Music Directors

1947 Thor Johnson
1948 Thor Johnson and Edward Rebner
1949 Thor Johnson
1950 Thor Johnson
1951 William Steinberg
1952 Thor Johnson
1953 Thor Johnson
1954 Robert Craft
1955 Robert Craft, Igor Stravinsky
1956 Robert Craft, Igor Stravinsky
1957 Aaron Copland, Ingolf Dahl
1958 Aaron Copland
1959 Robert Craft
1960 Henri Temianka
1961 Lukas Foss
1962 Lukas Foss
1963 Lukas Foss
1964 Ingolf Dahl
1965 Ingolf Dahl
1966 Ingolf Dahl
1967 Pierre Boulez
1968 Robert LaMarchina, Lawrence Foster, and Michael Tilson Thomas
1969 Michael Zearott, Stefan Minde,
and Michael Tilson Thomas
1970 Pierre Boulez
1971 Gerhard Samuel
1972 Michael Zearott
1973 Michael Tilson Thomas
1974 Michael Tilson Thomas
1975 Michael Tilson Thomas
1976 Aaron Copland
1977 Michael Tilson Thomas
1978 Calvin Simmons
1979 Lukas Foss
1980 Lukas Foss
1981 Daniel Lewis
1982 Robert Craft
1983 Daniel Lewis
1984 Pierre Boulez
1985 Kent Nagano
1986 Kent Nagano and Stephen Mosko
1987 Lukas Foss
1988 Nicholas McGegan, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and Diane Wittry
1989 Pierre Boulez
1990 Stephen Mosko
1991 John Harbison, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
1992 Pierre Boulez
1993 John Adams
1994 Michael Tilson Thomas
1995 Kent Nagano
1996 Pierre Boulez
1997 Emanuel Ax, Daniel Harding
1998 Mitsuko Uchida, David Zinman
1999 Esa-Pekka Salonen
2000 Sir Simon Rattle
2001 Esa-Pekka Salonen
2002 Emerson String Quartet
2003 Pierre Boulez
2004 Kent Nagano
2005 Oliver Knussen
2006 Robert Spano
2007 Pierre-Laurent Aimard
2008 David Robertson
2009 Eighth blackbird
2010 George Benjamin
2011 Dawn Upshaw
2012 Leif Ove Andsnes
2013 Mark Morris
2014 Jeremy Denk
2015 Steven Schick
2016 Peter Sellars
2017 Vijay Iyer
2018 Patricia Kopatchinskaja
2019 Barbara Hannigan

Festival Milestones

1947 May 4 – First concert features French baritone Martial Singher with Paul Ulanowsky in a recital covering repertoire from Rameau to Ravel at Ojai’s Nordhoff Auditorium.

1948 Lawrence Morton becomes first program annotator and begins his association with the Festival; Igor Stravinky’s Histoire du soldat (A Solider’s Tale) is billed as the premiere of the final version of his work.

1949 Ojai Festivals, Ltd. is officially launched as a non-profit organization.

1952 The Festival holds first outdoor concert at the Libbey Bowl.

1953 Lukas Foss makes his first Ojai appearance as conductor.

1954 Lawrence Morton becomes first Artistic Director.

1955 Igor Stravinsky conducts his own works at the Festival.

1956 Stravinsky conducts his own Les Noces for Ojai audiences; permanent benches are added to the Libbey Bowl doubling the seating capacity to 750.

1957 Aaron Copland makes Ojai debut.

1960 For the first time, all Festival concerts are held at the Libbey Bowl.

1962 Jazz flutist Eric Dolphy performs Density 21.5 for solo flute by Edgard Varèse; the Festival includes a four-day prelude of discussions lectures/concerts with Luciano Berio, Milton Babbitt, Gunther Schuller, and Lukas Foss.

1963 Foss experiments with music from Don Giovanni using three orchestras to create a kind of stereophonic surround sound at the Bowl; Mauricio Kagel is guest composer/conductor.

1964 Ingolf Dahl (USC faculty composer) is Music Director and Ojai becomes a northern “outpost” for the USC music department.

1965 19-year-old pianist Michael Tilson Thomas is featured in concert; Harold Shapero’s Serenade in D for String Orchestra and Ramiro Cortes’ Concerto for Violin and Strings are premiered.

1966 Ojai celebrates its 20th anniversary; David Raskin, film composer and friend of Lawrence Morton, writes five special fanfares for the Festival.

