Interview with Jeremy Denk in The Wall Street Journal


Words and Music: Classical pianist Jeremy Denk is equally at home at both types of keyboard

By DAVID MERMELSTEIN                                          May 12, 2014 Wall Street Journal

Jeremy Denk lives surprisingly modestly for an American pianist of rising fame. The living room of his Upper West Side apartment barely contains his nearly 7-foot-long Steinway grand, so visitors are led to a tiny but light-filled kitchen, where last month he expounded on a range of musical and literary topics over herbal tea and green apples.

In person, Mr. Denk, who last year received a MacArthur fellowship and this year won the Avery Fisher Prize, exudes unpretentious learning and enthusiasm, qualities echoed not just in his playing, but also in his articles for The New Yorker and other publications. The opportunities to write came about thanks to his popular blog, Think Denk, inactive for almost a year because of his increasingly busy schedule. He recently promised Random House a book on piano lessons, an expansion of an essay published in The New Yorker last year.

“I always loved books and writing,” said the prematurely gray Mr. Denk, who turns 44 on Friday. Wearing a black V-neck sweater and charcoal trousers, he sat on an uncomfortable-looking kitchen chair. “Though I let it go for a while, succumbing to the single-mindedness you need to be a pianist, the blog seemed a natural way to return to that. And then The New Yorker wrote me, and that sort of freaked me out, causing me a whole new level of stress. It’s a very neurotic profession, writing. Blogging is much freer. And it had a wonderfully synergistic connection with my career. Now writing has become symbiotic—or parasitical. It can be very satisfying to write down something about music that’s important, just as there’s a thrill playing a phrase as you’ve always imagined it. It is weird being in these two professions at once, but it rises from music as origin. And they both demand a lot of time.”

Free time is increasingly scarce for Mr. Denk. Just back from São Paulo, he performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in Glendale, Calif., and L.A. this weekend. He’ll also play a selection of etudes by György Ligeti on that program, giving audiences a preview of his biggest commitment this season: the music directorship of the Ojai Festival in California, which runs June 12 to 15 and concludes with a concert featuring the bulk of Ligeti’s etudes.

Composed in the late 20th century, these short studies have become something of a specialty for the pianist. He performed six of them during his last solo recital in Manhattan, at the People’s Symphony Concerts last month. And he recorded most of them, to wide acclaim, on an album released by Nonesuch Records in 2012. “The conceptions in the etudes are death defying,” Mr. Denk said, explaining some of their appeal. “Even though they draw from the modern world, they reach back meaningfully to the world of Chopin in terms of lilt and color and phrasing. They are complex but visceral. Their gestures are well defined and powerful. There’s passages—little, seemingly innocuous ones—in which there’s slowing down, and every chord is immaculate and perfect and has wit and elegance. But it’s preposterous some of the things he writes and says you should do. It’s not exactly a perversity, but something like that.”

Mr. Denk, whose formative years were spent in almost equal part first in North Carolina, then in New Jersey and finally in New Mexico, is also widely admired for championing the music of Charles Ives and for his way with Bach’s ” Goldberg ” Variations, one of the keyboard’s most unforgiving milestones, which he recorded last year for Nonesuch on an album that also includes a novice-friendly DVD lecture by the pianist in lieu of liner notes. In typically self-effacing fashion, he described the bonus disc as “really more of a fireside chat.”

Yet despite the recent praise, his success with the ” Goldbergs ” was neither instant nor assured. “I’d agreed to learn it for my friend Toby Saks’s chamber festival, and then it was too late to back out,” he recalled, referring to a recital in Seattle in 2008. “The first performance was terrifying.” Subsequent engagements proved less taxing, so much so that “though I had been reluctant even to play it, I was suddenly touring with it. And then Bob Hurwitz “—the president of Nonesuch—”asked me to record it. He said I was making a unique statement, though I don’t claim that. But it does affect your life. You inhabit it, like a house.”

Bach doesn’t figure on the pianist’s programs at Ojai this year (he played the “Goldbergs” there in 2009), but he has his hands full with other concerns, especially the premiere of a work—subtitled “An Opera (of Sorts)”—for which he wrote the libretto. Titled “The Classical Style” and based on Charles Rosen’s seminal 1971 book of the same name, the endeavor, with music by Steven Stucky, was initially suggested by Mr. Denk as a joke before taking on a life of its own at the encouragement of Thomas W. Morris, Ojai’s long-serving artistic director. “I tried to write something rather serious but kept coming up with these comic thought-experiments,” Mr. Denk said, attempting to explain his concept. “It’s a little like ‘The Impresario’ of Mozart with Tom Stoppard’s ‘Travesties’ thrown in. So it’s not an opera in any conventional way. There’s a lot of spoken text and 18 characters—the singers have multiple roles. To the extent it has a plot, it’s prone to digressions and mishaps. People shouldn’t expect ‘Aida.'”

