‘Reimagining Josephine Baker’s Music in the Era of Black Lives Matter’ – NY Times
In the lead-up to the East Coast premiere of the Josephine Baker Project, The New York Times Zachary Woolfe sat down with Julia Bullock and Tyshawn Sorey to discuss the genesis and evolution of the project, and its particular importance at this moment in time. Read the full piece on the NY Times website or download a PDF >>
JULIA BULLOCK I had been wanting to sing her songs since college, which was the first time that anyone compared me to Baker. So I was just trying to find the right opportunity, the right person to arrange them, and the right context.
I performed a group of her songs in my New York debut recital, and Peter’s producer caught wind of it. And Peter said that if I would be interested in it, he was hooking up with Claire Chase [the International Contemporary Ensemble’s founder], and they brought Tyshawn on board and Claudia Rankine to write poetry. There was a part of me that didn’t know how much I wanted a white man grandfathering all this. But I think one of Peter’s great strengths is he brings together artists that seem to have a unique perspective and purpose . . .
Were you, are you, thinking about current events?
BULLOCK These issues, they’re always on my mind. When Michael Brown was killed, that happened 20 minutes from my home in St. Louis. All these issues are things I live with and think about daily. Yes, I understood the timeliness of what we were writing. Hearing her sing “Si J’Étais Blanche” [“If I Were White”] in 1925 is just as relevant as singing it now.
I’m half-white, and I thought it was really important as a performer to talk about my complex feelings about going into an industry predominately run by white people. Issues with exoticism still come up. Objectification still comes up. To have an opportunity to speak about that in music was great. I need to say those things right now, and the world needs to hear how I think. And to be given a platform to do it, it’s a gift both Tyshawn and I have been given.
SOREY The music that we make is comprised solely of our life experiences. The police brutality that we’re experiencing right now, it’s been happening for a very long time. I was born and raised in Newark, and police brutality and shootings happened near my block. The difference between then and now is that the media is talking about it. To do a reimagination of the Baker songs to me — even though the music per se might sound a particular way for a particular time — the lyrical content is timeless, and I wanted to create something musically to reflect what we’re experiencing now.
Is it still changing?
BULLOCK We’re all trying to share and experience and re-evaluate. So I can’t say when we’re going to have a finished product on this. I think everyone was in agreement that the first third of it, even though the music was amazing, needed to kind of get it going. So we’ve talked about establishing the relationship between Tyshawn and I, and having a more playful element to open it, creating a more welcoming space. And we’re always talking about what new songs to do .
Relive The Festival Experience
Watch videos of concerts and artist interviews from the 2016 Ojai Music Festival.
2016 Press Photos
Check out concert photos from the 70th Ojai Music Festival! Photos captured by David Bazemore.
2016 Festival Reviews
The 2016 Ojai Music Festival with Music Director Peter Sellars embodied the spirit of the Festival with an openness to exploration and risk-taking, adventure and surprise, embracing the new and welcoming the unfamiliar. Relive the 2016 Festival anytime by watching our archived live streaming concerts here.
Feedback from our audience, artists and members of the press is important to us. Read excerpts here or download the full PDF version.
In part because this 70-year-old festival’s musical leadership changes each year, its audience — loyal and attentive, with a bourgeois-bohemian vibe that aptly reflects the sheltered, fragrant Ojai — is unusually open to variation and exploration. And just four days long, the event is compact enough to give the sense that its offerings are the product of a single mind rather than a committee. This was Mr. Sellars’s personal playlist, leave it or — more often — take it. – The New York Times
As the great Southern California music retreat, the Ojai Music Festival offers venturesome refuge from normal life for locals and visitors to this blissed-out valley. – Los Angeles Times
Passion finds sustaining nourishment and intimacy in Saariaho’s exquisite chamber score, demonstrating her signature sensitivity to timbre and balance and offering affectingly dark-hued instrumental colorings – Musical America
The role of the work’s narrator (a fictitious sister for Weil created by the librettist, Amin Maalouf) was assumed by the rising soprano Julia Bullock, who lent the performance controlled vigor, tonal purity and fierce commitment – The Wall Street Journal
Her captivating Partita for 8 Voices was a close-harmony vocal exploration by Roomful of Teeth (in which Shaw is a vocalist) of four antique dances that sway and stretch in surprising and captivating contemporary ways. The work won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for composition. Baritone Davóne Tines and the Calder Quartet’s later performance of Shaw’s By and By (freely set bluegrass and gospel texts) galvanized all present. In the fine acoustics of the Besant Hill School’s Zalk Theater, the rendering by Tines induced tears from many — the composer and Sellars himself among them. – Classical Voice North America
It is not only Saariaho’s work that is gripping, but the entire array of composers on “the front edge” of the next generation that Sellars celebrates. As it happens, most of those brought together for the festival are women, a disparate group with distinctive ideas for the future of music. They, and many of the performers, also represent many countries and multiple continents, brought together to illuminate musical possibilities for the 21st century. – Ventura County Star
If all this sounds like a recipe for confusion, that’s only partly the case. Despite his deliberately esoteric approach, there’s an emotional center to Vivier’s work that this performance managed to communicate very directly to the audience, and many were visibly moved by both the music and the occasion, proving once again that certain musical experiences could only happen in Ojai. – Santa Barbara Independent
Chase silently appeared on stage, an ominously chilly electronic soundscape rising in the background. She launched herself at a tam-tam, rattling and grinding metal sticks along the surface at full fury, before picking up her bass flute. Throwing her whole body into the music, slowly breathing in and whisper-shouting into her instrument, she demonstrated why she is truly one of the most vibrant performers on the concert stage. – I Care If You Listen
2016 Festival Moments
Taken through the lenses of Katurah Ashby and Salt Arts Documentation, here are some moments from the 70th Ojai Music Festival.