1967 Lawrence Morton returns as Artistic Director; Pierre Boulez makes his Ojai debut in his fifth American appearance; Boulez delays the start time of a performance to allow the Santa Paula Railroad “Orange” train to pass.

1968 Pianist James Levine makes a guest appearance; Ingolf Dahl is Music Director once again and the Debut Orchestra of the Young Musicians Foundation is in residence.

1969 The trio of Michael Tilson Thomas, Michael Zearott, and Stefan Minde lead the Festival as co-Music Directors.

1970 Boulez returns for his second visit to Ojai and includes the first American performance of his Domaines; the Los Angeles Philharmonic makes its Ojai debut.

1971 Ojai celebrates its 25th anniversary; Gerhard Samuel makes first appearance as conductor and Artistic Director; Lou Harrison’s Chinese Classical Music Ensemble presents a morning concert of Chinese music.

1972 Ethnic music is highlighted under the baton of Michael Zearott including Mariachi music from Jalisco, Mexico, drum music from West Africa, and the Balinese group, Gamelan Angklung.

1973 Michael Tilson Thomas is Music Director for the next three seasons; Tilson Thomas brings minimalism to Ojai with Steve Reich’s Four Organs with Percussion plus John Cage’s Three Dances for Two Amplified Prepared Pianos, both in their West Coast premieres; annual jazz concerts begin in Ojai.

1975 Charles Wuorinen’s A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky, a joint Ojai Festival/Buffalo Philharmonic commission, is given its world premiere.

1976 Copland returns to Ojai as does Lawrence Morton as Artistic Director.

1978 Young African-American conductor Calvin Simmons (assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) takes the baton as Music Director; Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex is performed.

1980 Sequoia Quartet, UC San Diego-based SONOR and the Los Angeles Ballet perform.

1981 USC Symphony’s director Daniel Lewis is the Festival Music Director; the program includes the West Coast premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Our Hunting Fathers with tenor Jonathan Mack and the U.S. premiere of Clementi’s Symphony No. 4.

1982 The Festival presents a Stravinsky Centennial with Robert Craft as Music Director featuring all or part of nearly 40 compositions by the master in his honor.

1983 The Kronos Quartet and The Musicians of Swanne Alley make their Ojai debuts; Ravi Shankar returns.

1985 Under the recommendation of Pierre Boulez, young conductor Kent Nagano makes his first Ojai appearance as Music Director; The music of Olivier Messiaen is highlighted and attends his first Ojai Festival; Messiaen’s wife Yvonne Loriod performs in a piano recital.

1986 Due to the success of his first Ojai Festival, Nagano is invited to return as Music Director; Composer-conductor-percussionist Stephen “Lucky” Mosko conducts Saturday evening’s concert, which includes the West Coast premiere of John Adams’ The Chairman Dances.

1987 Lukas Foss comes back to Ojai; the Festival is dedicated to Lawrence Morton who passes away earlier in the year.

1988 Peter Maxwell-Davies is composer-in-residence; Nicholas McGegan is Music Director along with his Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, which was also in residence this season.

1989 The Festival highlights the work of composer György Ligeti; Boulez is Music Director.

1990 Stephen “Lucky” Mosko returns but this time as Music Director and Elliott Carter is the composer-in-residence; for the first time in Festival history there is no music from the past or music by any European composers.

1992 Boulez as Music Director brings famed director Peter Sellars to Ojai; Sellars stages Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat in its fifth incarnation in Ojai; however, he re-stages the work using inner-city actors in the cast and the back of a flatbed pick-up truck as part of the setting; Ara Guzelimian is named Artistic Director.

1993 John Adams makes his first Ojai appearance as Music Director highlighting the work of Cage, Reich and Gorecki.

1994 For his seventh Festival, Michael Tilson Thomas journeys back to Ojai as Music Director along with his New World Symphony.

1996 The 50th Anniversary of the Ojai Music Festival is led by Pierre Boulez; pianist Mitsuko Uchida makes her first appearance at the Festival.

1997 Pianist Emanuel Ax is Music Director; Daniel Harding is principal conductor; Artistic Director Ara Guzelimian bids farewell to Festival.

1998 Ernest Fleischmann begins his tenure as the Festival’s third Artistic Director; Mitsuko Uchida is Music Director; David Zinman is principal conductor.

1999 Esa-Pekka Salonen makes his Ojai debut and creates a program dedicated to Finnish music. Composer-in-residence is Magnus Lindberg.