While acknowledging that “the very premise is absurd” and that the finished product is “music about music” on “a very wonky topic,” the pianist-cum-librettist clearly found the effort rewarding. “Steve and I did a lot of giggling during the workshop,” he said. “It’s very silly and joyful. It’s the world’s first and last musical vaudeville—probably.” Yet despite the self-deprecation, Mr. Denk cannot suppress some deeper feelings for the project, which is no surprise given his friendship with Mr. Rosen, who died in 2012 not long after granting permission for the adaptation. “I’m very happy about the ending,” Mr. Denk said. “I think it really captures something about Charles and about the book’s conclusion, which is very affecting and touching. Steve first went for funny in the score but then sweet and sincere. And the ending just blows me away. I was in tears several times when we played it through.”

Mr. Mermelstein writes for the Journal on classical music, film and television.





Ojai Named One of NPR’s Can’t-Miss Classical Music Festivals

We are thrilled to be named one of NPR’s most intriguing classical festivals. Ojai is in good company with esteemed and fascinating organizations including — to the east, Bard Music Festival, Caramoor, and Mostly Mozart, and to the west, Aspen and Moab.

67th Ojai Music Festival - June 8, 2013 - 10:30 PM
red fish blue fish, percussion ensemble, performs works by John Cage at the 2013 Festival Late Night Concert

According to NPR Music’s Tom Huizenga:

“What the Ojai Festival may lack in terms of its length it makes up with a concentrated supply of intriguing concerts in both early morning (Brooklyn Rider playing Glass at 8 a.m.) and late night (Uri Caine’s Sextet with Gershwin at 10:30 p.m.). Perhaps the most anticipated work on tap this year is the world premiere of The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts), a chamber opera based on pianist and pedagogue Charles Rosen’s book The Classical Style by festival music director and pianist Jeremy Denk and Pulitzer-winning composer Steven Stucky.” 




Lisa Kaplan Returns to Ojai: Read Her Ojai Q&A

2009 Ojai Music Saturday - June 13, 2009Ojai is a place where alumni enjoy returning, whether to perform or just enjoy the experience as an audience member. Lisa Kaplan is one such member of the Festival family. As one of the members of the groundbreaking ensemble eighth blackbird, Lisa was first here in 2006 when they made their Festival debut performing Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together,  and captivated the Ojai audience. It was at this Festival that Thomas W. Morris, artistic director, approached them to return to the Libbey Bowl as the Festival’s 2009 Music Director.  After their memorable and fearless stint in this post, Lisa and the “birds” were asked back to open the new Libbey Bowl in 2011 performing Osvaldo Golijov’s Ayre with Dawn Upshaw. And Lisa didn’t stay away long – just last year she again soaked in the festival experience, this time as an audience member!

Now we will welcome her back as both a performer and as a supporter to her very good friend, Jeremy Denk. Read her recent Q&A:

OMF: This will be your 5th time back in Ojai to perform but 4th since you came last year to hang out and enjoy the music. How did it feel to be on the other side of the stage as an audience member?

Kap: It was really wonderful to be on the audience side of the Ojai Festival last year. So relaxing! But also a lot to take in in the course of four days. I have been an admirer of Mark Morris for as long as I can remember, and it was truly inspiring to come out to see hLisa Kaplanow he curated the festival. Highlights for me were, the John Luther Adams’ songbirdsongs performed on Meditation Mount at 8am where the sounds of the instrumental bird songs and the actual birds singing their song were completely blurred. Hearing Yulia Van Doren sing Ives and Cowell and Cage, sitting in on toy piano to play In C on a glorious, sunny morning, and Mark’s musical choreography to all of the dance. I was blown away by his piece to Samuel Barber’s “Excursions.” A piano work I’ve never liked but somehow with Mark’s choreography, it absolutely came to life for me. Now when I hear that piece, I can’t help but think of the dancing that goes with it.

OMF: What was your advice to Jeremy Denk once Tom Morris asked him to be Music Director for Ojai?

Kap: I told him that it would be a lot of work, but totally worth it! I encouraged him to do something bold and audacious that he may never have the opportunity to do otherwise. Ojai is a playground for those kinds of projects and has a devoted following that isn’t afraid of new work so it is the perfect opportunity to program something innovative or totally crazy!

OMF: This year we are paying tribute to those who inspire us as musicians, artists, and people as well as recalling an “Aha moment” during your path as an artist. Do you have one that you’d like to share?

Kap: I feel so fortunate to have been mentored and inspired by so many wonderful people over the course of my own career. Here’s a recent “Aha moment.”

Several years ago Jeremy and I were rehearsing Mozart’s exquisite 4-hand Sonata in F major. I was so consumed with wanting everything in my part to be absolutely perfect and as a result everything sounded safe and boring. Then, all of a sudden, I missed several notes in a run. I cursed out loud, and Jeremy looked over while still playing and said, “Great! After the first mistake, then the music can begin.” That’s what Sebök used to tell me. Don’t be so worried! Just play with total abandonment and the music will flow.”

I never played Mozart the same after Jeremy said that to me. I was so much less afraid to perform it and it was far easier to just have fun and make music together. The very best part about playing together with someone like Jeremy who is so talented, is that they up your game too. I always learn something new when I share the stage, (or bench) with him.

