eighth blackbird and company after Music for 18 Musicians
Photo: Jeff 2009
If there was a take home message from this year’s Ojai Music Festival, it was clearly about the primacy of collaboration between a community of musicians in making contemporary music. Not that this is a radically new or different idea, but even here in Ojai over the last several decades, the history of the festival has often been a history of auteurs or individuals who shepherded players and resources to make their points. From Stravinsky and Boulez, to Salonen, Nagano, and MTT, celebrity conductors, composers, and performers have left their mark guiding a range of ensembles. This year’s festival was somewhat unique in that it was curated by a group of musicians, who selected material that never once made use of a conductor of any kind, even for works that commonly involve one. But this was much more than a simple gesture of solidarity, it was about a different way of making music.
Photo: Jeff 2009
The case was made best by two substantial works that opened and closed Sunday’s activities on the Libby Bowl stage. Sunday morning started out with Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians
in all its hypnotic oscillating glory. Reich’s music is commonplace in Ojai, but as Matthew Duvall of eighth blackbird noted from the stage before the performance, the work has special meaning to all the players involved in that individually, their parts are meaningless. Rarely does any one musician have more than a short series of endlessly repeating sequences of notes. However, when put together by a group of players interacting with one another, they grow into something much more profound. It's synergy in action. The crowd seemed extremely excited, and the performance, which was clear-headed and well-organized, was likely the best show in the whole festival for many in the audience.
Musicians from the Ojai Festival 2009 following Andriessen's Workers Union
Photo: mine 2009
The afternoon brought a much different program – a musical marathon that took place over five hours involving 12 sets of music from 11 composers in various chamber arrangements. The marathon started with Reich's recent Pulitzer Prize winning Double Sextet
. There were Russian songs from Stravinsky, a recorder quartet performed by the QNG ensemble, two works from Stephen Hartke, and David Rakowski's Études
which called for pianist Amy Briggs to use her face to play some of the keys in the third study entitled "Schnozzage". Some of this was funny, some interesting, and some nearly awful. But as the evening wore on the camaraderie of the ever changing ensembles was clear. They were having fun experimenting in nearly every direction you could think of. Even guest composer/sculptor Trimpin got into the act providing assistance on Nathan Davis' Sounder
. Half of the six or so musicians on stage played proxy instruments emitting no sound of their own, but sending electric signals via computer that controlled a variety of rigged cymbals, drums, and a toy piano in a nearby "tree sculpture" that soon developed a life of its own like some mad robot. It was a total hoot.
In the end, however, it was all about this group of individuals taken as an artistic whole. All of the players from the last two days gathered together at the end of the marathon for a performance of Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union,
a piece with no specific ensemble in mind. Andriessen does specify the rhythm of the work, but also leaves matters of pitch largely to the decision of the players. Here, the members of eighth blackbird started out the piece in its broad pounding arches and were slowly joined in twos and threes by the other musicians until the staged was filled with over 30 players on everything from a bass recorder to maracas. Driving and forceful, the crowd drew together in a near frenzy. It was a joyful celebration and a wonderful reminder of the importance of the collective experience among musicians in performance. And it was a great end to this year's Ojai Music Festival.
Labels: Ojai festival 09