2000 Sir Simon Rattle makes his Ojai debut as Music Director; the Festival features the U.S. premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Kai and the West Coast premiere of Thomas Adès’ Asyla.

2002 Marking the first time for a group, the Emerson String Quartet is Music Director. 2003 Pierre Boulez returns as Music Director with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

2004 Kent Nagano returns, this time with his Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, which makes its Ojai debut; Thomas W. Morris begins his tenure as the Festival’s fourth Artistic Director; the Festival presents the world premiere of Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s SNAGS & SNARLS.

2005 British composer/conductor Oliver Knussen is Music Director; The Cleveland Orchestra with Music Director Franz Welser-Most; British composer Jonathan Cole’s Testament is given its world premiere and is a joint commission by the Sue Knussen Commissioning Fund, London Sinfonietta and the Festival.

2006 The 60th anniversary of the Ojai Music Festival is led by Robert Spano as Music Director and featured composer is Osvaldo Golijov; Golijov’s revised concert version of Ainadamar is given its West Coast premiere

2007 French pianist, Pierre Laurent Aimard, makes his Festival debut as Music Director along with Hungarian composer/conductor Peter Eötvös. The program includes two US premieres by Eötvös– Sonata per Sei and Chinese Opera.

2008 Conductor David Robertson marks his first Festival as music director. Composer Steve Reich returns after a 35-year absence with his music at the centerpiece of the Festival. Dawn Upshaw returns for her third visit to Ojai. French composer Francois Narboni enjoys the U.S. premiere of his work El Gran Masturbador and Michael Jarrell’s Cassandre makes its West Coast premiere.

2009 Chamber ensemble eighth blackbird debuts as the Festival’s second ensemble to be Music Director. The program includes the co-commissioned premiere of Slide composed by Rinde Eckert and Steven Mackey.

2010 British composer and Messiaen student, George Benjamin, makes his Festival debut. Program includes works of Benjamin, including the West Coast premiere of Into the Little Hill. Also featured is the music of Frank Zappa, the German orchestra Ensemble Modern, and a selection of Indian Ragas

2011 Dawn Upshaw returns for her fourth appearance, this time as music director celebrating the opening of the new Libbey Bowl. World premieres include the staged production of George Crumb’s The Winds of Destiny directed by Peter Sellars and composer Maria Schneider’s Winter Morning Walks performed by Upshaw. The Festival launches Ojai At Berkeley, which brings three Ojai concerts to Cal Performances at UC Berkeley.

2012 The Festival presented the West Coast premiere of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit at Libbey Park performed by 48 musicians and the American premiere of Bent Sørensen’s Piano Concerto No. 2, “La Mattina,” performed by Music Director Leif Ove Andsnes

2013 Mark Morris, the first dancer/choreographer to serve as Music Director presents a program celebrating on iconic American composers Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell and John Cage

2014 MacArthur Fellow and pianist Jeremy Denk takes on the helm as Music Director. The Festival features the world premiere of the comic opera, The Classical Style: An Opera (of sorts) with music by Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Steven Stucky and a libretto by Jeremy Denk.

2015 The Festival celebrates the 90th birthday of Pierre Boulez with the West Coast premiere of A Pierre Dream; Steven Schick is music director, the first time a percussionist is named in this role; Ojai presents two west coast premieres by Pulitzer Prize winner John Luther Adams: Sila: The Breath of the World and Become River.

2016 Celebrated theatre/opera director Peter Sellars returns as music director and leads the Festival in its milestone 70th year with the US premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Passion de Simone (chamber version), world premiere of Caroline Shaw’s This might also be a form of dreaming and the world premiere of Josephine Baker: A Portrait featuring Julia Bullock and Tyshawn Sorey.

2017  MacArthur prize winner/Downbeat Magazine musician of the year Vijay Iyer makes his Festival debut and brings a diverse community of new artists to Ojai; George Lewis’s Afterword, an opera – a celebration of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

2018  Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja leads Ojai as Music Director featuring premieres and news works, including her own stage conceptualizations of Bye Bye Beethoven and Dies Irae.

2019 Soprano, conductor, teacher Barbara Hannigan introduces Ojai audiences to the LUDWIG orchestra and her mentoring program Equilibrium Young Artists; presented the staged version of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress; the Festival recognizes Artistic Director Thomas W. Morris’ final year after a 16-year artistic legacy.