You can see Lisa Kaplan at the Sunday, June 15, 11am concert, performing in one of the “Canonade” pieces selected by Jeremy Denk. Buy tickets here >>

Artists Share Their “Aha Moments”

We recently asked a few of our artists to describe one of their Aha moments – an experience or piece that opened up the musical universe for them. Here are some of the responses we received:

timo_mw_2013_33“Early in my freshman year of college, a graduate violinist hired me to accompany her in John Adams’s Road Movies, having failed to convince any of her pianist colleagues to do so. I’d never heard Adams’s music before, much less played anything like it, and was initially nonplussed; on the page, the piece looked easy, repetitious, even boring. I was surprised to find it cycling endlessly through my head after rehearsal. It was catchy but also tough, and I spent hours with the violinist figuring out how to play it. By the time we performed Road Movies together, I was an Adams acolyte.

That experience taught me something about myself, which is that I figure out music by getting my hands dirty, through the drudgery of practice. It is the best way I know of to answer the questions: Where did this music come from? How does it work? What can I steal from it?”

Timo Andres, composer and pianist
Read Timo’s Q&A and listen to his specially curated playlist >>

Rains Department Store At 100

WhRainsext2en I first moved to Ojai 13 years ago from Santa Barbara, it felt like moving from a big ocean to a small pond. But after getting settled and having a chance to explore the Valley, I have come to find that not only is the weather almost always perfect, but while Ojai is a small town, it in fact has everything that a person could want – visitors and residents alike – all through a cozy network of family owned and operated businesses.

Some of my favorite haunts in town are J & B’s Coffee Connection (referred to as simply Coffee Connection by us locals), Bohemia (another great coffeehouse), Rainbow Bridge (supermarket and deli), and Rains Department Store. As you can see, my tastes center around coffee (organic, fair trade and shade grown), healthy food, and great specialty clothes and items. I enjoy being able to start my day with one of the two coffee houses, walk to Rainbow Bridge for lunch, and end my day browsing through Rains for myself, or for a novelty product for a gift.

Q & A with Timo Andres


Composer/Pianist Timo Andres will be making his Ojai debut this June on Saturday Evening. Recently, he answered a few questions and even put together his ‘Driving To Ojai North’ playlist.

Finish the sentence, “If I wasn’t performing/composing, I would be…”:

There are two ways to interpret this question: what do I do with my free time, and what is my second-choice (non-musical) profession.

The answer to the first is that there are endless ways I distract myself from “real work”—participating in infinite iMessage threads, the acquiring and preparing of foods from out-of-the-way corners of the city, prowling around thrift stores, riding or working on my bike, staying up too late with friends.

As for the second, I’ve always thought I’d have gone into a visual field if I weren’t a musician—perhaps graphic design or typography. As it is, I do a fair amount of these things as a side component of my job. Designing my website or laying out a score, for example, are both good practical and aesthetic challenges.

Composer John Luther Adams Wins Pulitzer Prize for Music

JLA bioCongratulations to composer John Luther Adams who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for music for his composition Become Ocean, an orchestral work that was commissioned and premiered last year by the Seattle Symphony.

Festival Artistic Director Thomas W. Morris hailed John’s achievement, commenting: “Adams is a dear friend of Ojai, and one of the most creative of today’s composers. His unique voice blends exceptional musical sounds with the spirit of life around us into tapestries that thrill, entrance, and amaze.”

Besant Hill JLAOjai audiences have been treated to John’s works in 2012 with Inuksuit performed at Libbey Park, and 2013 with For Lou Harrison, songbirdsongs, and Strange and Sacred Noise.

Watch John at last year’s Ojai Talks as he discusses his music and inspirations >>

View the complete list of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winners here >>

Ojai’s Early Morning Pink Moment


Guest Blog by Scott Eicher

I have been an early riser for most of my life. There is a certain serenity during the few minutes between first light and the time the Ojai foothills are fully lit by the sun. My viewpoint each morning is from Sarzotti Park as I walk with my dogs. The best colors are visible from early spring to early fall, when the earth’s tilt returns to its warmer weather axis. This light show is the evening Pink Moment in reverse.

The air is still and the only sound is the resident hawk declaring his territory from the top of a eucalyptus tree. At a few places in the park, you can see both the sky and the foothills above Grand Avenue and mountains of the Wills Canyon/Rice Canyon ridge line and escarpment toward Meiners Oaks, and into the far reaches of Matilija Canyon.

Welcome to our New Media Partners

The Ojai Music Festival is made possible because of the support and enthusiasm of others, from the artists and behind-the-scenes team, donors and volunteers, to corporate sponsors and media partners. This year, we welcome some new members to our growing Festival community!

KPCC-web-logo-fullSouthern California Public Radio (SCPR) is a member-supported  public media network that operates 89.3 KPCC-FM in Los Angeles and Orange County, 89.1 KUOR-FM in the Inland Empire and 90.3 KVLA in the Coachella Valley.
Edible OjaiEdible Ojai & Ventura County is an award-winning quarterly magazine which promotes the abundance of local foods, season by season – celebrating  small family farmers, farmers market vendors and local chefs for their dedication to producing the highest quality, organic, fresh and seasonal foods. Edible Ojai & Ventura County serves all of Ventura County, an agriculturally rich area within California’s Central Coast region.
la-yogaLA Yoga Ayurveda and Health Magazine is a resource for the vibrant Yoga community of Southern California. In print, in the digital edition, online and in free weekly email newsletter, La Yoga publishes inspirational stories connecting Yoga, the people who practice, and what it means in our lives in the modern world.


