Saturday afternoon, already. We’re half-way through this year’s Ojai Music Festival, and I need some time-shifter to slow things down. Today’s mid-day concert was superb. Dawn Upshaw, but that’s redundant. It was a lovely program. Each song, seemingly, gave her a different opportunity to tell a story. Anyone there could pick a different set of highlights. My own included a simple, beautiful song by Ruth Crawford Seeger of a lyric by Carl Sandburg, “White Moon”. But then an absolute highlight came with the last set: a French song by Kurt Weill and three cabaret songs by William Bolcom. For each of her two breaks, giving her friend and accompanist Gilbert Kalish a solo, Upshaw sat in a chair by the piano. Just watching her gave a lesson in performance secrets as she sat there, focused on the music, changing expression with the shadings of the music on the piano. Being in Ojai, hearing Dawn Upshaw. We have a lot to be thankful for.
The Festival began Thursday night with a Steve Reich retrospective: Eight Lines (1983), Nagoya Marimbas (1994), Four Organs (1970), and Daniel Variations (2006). Signal and So Percussion gave lovely performances, conducted by Brad Lubman. The audience enjoyed the treat. For Four Organs, this was the 35th anniversary of its first performance at Ojai. Having heard Daniel Variations performed by the Master Chorale in the Disney, it was a less powerful version outdoors at Ojai, with four singers instead of a chorus. There were slight gains in clarity of the words, but that probably depended on location of your seat. Still, I’ll keep my recording of the Master Chorale’s performance.
In the Friday night concert David Robertson gave us music for the theatre, music of humor and fun. The focus of the night was performance of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), complete with a live performance of Chaplin’s music for the film, as reconstructed. Great music? No, but it was fun to hear and see how his musical ideas could be used to support his film. And it was interesting to see how difficult it was to see his film transition between silent movies and the talkies, so that other than its background music, the film used recorded sound only in those instances when the sound was central to Chaplin’s idea. To me it was a long stretch, however.
The music was much more interesting in the first half which opened with George Antheil‘s A Jazz Symphony (1925, revised in 1955). This music was a surprise to me; it had wit, and charm, and sparkle; its musical ideas were interesting. (It helped that there was a good performance by a conductor and darn good orchestra that followed all of the jagged rhythms and changing meters, and that Gloria Cheng was here at Ojai for the crucial piano role.) I guess I’ll have to make a point of listening to some other music by Antheil; his music seems to deserve more than a footnote to the musical history of the 20s or of the Hollywood film.
The first half ended with another first for me, the performance of Francois Narboni’s El Gran Maturbador (2000) for orchestra and electronics. This is a complex set of elaborate interactions between sampled sound and acoustic instruments. I looked for a recording of this after the concert, to hear it again.
Friday’s seminar sessions gave us a triple treat. The morning was spent with The Master discussing the West Coast trends in music, from Charles Seeger to John Luther Adams. Then David Robertson discussed his three programs and Steve Reich closed the afternoon. Ara Guzelimian, as usual, was a skilled and sensitive moderator.
Thursday night was a reception honoring the newest classical music blogger in the West, Alan Rich. You’ll want to put this site in your bookmarks.