Press Quotes

“Ojai Music Festival has been raising a finely calibrated ruckus each spring since 1947…. To attend Ojai is to enter a happily topsy-turvy world where longtime patrons are as avid for new music as they are for classic repertory.”
The New Yorker

“There’s nothing quite like Ojai. The festival is to the music world what the town is to the rest of Southern California: a lovably eccentric jewel, a tiny explosion of beauty, weirdness and overkill. The art is rigorous, but the vibe is relaxed, smiling and uncrowded — part weekend getaway, part laboratory.”
– New York Times

“The Ojai faithful – an audience prized for its open minds and congeniality – proved ever faithful.”
Los Angeles Times

“Ojai has earned its reputation as one of the most important events on the annual American cultural calendar.”

“There is nothing dutiful about the approach of either the performers or the audience, but a truly festive spirit in the way they come together for this annual long weekend. Few other audiences are as open-minded or curious as those who gather on the benches or lawns of Libbey Bowl in Ojai’s park.
Sunday Telegraph

“If the music wafting on this valley’s breezes tells us anything, it’s that history lives at Ojai.”
Wall Street Journal

“No walls, no floor, no ceiling, no acoustic paneling. Just grass, trees, birds, bees, and earnest music making … Ojai isn’t quite a fantasy island in the South Pacific, but its surreal, atmospheric beauty isn’t far removed … Who would have though that this quiet unassuming city … would, for one weekend a year, become a mecca for today’s contemporary music intelligentsia and maintain a loyal following in the process?”
Symphony Magazine

“It’s [The Festival] the rubbing-together of the primitive and the sophisticated that lends Ojai its charm. The outdoor setting removes the preciousness from serious musical endeavour without compromising standards, while its intimacy seals the performer-audience relationship…”
Financial Times

“… legendary in new-music circles. Here in the foothills 85 miles north of Los Angeles, Stravinsky, Copland, Boulez, Messiaen, Lukas Foss, Tilson Thomas, John Adams, Salonen, Mitsuko Uchida, Emanuel Ax, and the Emerson String Quartet have all found a brief musical haven.”

“…it’s the interaction of extraordinary composers, conductors and performers that gives Ojai its symbiotic essence and makes it a small but mighty festival.”
Ventura County Star

“…compact but wide-ranging… [one of] the summer’s best performing arts festivals.”
Travel & Leisure Magazine

“…this extraordinary weekend, its triumphant proclamation of the mingled roles of music and the human spirit.”
LA Weekly

“In this case, it was not Vienna, nor Berlin, but the small festival of Ojai that – as far as the interpretation of great symphonic works is concerned – could be seen as the hub of the musical world.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“The annual Ojai Festival is a miniature, less expensive California version of Salzburg — an out-of-the-way place where passionate musicians, critics and fans can gather, schmooze and pontificate, and in between listen to some world-class music.”

“No arm’s-length tolerance of new music here. Upscale locals, Los Angeles intelligentsia and out-of-towners crowd Libbey Bowl’s near-primitive outdoor facilities for four days and devour music normal audiences might greet with bewilderment.”
New York Times

“It’s close to nirvana”
Orange County Register

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Artist Quotes

“I like this small community, and I like the fact that this is a very compact festival.”
Pierre Boulez

“Ojai is very different, of course. It’s really predicated upon the notion of a very intelligent, musically aware audience that is interested in hearing unusual works.”
John Adams

“I love the town, and I admire what the festival has stood for since its inception. It has always been a very adventurous festival, one that has encouraged new artists and very interesting elements of the avant-garde. At the same time, it has focused on the qualities of the recognized masterpieces of the musical civilization. I don’t mean that to sound ponderous. Everything about Ojai is so relaxed and natural. That’s one of the great charms of being there.”
Michael Tilson Thomas

“Looking back over Ojai history, the Festivals has a history of giving people a chance before they become really recognized for their talents. Stravinsky, Boulez, Tilson Thomas. It is an important pivotal point for a lot of artists…And there is the unusual mingling with people. Real people. The absence of slickness. No pretense. No feigning or pretending. That is refreshing”
Kent Nagano

“Ojai’s marvelous and improbably large fan-base reacted to everything that we threw at them with visible fascination, audible excitement and a spirit of adventure that I’ve not seen elsewhere!”
eighth blackbird

”Reports over the years had lead me to believe I would enjoy Ojai – but not to the degree I experienced last week. What an extraordinary place, what a wonderful venue to perform, what a remarkable audience…added to that, the beauty of the valley, the glory of the light, the stars and the birdsong…”
George Benjamin