Many thanks to all our media partners and sponsors. Read more here >>

“Finding Feldman” – Guest Blog by Max Mandel of The Knights

Morton_Feldman_1976“I feel that the moment, the rightness of the moment, even though it might not make sense in terms of its cause and effect, is very important.” -M.F.

By Max Mandel, violist in The Knights 

I find it difficult to talk about Morton Feldman. I’m in awe of his output. I find his music to be exquisitely beautiful and intellectually challenging, a combination very few composers achieve. I often find myself saying to my colleagues, “Yup, another great piece by Feldman.” You start thinking about him and he becomes larger and larger in your mind and at a certain point he becomes too big to deal with. It’s well-known how huge he was. 6 feet, almost 300 pounds. The thick mop of greasy black hair, the coke bottle glasses. The massive appetite, intellectual and sensual, hungry for life. The endless words, the words that poured out of him, the constant conversations with everyone (although he admitted to an interviewer once, “The problem now is that all these things are evasive subterfuges from sitting down and writing that piece of music.”).

He was engaged in a lifelong debate with the musical giants of his time: Boulez, Cage, Stockhausen. After you’re captured by his music, the legend of the man becomes almost even more captivating. For me there is a ghoulish danger there. A strange thing about living in New York City is this continual pull of the legends and the ghosts that live here. I was standing at the corner of 72nd and Central Park West when some tourists haltingly inquired, “Excuse…could you please show where the Beatle was…” they trailed off in embarrassment and yeah, they should be embarrassed, a human being was murdered right there. I shook my fist at them after pointing them in the right direction because I recognized myself in their faces.

“Our Ears Are Open Now” – Guest Blog by Colin Jacobsen

Brooklyn Rider

nothing is accomplished by writing a piece of music
nothing is accomplished by hearing a piece of music
nothing is accomplished by playing a piece of music
our ears are now in excellent condition.

So said the ever-provocative John Cage. I suppose this statement could be read as a kind of nihilism, but I see it as Cage prodding the whole musical triangle (composer, performer, listener) to remember to strip oneself of preconceptions as much as possible and allow a sense of wonder back in so that there can be the possibility of Magical Musical Moments (which I will take to calling MMM… onomatopoeia-style. For the record, that is the sound that I’ve witnessed many a Persian and Indian musician emit in the moment when another musician makes a beautiful or telling musical phrase or gesture. Not advocating for that necessarily in a Mozart Symphony, but then again, why not? But I digress…) And I sense that I’m speaking to the choir when talking to Ojai Music Festival fans. I haven’t experienced the Festival before, but have heard from all accounts (including my wife, Maile Okamura who as a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group, was there performing last year) that people come ready to really, really listen and live the experience. Still, at every point along the way it’s useful to reexamine the intention one is putting into the activity at hand and realize the potential to be ever more present, on all sides of that triangle.

Hmm, so I’d like to examine from the composer/performer’s side some aspects that are necessary for MMM to happen through the lens of some of the music we’ll be playing in Ojai. I see part of that job as allowing the audience its own space in the music, meaning that it’s an open dialogue, and though the composer/performer should have a point of view and the courage of one’s convictions, there needs to be space for the listener to have their own experience inside the music. So let me know when you see me (or feel free to write a response to this) what you think the listener’s responsibility is in greater detail. In the meantime, some thoughts on composers/performers…

6 Ways to Get Lost In Ojai…


We always love sharing Ojai activities with Festival patrons including new hiking trails to discover. Read Ojai Quarterly Editor Bret Bradigan’s recent article from the winter issue.

1. Shelf Road
Directions: From Ojai Avenue, head north on Signal Street until it ends. Length: 3.5 miles return trip. Difficulty: Easy
It takes about an hour at a brisk pace to walk the length of the trail and back between the trailheads at either North Signal Street or Gridley Road. This hike is perfect for visitors or residents to get “ the lay of the land” in Ojai. It is also one of the most “dog friendly” walks around.

2. Ventura River Bottom Trails
Directions: From Highway 150, there’s a trailhead just east of the Ventura River bridge. From South Rice Road, there’s a trailhead just north of the intersection with Lomita Road. Also from South Rice, take a right on Meyer Road to the Oso Trailhead. Length: Varies. Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.
Three trailheads lead you into the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s 1,600-acre Ventura River Preserve. This three-mile stretch of the Ventura River offers a spectacular glimpse into old-growth oak canopy, splendid vistas from rocky ridgelines, deep swimming holes, lush fern grottoes, rare wildflowers and many miles of trails to choose from.

3. Pratt Trail
Directions: From Ojai Avenue, turn north on Signal Street and drive about 1.2 miles until you see the Forest Service sign on the left. The trailhead is a further half-mile. Length: 4.4 miles to Nordhoff Ridge. Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous.
The Pratt Trail criss-crosses a seasonal stream through the backyards of private properties before opening onto a natural bowl formed by the slope of Nordhoff Ridge. Follow the signs through about two miles of dry and dusty switchbacks until you reach the ridgeline. From there, it’s another two steep, dusty miles to Nordhoff Peak, 4,426 feet above sea level.