Watch videos with 2016 Music Director Peter Sellars and other Festival artists who will be in Ojai this June! Use the playlist below to browse and play, or watch more videos from past years on our YouTube channel >>
Q2 Music and WQXR Present: Ojai Music Festival and Peter Sellars
Q2 Music and WQXR
Ojai Music Festival and Peter Sellars
Hosted by Helga Davis
Music and Conversation with 2016 Ojai Music Festival Director and Performing Artists
Friday, May 13, 2016
The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space
44 Charlton Street (corner of Varick Street)
New York, New York 10013
$30 general admission
Please join us for an evening of live performances from artists featured in the upcoming 2016 Ojai Music Festival and a conversation with the world-renowned music director, Peter Sellars. He will also share insights and anecdotes from a prodigious, colorful and unique career as a driving force in the creation of new music and bringing 20th and 21st century operas to the stage.
Champagne Reception to Follow
Kindly respond to Alex Spinks by Monday, May 2, 2016
646 829 4274 | [email protected]
New Collaboration With The Wallis
The Ojai Music Festival and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts are excited to announce An Evening With Peter Sellars, 2016 Ojai Festival Music Director with Alex Ross, on Monday, May 16, 2016 at 7:30pm.
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts joins forces with the Ojai Music Festival for the first time to present a lively Arts & Ideas conversation between groundbreaking opera and theater director Peter Sellars and The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross. The conversation will take place on the stage of the Bram Goldsmith Theater on Monday, May 16 at 7:30pm.
Sellars, Music Director of the 2016 Ojai Music Festival in June, has gained international renown for his transformative interpretations of artistic masterpieces such as John Adams’ Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, as well as for his distinctive collaborations with an extraordinary range of artists including Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, dance pioneer Reggie Gray and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison. Ross, a 2008 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, is the author of The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
“I am delighted that we can welcome Peter and Alex to our stage for this event,” said Paul Crewes, The Wallis’ new Artistic Director who takes the reins full time next month in April 2016. “Our Arts & Ideas series has enjoyed great success this season, and our exciting new affiliation with the Ojai Music Festival will surely deliver another great night captivating discussion between these two brilliant men.”
“We are delighted to be collaborating with The Wallis for this exciting event with Peter Sellars, our 2016 Music Director and a passionate advocate for the intersection of music and community, and Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker and acclaimed writer on music of our time,” expressed Thomas W. Morris, Artistic Director of the Ojai Music Festival are now available for $25 – $35. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit TheWallis.org, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Ticket prices subject to change.
Explore 2016 Festival Artists On Spotify
Prepare for June by listening to upcoming Festival artists using our Spotify playlists.
“The Ojai Valley has long been recognized as a rare and beautiful natural site that invites retreat, renewal, and regeneration, from Chumash ceremonial life to Krishnamurti’s legendary talks under the trees. The valley has both a grandeur and a human scale that inspire and allow the deepest human questions to resonate, and create a setting for the most personal search for answers. The magical play of light across the canyon and the heady aroma of orange blossoms bring the senses to life, awaken the mind, and create a profound aura of openness and well-being.
Music incites many of the same thoughts and emotions, with similar immensity and intimacy and awe. The 70th Ojai Music Festival will gather this powerful energy and spirit of inquiry and reflection into a weekend of peak experiences and secret revelations.
For the first time the composer Kaija Saariaho will come to Ojai. We will feature two of her most potent and visionary works. Her new chamber version of The Passion of Simone, a meditation on the life of the courageous French philosopher Simone Weil, written to a wise and humane text by Amin Maalouf, will receive its American premiere with the extraordinary young soprano Julia Bullock. It is a work of startling integrity and permanent challenge in dark times, with a flame of hope that burns brightly and intensely in the darkness. The fierce commitment and brilliance of that flame will be embodied by ICE and Roomful of Teeth, conducted by Joana Carneiro.
Kaija Saariho’s newest operatic creation is a sequence of two Japanese Noh plays in versions by Ezra Pound, entitled Only the Sound Remains. Again Ojai will offer the American premiere. These two plays will be performed in the tradition of Japanese Takigi Noh, outdoors, lightly held in the gentle grasp of a protective arroyo under a radiant early morning sky for Feather Mantle, a play of illumination, transcendence and evanescence, and just before midnight under an intense starlit sky for Always Strong, the harrowing and haunted story of a young warrior’s spirit struggling to return to life on earth.
This year’s festival will have its rituals. Mornings will begin with liberating and exhilarating Sonic Meditations by Pauline Oliveros realized by the glorious and willing musicians of ICE. At mid-day there will be concerts of the kaleidoscopic and more rarely performed chamber works of Kaija Saariaho. The later afternoons will offer music of longing and consolation. Caroline Shaw’s works will be paired with Carla Kihlstedt’s phosphorescent exploration of dream worlds, At Night We Walk in Circles and Are Consumed by Fire, and Du Yun’s peeling away the surface of the world in An Empty Garlic.