds. Nick Didkovsky’s piece is from our eponymous duo recording.
Symphony #80 – Haydn (Private recording)
Maya Beiser is one of my oldest friends and longstanding partners. Renga, which I co-lead with the wonderful violinist Kate Hatmaker., is one of the newest. From our debut concert, this version of Haydn’s mercurial Symphony #80.
red fish blue fish
Perspehassa – Iannis Xenakis (Mode Records)
One of most awe-inspiring percussion pieces of all times is Xenakis’s Persephassa. This recording is the first of many I did with red fish blue fish, the ensemble of graduate student percussionists I found at UC San Diego 20 years ago. The final five minutes of the recording, recorded in multiple tracks to realize accurately Xenakis’s indication for the extremely dense tremolos, is about as exciting as percussion music gets.
John Luther Adams
Mathematics of Resonant Bodies (Cantaloupe Records)
Listening to John’s music makes me feel like I am standing in powerful surf: excitement is always tempered by the sense that you’re about to lose your footing. The titanic and tidal Mathematics of Resonant Bodies has been the touchstone for our long friendship.
Amériques (1922 version)
On the first day of my first visit to New York City, I walked from a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side down the length of Manhattan to stand outside of Edgard Varèse’s house on Sullivan Street. I now know that apartment as the home of my friend Chou Wen-chung and his wife Yi-an. But on that cool sunny day in early November of 1977 all I could think of when I stood in front of the famous door was that this was where Varèse lived and worked. Even though Amériques was composed before he bought the Sullivan Street house, it has come to symbolize Varèse deep resonance with New York. You don’t have to listen very hard to hear the sounds of the city he loved.
Tabla Solo in Japthal – Ustad Alla Rakha
I include two clips of non-Western percussion pieces to underscore the solidarity I feel with all percussionists, whatever their tradition. I also like to remind myself that, as we celebrate the percussive art as one of the advance guards of contemporary music, it also has a global tradition thousands of years.
Hurt – Johnny Cash (He lived in Casitas Springs)
I love the “beautiful un-beautiful” voice. And there are lots of great examples. I chose this late song from Johnny Cash – a cover of Trent Rezner’s “Hurt” – for two reasons: Firstly, he Johnny Cash lived for a while in Casitas Springs, just down the road from Ojai, and secondly because, well, he’s Johnny Cash. My “WWJCD” wrist band stands for “What would Johnny Cash do?”
Equatorial – Edgard Varèse
Los Hermanos – Mercedes Souza
Two very different songs with roots in Latin America. Varèse’s mysterious and magisterial Ecuatorial, here in the version for male chorus and ensemble instead of soloist evokes a people in contact with their primal environment. In Mercedes Souza’s account of Atahualpa Yupanqui’s Los Hermanos, we hear people in contact with each other. Los Hermanos was the anthem of the dissident left-wing under the dictatorships in Argentina and Chile. “Tengo tantos hermanos que no los puedo contra…y una hermana muy hermosa qui se llama libertad.”
Quatre Chansons – Gérard Grisey
Le Voce sotto Vetro – Salvatore Sciarinno
Fejben zsonglőrködő férfiak
What I love about Roland’s art is the precision with which he views the theatrical space. For him a simple movement, like raising the gaze, is to be as disciplined and refined a gesture as a Mozartean cadence. This clip of his two-person show, with juggler Jerome Thoma, shows that in abundance. The precision of the visual counterpoint is dizzying!
These are pretty self-explanatory. Johnny Cash takes us on a tour of American cities. Ligeti takes us even farther away into a sound world of pure imagination. Two of Us was a rare amicable moment in the Beatles contentious last album. One of the great love songs of all times, it celebrates the Lennon/McCartney friendship.
And finally the encore!
I include it because it’s funny, of course. But behind the humor is a fundamental truth about percussion music: It’s not percussion instruments that define as much as the gestures of performance. Percussionists from widely disparate traditions, playing very different instruments, and having very different personal histories, all make the same physical gestures. The hand lifts and then, whether with or without holding a stick, falls to meet an instrument. This physical arc and the sweet kink of contact with the surface of an instrument (or in Rowan Atkinson’s case with an imagined surface) rather any particular sound that is produced is what makes a percussionist.