BRAVO! Spotlight: Jacob Scesney

Each February brings a BRAVO! tradition – the annual Imagine Concert. Last week, over 1,000 local 4th to 6th grade students from eight schools attended a live performance by their older peers and professional area artists, including performances by the Matilija Jr. High strings program and a special preview of Nordhoff High School’s upcoming musical, West Side Story. Also performing were Artist-In-Residence Rebecca Comerford, local musician Jimmy Calire and special guest (and BRAVO! alum), Jacob Scesney.

Multi-instrumentalist Jacob grew up in Ojai playing the saxophone and participating in school music programs and BRAVO! workshops from elementary school, through his time at Matilija and at Nordhoff (where he won several festival awards for outstanding soloist), before transferring to the Idyllwild Arts Academy to complete his high school education. In recent years, Jacob’s burgeoning career has taken him far beyond the Ojai Valley and included tours with Casey Abrams, performances with Tim Ries, Bernie Dresel, Christian Scott, Robben Ford, and Andrew Gouche (among others), the world premiere of Rufus Reid’s Mass Transit at Disney Hall’s Redcat, and even appearances on the hit TV show Glee. He currently studies at California State University Northridge, where he was named the youngest lead alto in the history of the university’s Jazz A Band.

Watch Jacob and Jimmy perform at the Imagine concert last week:

Jacob has fond memories of his time in Ojai and recently wrote on the important role  BRAVO! played in his musical training. He writes, “The BRAVO! Program … helped forge an attitude of consistency that has helped carry me through many circumstances. These programs are instrumental to the mindset needed to be a present active professional, in whatever field.”

We’re thrilled to have had Jacob back in Ojai to share his talents with another generation of Ojai’s students. It’s not that long ago that he sat where they were, and we can’t wait to see where the next years take him.

Learn more about the Festival’s BRAVO! music education and community programs >> 

Help the Festival continue bringing music to public school children. Donate here >>

Steven Schick Solo Recitals – Reviews

7.11.132015 Music Director Steven Schick recently celebrated an early 60th birthday by giving two solo recitals, “Origins” and “Responses” at Columbia University’s Miller Theater. The first concert featured works for solo percussion by Morton Feldman, Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis, among others, while the second featured many works commissioned by Steve for solo percussion throughout his career, including Roar by John Luther Adams and works by David Lang and Kaija Saariaho.

The New York Times wrote of Steve’s perfomance, “Mathematical virtuosity continues to be a big part of Mr. Schick’s appeal. Even where the rhythmic complexities far surpass the ear’s ability to comprehend them, there is the visual pleasure of watching Mr. Schick translate them into precisely angulated and elegantly economical body movements.” Read the complete review >>

The New York Classical Review also hailed Steve, writing “Schick has absolute command of this music … He is a lyrical percussionist, whether kicking the bass drum pedal or flicking his fingertip off a tubular bell, as he did with exquisite care and beauty in the hushed interior of Feldman’s The King Of Denmark (the musician plays that piece with bare hands). Striking his instruments in time with sticks and his hands, he connects events together in phrases that would sound like Mozart on the piano. He has a graceful, elegant physical style, twisting and turning his body into the shape of clefs as he plays. Every motion has a musical and expressive purpose.” Read the complete review >>

For those of us on the West Coast, there is a special chance to hear a reprise of “Origins” on Friday, February 14th, in San Francisco, presented by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Performers, where Steve is Artistic Director. View details and purchase tickets >>

Read the New Yorker preview by Alex Ross >>
Read the Wall Street Journal article on Steve, “The Eloquent Language of Noise” >>

Guarantee Lodging for the 2014 Festival by Booking Early

Lodging in Ojai and the surrounding areas tends to fill up before June arrives – guarantee a room by booking early for Festival weekend.

View a list of area lodging >>

To learn more or for recommendations, call the box office at 805 646 2053 or our complimentary Festival concierge Sheila Cohn, 805 646 2094 ext 110 / [email protected]

Happy Birthday To John Luther Adams!

Besant Hill JLA
John Luther Adams watches red fish blue fish perform ‘Strange And Sacred Noise’ at Besant Hill School, Ojai – June 8, 2013

The Festival wishes John Luther Adams a very happy birthday! John’s music has become something of a ‘regular’ at the Festival, first in 2009 with a performance of Dark Waves by Lisa Kaplan and Jeremy Denk, and then in 2012 with the West Coast premiere of his immense Inuksuit in Libbey Park. He made it to Ojai in 2013 with Music Director Mark Morris, with his works (Strange and Sacred Noise and songbirdsongs) being the focal point of the Festival’s two sunrise concerts and the Saturday evening concert (For Lou Harrison) in Libbey Bowl.