“The first time I visited, in 2001, I had no idea of the beauties to be found in this eclectic small town that has played host to some of music’s greatest luminaries. There is a very special spirit of collaboration here, fostered in part by the gorgeous natural setting and also by the friendly engagement of everyone involved. Singing the music of John Adams, Luciano Berio, and Osvaldo Golijov in three Ojai Festivals over the past decade has been a true highlight for me.”
Dawn Upshaw

“Ojai is like a dream. For me personally, it was a great reality where my two cultures met. I couldn’t believe that I was staying right there on famous Ventura beach, the heart and soul of California surfing. And there up the hill in Ojai was the heart and soul of American great music-making.”
Richard Tognetti (Australian Chamber Orchestra)

“I’m incredibly grateful to the town of Ojai and the place, and all the ridiculous amount of people here who help make this mildly insane weekend of music possible.”
Jeremy Denk

“Ojai’s marvelous and improbably large fan-base reacted to everything that we threw at them with visible fascination, audible excitement and a spirit of adventure that I’ve not seen elsewhere!”
eighth blackbird

“…Ojai has the best audience in the world.”
Leif Ove Andsnes

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Festival History

In the Ojai Spirit
A look at the eclectic history of the Ojai Music Festival

For more than six decades the Ojai Music Festival has been a laboratory for the special chemistry that results from combining insatiable curiosity with unbounded creativity. The formula is simple: Each year a music director is given the freedom and resources to imagine four days of musical brainstorming. Some have approached their task with caution, fearing that Ojai might be like other places. But, of course, it’s not. More often this unique blend of enchanted setting and an audience voracious in its appetite for challenge and discovery has inspired a distinguished series of conductors, performers, composers to push at boundaries and stretch limits.

At its inception in 1947, under the guidance of Festival founder John Bauer and conductor Thor Johnson, the Festival featured a balance of classics and more contemporary fare. By the time Lawrence Morton took over as Artistic Director in 1954 the emphasis had shifted to New Music and Ojai soon became the showcase as well as a home-away-from-home for such 20th century giants as Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Lou Harrison, and Olivier Messiaen, not to mention two Southern California “locals”: Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky. It was Morton who established the tradition of rotating Music Directors and with this innovation each year’s Festival became the reflection of a succession of larger-than-life personalities, including Robert Craft (joined in 1955 and 1956 by Stravinsky), Copland, Ingolf Dahl, the late Lukas Foss, Boulez, Peter Maxwell-Davies, as well as such rising stars as Michael Tilson Thomas, Calvin Simmons, Kent Nagano, John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and David Robertson. Through the years Ojai’s Music Directors have invited distinguished soloists, first-rate chamber ensembles, and world-class orchestras to join them in exploring the intersection between New Music and everything from jazz and improvisation to electronics and computers; dance, theater, and experimental staging to social and political issues, not to mention repertory that might go back to the Middle Ages or reach across the globe.

Looking back, it would be difficult to identify any overarching aesthetic premise, though from year to year there has been no shortage of agendas. Rather, the thread running through these past decades has been this Festival’s consistency in promoting creativity and innovation. Here in Ojai hallowed masterpieces and in-your-face experiments can be uneasy bedfellows sharing a berth that is a pedestal of repose for one, a trampoline for the other. And that rumble you hear? It is the steady grumbling from an audience whose outspoken views on any and every subject are the entitlement of its loyalty. Its passion is the true barometer of the health of this Festival. No smugness here; no indifference, either. This is a place for enthusiasms, often excessive, and opinions, sometimes vociferous, and a hunger for shared discovery that reaffirms, year after year, why music matters in the first place.

-Christopher Hailey

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General Facts

• Ojai Valley population: 7,862
• Libbey Bowl: 964 seats and 375 lawn

• Operating Budget: $2 million 
• Revenue sources: 75% donations, grants and sponsors; 25% ticket 

• Board members: 18
• Board of Governors: 28

• 50% subscribers are donors 
• 59% of ticket buyers return every year
• Number of Donors: 311
• Tickets sold: 5,800
• Attendance at free community events: 2,000 
• Digital audience: 93,492

• 43% Los Angeles 
• 34% Ojai, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties
• 15% Other California (San Diego, Orange County, Northern California)
• 8% Out of State

• Public school students served in the Ojai Valley and area Ventura schools: 2,800
• Repeat experiences with students: 32,250
• Free workshops in public schools: 1,075
• 51% students classified as economically disadvantaged
• Schools and senior centers served: 18
• Artists-in-residence: 7
• Arts management interns: 15

*as of October 1, 2018