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Jerry Bowles
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Monday, June 12, 2006
The Weekend in Ojai: Dawn Ascendent

Saturday and Sunday concerts at Ojai gave us one of the most memorable experiences of a great artist making great music that I have experienced. The Sunday morning concert had Dawn Upshaw performing the program of her concert at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall: Berio’s Folk Songs (1964) followed by the work written for her, Golijov’s Ayre (2004). I have the recording, but I was swept up and swept away by Dawn Upshaw in this live performance. This was a performance of such a high level of artistry and emotional as well as artistic commitment that you believed there was nothing left for the performers to give us. The pull from the stage was so strong that it drained us in the audience. I envied the people in New York who had the opportunity of hearing this work for the first time.

During the Berio work before intermission, it was fascinating to see Upshaw prepare herself for each song, establishing the emotional attitude and level for that particular song, changing not only her facial expression but her posture and the way she held her hands. With the much stronger emotional forces being expressed in Ayre, you could see the great actress placing herself in each role; you also appreciated the instrumental interludes and transitions between songs to adjust and prepare for the next.

Eighth Blackbird (minus keyboard, plus harp) provided the accompaniment in Folk Songs and the core of the ensemble for Ayre. With one exception, the added instrumentalists also participated in the recording. They all seemed caught up in making this performance a special one. Driving back to Los Angeles Sunday night we were still talking about the performance we had seen and heard.

The evening’s concert gave us the third major Golijov work of this year’s Ojai, Oceana (1996). This was written in a commission for the Oregon Bach Festival and Helmut Rilling. Ojai brought out the singer around whom the solo part was created, Luciana Souza. The Atlanta Chamber Chorus provided the vocalists, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra the instrumentalists, and Robert Spano conducted. Spano and the Atlanta forces performed this work during their “festival” of Golijov’s works. This cantata-like setting of the “Oceana” poem of Pablo Neruda, from his “Cantos Ceremoniales”, uses the soloist as an acolyte of the goddess, calling out to Her in songs without words, leaving the text for the chorus; much as I enjoyed Souza in the Saturday evening concert which I’ll mention, I felt that the mixture of a jazz voice with the orchestra and chorus to be one of the less successful elements in this work. The chorus was strong, and the orchestra did well in their role. There were elements of real interest in the work, but Golijov would soon do much, much better.

Spano and Thomas Morris, Artistic Director of the Festival, decided to have the rest of the program deal with farewells. The first half of the concert was one of two opportunities in the Festival to hear the Atlanta Symphony in a significant orchestral work. They gave us the John Adams Chamber Symphony (1992), followed by Berio’s Requies (1984) and by the Busoni/Adams Berceuse Elegaic (1909/1989). The Chamber Symphony is not my favorite Adams work, but the Atlantans seemed to miss all fun in the piece, diligently counting beats to keep the cross-rhythms straight. The orchestra did well in the two somber works before intermission. Oceana was followed by Berio’s orchestration of Bach’s unfinished Contrapunctus XIX (2001) which dissolved into the Dona nobis pacem from Bach’s Mass in B Minor. The Orchestra didn’t have much of an opportunity to really shine in all of this, but the chorus was great.

The chorus gave the concert Saturday morning. This was the least interesting program I’ve heard in my visits to Ojai. I’m sure this would have been an exciting program if done by a cathedral choir on a Sunday afternoon in a church. The program contained some rarely heard twentieth-century works, all a capella: four motets by Copland (1924), four motets on Gregorian themes by Duruflé (1960), a lamentation by Tavener (1944), a Mass by Vaughn Williams (1921), and an absolutely gorgeous motet by Messiaen (1937) followed by a Thomas Tallis motet to the same text. The chorus was quite good. Is there so little secular music for chorus by contemporary composers?

Saturday night’s concert gave us Luciana Souza with Romero Lubambo on guitar in duets of Brazilian songs, notably those of Jobim. I wish Oceana had allowed her as much leeway to improvise on the notes and to play games with the rhythms; these were delightful duets. The second half of the concert was given to De Falla: his chamber-sized Concerto in D Major for harpsichord, flue, oboe, clarinet, violin, and cello; and a suite from his El amor brujo (1925). How many decades has it been since I last heard “Ritual Fire Dance”? The suite enabled us to hear Souza in two more songs.