While John was at the Festival last year, he also took part in a sold-out Ojai Talk, where he spoke about his musical influences and inspiration, and his friendship with composer Lou Harrison, among other topics. In this clip from the talk, John discusses the genesis of songbirdsongs with Ara Guzelimian:

John also spoke about one of the defining moments of his life – and his musical development – moving to Alaska:

After the Festival, 2013 continued to be a momentous year for John, with the recent, groundbreaking recording of Inuksuit receiving wide acclaim and being named to NPR Classical’s 10 Favorite Albums Of 2013. We look forward to even greater things in the upcoming year and wish John the best on his birthday. We hope we’ll have the chance to see him in Ojai again soon!

View the complete Ojai Talk with John Luther Adams on our YouTube Channel >>

Ojai’s Creative Laboratory Endures

Ojai Music Festival 2011 Day 4 - 5:30 Concert Featuring Australi
Winter Morning Walks at the 2011 Ojai Music Festival

While we don’t have a trophy case in our Ojai office, we’ve been delighted by the recent nomination of Maria Schneider’s Winter Morning Walks for three Grammy Awards, including Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Best Classical Vocal Solo. Dawn Upshaw, who received the latter nod, gave Schneider’s work its world premiere at the 65th Ojai Music Festival in June 2011, alongside the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Winter Morning Walks was a co-commission of the Ojai Music Festival, Cal Performances, and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and has since been performed throughout the country and make its Australian premiere early next year.

The award nominations continue what has been a particularly rich last few years for Festival artists. At the 2009 Ojai Music Festival, Steven Mackey’s Slide made its world premiere with eighth blackbird and used the Ojai performance as a springboard to revise and record the work, Lonely Motel: Music From Slide with eighth blackbird. Last year, the album won a Grammy for Best Small Ensemble Performance. The recent (and groundbreaking) recording of John Luther AdamsInuksuit was recently named to NPR’s “10 Favorite Classical Albums of 2013.” And joining the list of accolades are Leif Ove Andsnes, Steven Stucky, Osvaldo Golijov, and George Crumb, among others, all of whom have received Grammy nominations or wins in recent years.

What is especially exciting, for those of us in Ojai, is to see the ways in which what happens for four days each June continues to resonate long after the last instrument has been packed away. We encounter these artists as they enter a supportive environment – Ojai’s creative laboratory – for a brief time and at various stages in their careers. We then have the privilege and honor of watching them continue their artistic development. So to all the artists who have called – and will call – the Festival their home in June, thank you for bringing your work to Ojai. We can’t wait to see what happens next.


Thank You For Another Successful Holiday Home Look In & Marketplace!

Gridley exterior pink moment

With beautiful houses, incredible weather, and a record number of attendees, this year’s Holiday Home Look In and Marketplace weekend looks to be one of the most successful yet! Thank you to everyone who joined us to tour distinctive Ojai homes and supported the Festival and its BRAVO! music education program.

And special congratulations and thanks to the countless volunteers, and members of the Ojai Festivals Women’s Committee, who planned and produced the event:

Holiday Home Look In Committee

Event Chair:  Sharon McClung
Holiday Marketplace:  Joyce Greene, Lynn Munnikhuis
Creative Liaison: Susan Scott
House Acquisitions: Barbara Hirsch, Susan Scott, Aryna Swope
House Hostesses: Mary McConnel, Terry Royce
Docents:  Cheree Edwards, Shirley McClung, Joyce Robinson
Sponsorships: Susan Scott
Publicity:  Laura Reynolds
Marketing:  Merrill Williams
Editor and Treasurer: Rena Randall
Holiday Marketplace Ambiance: Christine Drucker
Advertising: Lynn Munnikhuis
Transportation: Don Law

An Afternoon with BRAVO’s Upbeat Percussion Workshops

In late October, BRAVO! launched its new program, Upbeat, at Ojai’s Community Hospital’s continuing care center. Over a dozen residents came out to participate in group music making and song performances, led by percussion specialist, music therapist and BRAVO! Artist-in-Residence, Judy Piazza.

Upbeat was conceived after a pilot workshop at the hospital, where BRAVO! volunteers brought a handful of instruments from the instrument petting zoo and led residents through a brief interactive workshop. The workshop was an instant success. Kristina Moffett, Activity Director at the Ojai Hospital Continuing Care Center wrote to BRAVO! Coordinator Andy Radford:

I am very excited to be a part of this opportunity to establish a music program for the senior care centers in Ojai. I have witnessed the benefits of what this type of program can provide for our seniors – the fun and joy that playing music brought to our residents was truly amazing. From residents who are alert, to those who are lower functioning; from residents who are physically disabled, to non-English speaking residents, everyone was able to take part. The stimulation of sound, vibrations, and movement affected every person that was there. This would truly be a benefit to our community to expand on.

When planning the workshops, it quickly became apparent that BRAVO!‘s existing instruments – trombones, trumpets, violins, chimes, etc – were not well-suited to those with limited movement. Instruments for UPBEAT were specially chosen to enable those with a range of movement abilities to participate. These include shakers and bells and struck sound instruments (drums, boom whackers). Instrument purchases for UPBEAT were made possible by the generous support of the Ojai Festivals Womens Committee, the Ojai Rotary Club and the City of Ojai Arts Commission.

