ON THE PICTURE : The Attaca Quartet will be one of the many highlights of the Ojai 2021 Music Festival, which will take place from September 16 to 19. Photo by David Goddard
by Mike Nelson
Forgive Ara Guzelimian if he looks a little excited – too excited, even – when he talks about the upcoming Ojai Music Festival.
“I have received a lot of emails with all caps and exclamation marks from the artists who will be performing this year,” laughed the artistic director and executive of the festival. “The desire to make music for someone else is such a powerful inner motivation, and now that we finally have the chance to do it again after being slowed down by the pandemic – well, how we feel , I think, is close to elation.
An understatement, certainly. The Ojai Music Festival celebrates its 75th anniversary from September 16 to 19 and returns after the cancellation of 2020. This year’s event will attract both new and returning artists, to the delight of music lovers delighted to renew a tradition that has been acclaimed around the world.
“The response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive, with early festival pass sales surpassing recent events,” Guzelimian said. “It speaks to people’s desire to take control of their lives. “
Under the direction of Guzelimian and Music Director John Adams, the Ojai Music Festival 2021 showcases its Californian heritage with an array of local artists and composers, while welcoming those on the global stage and maintaining its adventurous spirit and sound. approach to the presentation of new music. The list of selections includes the world premieres of “Sunt Lacrimae Rerum” by Dylan Mattingly and the revised version of “La Calaca” by Gabriela Ortiz, as well as the west coast premiere of Samuel Adams’ “Chamber Concerto” and the first Esa concert -Objects Found by Pekka Salonen.
Among those making their debut at Ojai are Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco
Turrisi, pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, the Attacca Quartet, violinist Miranda Cuckson and recorder Anna Margules. Returning artists include pianist / composer Timo Andres, the LA Phil New Music Group, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
The event is a bit of a homecoming for Guzelimian, a native of Southern California who first attended the Ojai Festival as a student at UCLA and served as its artistic director amidst the 1990s. He recently resigned after 13 years as provost and dean of the Juilliard School in New York, after eight years as senior director and artistic advisor to Carnegie Hall. He spoke by phone with the Ventura County Reporter before returning from New York.
VCR: After a year of shutdown due to the pandemic, what’s it like to do live music again?
Guzelimian: It’s pretty exciting. We all crave things in our lives that bring us together and connect us with each other. The few musical events I have recently attended outside have not only had an added electricity, but also a sense of gratitude so tangible that we can do what we love.
How has the pandemic affected your plans for this upcoming festival?
We have all learned to be part-time epidemiologists and public health experts, and we are very fortunate to receive constant guidance from health officials and county hospitals. So we have a fairly large set of fairly strict protocols; we require proof of vaccination and masking, to ensure the highest standards of safety and protection for all.
Does the festival decrease or add more events compared to previous years? And what about the tone or direction of the festival?
It is slightly reduced, but quite comparable to the norm of the last 10 years. As for the tone, it’s very positive. It’s the 75th festival, and because I grew up in Southern California and have been coming to Ojai since I was a teenager, I wanted it to be kind of back to basics; which was taking shape before the pandemic and has taken on greater urgency since.
There is therefore a Californian element among composers and performers, to honor the Californian heritage. John Adams, our Music Director and native of Northern California, brings in six young composers, including two native Californians. I also wanted artists who are new to our audience as well as those who honor the history of the festival, like the LA Chamber and LA Phil. Southern California has one of the largest pools of great independent musicians in the world, and many of them suffered from the pandemic and had no income, so we wanted to honor them.
I also wanted to honor California’s Indigenous heritage, so Chumash Elder Julie Tumamait will do a blessing before the Friday night concert and lead a series of events exploring the music, culture and cosmology of the Indigenous people of the Valley of the ‘Ojai, looking at the landscape through the eyes of culture and legend. Because we get the name “Ojai” from the Ventureño Chumash word “Awha’y”, which means “Moon”.
And we will be doing recent concerts with Mexican music, since this region was once part of Mexico and Spain. Gabriel Ortiz, the leading composer in Mexico today, will be present for the performance of several of his works.
Normally the festival takes place in June, so what does September present in terms of challenges and opportunities?
Now is not the month, it is just a matter of coming back to life, and doing it under these circumstances. There will be the downside of strict protocols, but there is a fairly universal understanding among everyone that this is what it takes to make live music possible.
After being in New York for several years at Julliard, what does it mean for you to get involved in California again?
The call of the house is so intense. I usually drive in Ojai de Ventura, and my first sight of the Ojai Valley is something I feel deeply. The valley and the party [are] so wrapped up in memory and meaning, and I just want to do all I can to renew that spirit even in the face of challenges.
The 75th Ojai Music Festival takes place September 16-19 at multiple venues in Ojai, starting with “Festival Prelude” on September 16 at 9 pm at the Libbey Bowl. The events will be streamed live and archived later on OjaiFestival.org. Proof of vaccination will be required for all ticket holders, as will masks and social distancing at all concerts and events. For tickets and other information, call 805-646-2053 or visit OjaiFestival.org.