My own favorite events of Saturday were two related to the Festival. We saw demonstration by Trimpin of his “Conloninpurple” instrument/installation. The instrument itself is something like a disassembled xylophone: 60 wooden blocks, sounded by a computer-activated striking mechanism, organized into ten groups of six vertical keys, surrounding the space in a room. To accentuate the sound, each block is beneath a resonator of an aluminum tube. Half of the resonators have extensions of trumpet-like bells and back-end closed resonating spaces to add overtones. The resonators are all in a magenta purple. The idea came to Trimpin from his visits with Nancarrow and the work Nancarrow was doing trying to construct a percussion instrument controllable through piano rolls. The most fun of the demonstration was that three young musicians composed works for Trimpin’s instrument. The most accomplished work was by the young Luke Thomas Taylor who has recently received his Master’s from CalArts; commemorating Nancarrow and one of his instructors, James Tenney, he wrote a canon in equal temperaments which he had the computer play for us. The most mind-boggling, however, was from a freshman who had been serving as Trimpin’s assistant in the installation. Albert Sackner Behar is a freshman in high school. All of 14, his first composition was performed when he was 9. You can listen to some of his music here.

Saturday afternoon Ojai showed a DVD of the film Betty Freeman: A Life for the Unknown, produced in Salzburg. Frank Oteri had the best interview with Betty, published here. She is, of course, the country’s outstanding philanthropist for new music, even though most of her recent interests have been European; just read the list of her commissions in the Oteri series. Betty told me that she expected about four people to come, but there were about 200, with very little publicity; her musical appreciations are much higher than her self-appreciation.


12/19/2004 - 12/25/2004 12/26/2004 - 01/01/2005 01/02/2005 - 01/08/2005 01/09/2005 - 01/15/2005 01/16/2005 - 01/22/2005 01/23/2005 - 01/29/2005 01/30/2005 - 02/05/2005 02/06/2005 - 02/12/2005 02/13/2005 - 02/19/2005 02/20/2005 - 02/26/2005 02/27/2005 - 03/05/2005 03/06/2005 - 03/12/2005 03/13/2005 - 03/19/2005 03/20/2005 - 03/26/2005 03/27/2005 - 04/02/2005 04/03/2005 - 04/09/2005 04/10/2005 - 04/16/2005 04/17/2005 - 04/23/2005 04/24/2005 - 04/30/2005 05/01/2005 - 05/07/2005 05/08/2005 - 05/14/2005 05/15/2005 - 05/21/2005 05/22/2005 - 05/28/2005 05/29/2005 - 06/04/2005 06/05/2005 - 06/11/2005 06/12/2005 - 06/18/2005 06/19/2005 - 06/25/2005 06/26/2005 - 07/02/2005 07/03/2005 - 07/09/2005 07/10/2005 - 07/16/2005 07/17/2005 - 07/23/2005 07/24/2005 - 07/30/2005 07/31/2005 - 08/06/2005 08/07/2005 - 08/13/2005 08/14/2005 - 08/20/2005 08/21/2005 - 08/27/2005 08/28/2005 - 09/03/2005 09/04/2005 - 09/10/2005 09/11/2005 - 09/17/2005 09/18/2005 - 09/24/2005 09/25/2005 - 10/01/2005 10/02/2005 - 10/08/2005 10/09/2005 - 10/15/2005 10/16/2005 - 10/22/2005 10/23/2005 - 10/29/2005 10/30/2005 - 11/05/2005 11/06/2005 - 11/12/2005 11/13/2005 - 11/19/2005 11/20/2005 - 11/26/2005 11/27/2005 - 12/03/2005 12/04/2005 - 12/10/2005 12/11/2005 - 12/17/2005 12/18/2005 - 12/24/2005 12/25/2005 - 12/31/2005 01/01/2006 - 01/07/2006 01/08/2006 - 01/14/2006 01/15/2006 - 01/21/2006 01/22/2006 - 01/28/2006 01/29/2006 - 02/04/2006 02/05/2006 - 02/11/2006 02/12/2006 - 02/18/2006 02/19/2006 - 02/25/2006 02/26/2006 - 03/04/2006 03/05/2006 - 03/11/2006 03/12/2006 - 03/18/2006 03/19/2006 - 03/25/2006 03/26/2006 - 04/01/2006 04/02/2006 - 04/08/2006 04/09/2006 - 04/15/2006 04/16/2006 - 04/22/2006 04/23/2006 - 04/29/2006 04/30/2006 - 05/06/2006 05/07/2006 - 05/13/2006 05/14/2006 - 05/20/2006 05/21/2006 - 05/27/2006 05/28/2006 - 06/03/2006 06/04/2006 - 06/10/2006 06/11/2006 - 06/17/2006 06/18/2006 - 06/24/2006 06/25/2006 - 07/01/2006 07/02/2006 - 07/08/2006 07/09/2006 - 07/15/2006 07/16/2006 - 07/22/2006 07/23/2006 - 07/29/2006 07/30/2006 - 08/05/2006 08/06/2006 - 08/12/2006 08/13/2006 - 08/19/2006 08/20/2006 - 08/26/2006 08/27/2006 - 09/02/2006 09/03/2006 - 09/09/2006 09/10/2006 - 09/16/2006

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