Upbeat workshops are currently being scheduled at the hospital, as well as additional senior resident facilities throughout the valley. We’ll be posting photos and updates throughout the winter and spring. Special thanks to Kristina and all the facility administrators in the valley for helping to make Upbeat a success.

Learn more about the BRAVO! music education program >>

All photos by Fred Rothenberg


2013 Holiday Home Look In Performance Schedule

The Holiday Home Look In features live music from several of Ojai’s local musicians – from student groups to BRAVO! Artists-in-Residence, find your favorite performer in the schedule below:

Saturday, November 16

Carper House
10:00 – 12:00: Judy Vander, keyboard
12:00 – 2:00: Smitty West and Julija Zonic, vocals and keyboard
2:00 – 4:00: George Lemire and Richard Metcalf, vocals and guitars

12:00 – 2:00: Holly Radford, Amy Hagen, violins of the Ojai Youth Symphony
2:00 – 4:00: Laura Walter, BRAVO! Artist-in-Residence, flute

Casa Los Robles
10:00 – 12:00: Ray Sullivan, classical and flamenco guitar
12:00 – 2:00: Audrey McPherson and Leslie Kennedy, flute duo
2:00 – 4:00: Ray Powers, eclectic world music

Gridley Ranch
10:00 – 11:00: Rowan and family, violin and guitar
12:00 – 2:00: Diane Ippel, vocals and hammered dulcimer
2:00 – 4:00: Charletta Erb, fiddle

Holiday Marketplace
Nordhoff High School musical ensembles

Sunday, November 17

216062_271598706288176_359941498_nCarper House
10:00 – 12:00: Smitty West and Julija Zonic, vocals and keyboard
2:00 – 4:00: George Lemire and Richard Metcalf, vocals and guitars

10:00 – 12:00: Laura Walter, BRAVO! Artist-in-Residence, flute
12:00 – 2:00: Rebecca Comerford, BRAVO! Artist-in-Residence, mezzo

Casa Los Robles
10:00 – 12:00: Ray Sullivan, classical and flamenco guitar
12:00 – 2:00: Ray Powers, eclectic world music
2:00 – 4:00: Richard Metcalf, vocals and guitar

Gridley Ranch
10:00 – 12:00: Diane Ippel, vocals and hammered dulcimer

Holiday Marketplace

10:00 – 12:00: Jacob Scesney, alto sax
12:00 – 1:00: George Lemire and Richard Metcalf, vocals and guitars
1:00 – 3:00: Madrigali, Renaissance vocal ensemble
3:00 – 4:00: Rowan and family, violin and guitar



Meet Laura Walter, ETM Artist In Residence

One of BRAVO!‘s larger programs is its Education Through Music (ETM) residencies. ETM’s weekly workshops integrate vocal music lessons with critical thinking games to teach the fundamentals of pitch and rhythm and build interpersonal skills. In addition to its musical benefits, ETM builds the acquisition of language and movement to enhance the imagination and stabilization of children. Originally offered to only K-1 students, BRAVO! currently provides ETM to K-2  classrooms throughout the Ojai Valley.

Local musipreferredcian and BRAVO! artist in residence Laura Walter has taught ETM for several years, working with students and adults of all ages, utilizing the experience of interactive play to develop motivation and promote community building and conflict resolution skills. Recently, she’s used her work to conduct studies in topics that range from symbolic functioning in math and language systems, to the needs of typical and non-typical learners, entitlement, addiction, effects of domestic violence and abuse, and peer orientation.

As an ETM educator, Laura works with teachers and children to promote, intelligence, attention, literacy, emotional stability and beauty through the aesthetic experience. Through the use of songs and musical games, students learn to think critically, cooperate with one another, communicate their emotions, and strengthen their interpersonal relationships. One ETM activity has students match songs they know with their clapped rhythm:

Laura recently returned from four weeks in Israel where she studied the effects of trauma on childhood, society, and the role of art and beauty in healing conflict. The power of ETM is clear – as Laura writes, “Children in ETM classes create beauty, which leads to empathy and hope, embracing the important contribution of arts education. Teachers often say, ‘ETM has taught these children to be kind and respectful by creating beautiful music with each other.” ETM’s benefits may not always be measured quantitatively, but its effect on students – and all who are involved – remains incredibly profound. BRAVO! and the Festival have been grateful for Laura’s expertise throughout the years and her steadfast advocacy of ETM throughout the country.

About Laura Walter:
Laura Walter received a Master of Music degree in Flute Performance from the University of Kentucky. She studied flute with various members of the Cincinnati Symphony, New York Philharmonic and the London Symphony.  She serves on the faculty of Westmont College and also performs with the Santa Barbara Symphony, Opera Santa Barbara, as well as local choral societies. Laura has performed with several orchestras across the country, is active as a clinician and competition adjudicator, and has established and conducted flute choirs at colleges and festivals across the country.

Alry Publications has published several of her flute choir arrangements and an etude book based on orchestral excerpts.  She has performed with many musicians including Henry Mancini, Roger Sessions, Peter Schickele, Doc Severinsen, Steve Allen and Yanni. She has recorded on 12 different CD’s ranging from classical to Gospel music.

Laura is also an accomplished watercolorist and her paintings have won numerous awards at shows and galleries in Ventura and Santa Barbara. How color interacts on paper is similar to how the sounds of the orchestra instruments combine to create beauty. Some of the most interesting aspects in the process of creating visual art are similar to the process of creating music: responding to what’s happening in the moment, listening very carefully, and finding both the rhythm and the flow in work and play.

Read more about ETM and the Richards Institute >>
See more information on BRAVO! and its programs >>

Back To School at the Festival

The month of September means many things here at the Festival – planning for the next year is starting to get underway, staff have returned from their vacations, summer interns are back to school, and, of course, the BRAVO! music education program is beginning to get underway.

Each year, BRAVO! provides free, integrated music instruction to Ojai’s public school students and those in two nearby Ventura County schools. Students are led in a series of workshops by BRAVO!’s artists-in-residence (local professional musicians). These range from lessons in world music, to k-1 music eduction, to opera. To see a complete list of BRAVO!’s offerings, click here. Education Through Music (ETM) workshops will start shortly in K-1 classrooms throughout the district…stay tuned for photos and updates!

We’re excited to expand BRAVO!’s community percussion workshops this year to include Ojai’s older citizens. We’re bringing percussion instruments and special group activities to Ojai’s assisted living and continuing care facilities so that Ojai residents of all ages can benefit from participating in music making. We would like to recognize the City of Ojai Arts Commission and the Ojai Rotary Club for their generous support of the community percussion workshops.

If you’re here in Ojai, you’ll know that Ojai Day is just around the corner. Come by our Instrument Petting Zoo on October 19th and try out a new instrument  – or reconnect with an old one!

‘Inuksuit’ in Your Living Room? Not as Far-fetched as You Think

If you were at the 2012 Ojai Music Festival, chances are you caught the West Coast premiere of John Luther Adams‘ all-embracing piece Inuksuit. The LA Times’ Mark Swed called the Ojai performance a “ritual hour of enthralling rumble and shimmer”.

We had several patrons ask us afterwards if there was a recording of Inuksuit available. Many thought it might be impossible – how could a recording capture the sheer physical sense of the piece? But now, the wait is over. Inuksuit’s first recording, produced by percussionist/composer Doug Perkins, will be released on October 29. Recorded in the forests of Guilford Sound, Vermont, the recoding uses a surround mix to better capture the full range the piece – and it sounds pretty good. Click here to listen to a preview >>

“Doug really created an ideal set of circumstances for us to make this the ‘official’ recording of Inuksuit,” Adams says. “It’s a beautiful sounding of the strong sense of community that has grown up around the piece. That’s something I wasn’t prepared for, and I’m glad to be able to give some of that back.”

We can’t wait for the final release. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Inuksuit, it’s a different journey each time you hear it. So here’s to one more.

Click here to pre-order Inuksuit >>


Future Festival Dates

Plan ahead and mark your calendar for upcoming Festivals.

69th Ojai Music Festival: June 11-14, 2015

70th Ojai Music Festival: June 9-12, 2016

71st Ojai Music Festival: June 8-11, 2017

More details to come on music directors and future projects.

From the Vault: Jeremy Denk’s Notes from the 2009 Festival on Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Jeremy Denk made his first appearance in Ojai at the 2009 Festival with Music Director eighth blackbird. The pianist was very thoughtful and helpful in sending over notes for his Saturday Morning Concert, which included Bach’s iconic work, Goldberg Variations (about to be released on Nonesuch Records). As we move forward Jeremy’s return to Ojai – this time as the 2014 Music Director – read about how he first explained this piece, which has become an significant part of his repertoire.

2009 Ojai Music Saturday - June 13, 2009
Jeremy Denk performs at the 2009 Festival at Libbey Bowl. Credit: Robert Millard.

“I think the connection between the Goldbergs and the Ives First Sonata is … opposites attract?  Beauty and the Beast?  This program is a bit like a couple that you would never imagine would get together but, when you hook them up, they suddenly have a lot to say to each other.  I love the idea–a kind of painterly contrast–of the luminous, serene Goldbergs against the dark, raucous Ives Sonata.  An 18th-century German Lutheran and a 19th-century Connecticut farming family may not be all that far apart, in some sense:  they’re both spartan and spiritual.  One of my favorite parts of the Goldberg Variations is the concluding Quodlibet, where Bach takes two common tunes and superimposes them over the Goldberg harmonic ground:  a masterstroke of composition, but also a wonderful joke combining high and low, the profound and profane.  And what could be more Ivesian than that?

For me, the Goldberg Variations is a tripartite cosmos:  a third of the variations are full of humorous keyboard virtuosity, another third are extraordinary canonic demonstrations, and another third are “character pieces,” which draw on the musical world around Bach, almost reproducing that world, like a mural.  The Ives Sonata has interesting parallels to this:  it has a big arching structure of three serious movements, flanking two down-and-dirty scherzos.  The effect is that Ives journeys back and forth from the dark, wintry, severe character of his rural Connecticut family–with their plaintive hymns and ballads–to the totally different, citified world of ragtime, painting in wild contrasts a picture of Ives’s sprawling, uniquely American musical world.” – Jeremy Denk