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Classical Pick of the Week: A Chat With Steven Schick and the Ojai Music Festival

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Photo by Alex de Cordoba via the LAist Featured Photos pool onFlickr


Photo by Alex de Cordoba via the LAist Featured Photos pool onFlickr
The Ojai Music Festival is back to rescue you from the doldrums! This year's music director happens to be one of the world's most sought after pianists, Leif Ove Andsnes (you might remember his Chopin at the Disney Hall in February). Andsnes has curated an exciting lineup of musical guests including frequent collaborators Marc-André Hamelin, the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, Reinbert de Leeuw, and percussionist Steven Schick. The festival includes some free performances, lectures, world premieres, and pieces that utilize the idyllic setting in Ojai.

If you're only able to attend a few of the concerts this week, just remember the websitewill offer live streaming of concerts and lectures. For the budget conscious and freebie lovers, there are also a variety of pre-concert lectures held by music historian Christopher Hailey, late night concerts, and film screening that are all FREE to the public. Reservations are recommended highly recommended. For tickets, click here.

The festival does a good job in including works from various composers across various genres, like Shostakovich, Ives, Janáček, Wagner, Berg, Hillborg, Mozart, Grieg, Bolcom, Copland, and Debussy. Tickets can go for as low as $15, and student discounts are available. If you're looking for something to do during the day, click here (or eat there).

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One of the most exciting events at the festival this week is undoubtedly the West Coast premiere of John Luther Adams' Inuksuit. The piece will feature 48 percussionists and piccolo players who will station themselves throughout the park and perform while you walk around and immerse yourself in your surroundings in Ojai. This concert is FREE and at 5 PM on Thursday. We also had an opportunity to ask the conductor Steven Schick about the festival and this piece, which happens to be dedicated to Schick and his wife as a wedding gift.

It's been quite a year for you! Steve Reich's celebrationat the Disney Hall, your first season as artistic director of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, conducting the La Jolla Symphony, the Ojai Music Festival, Ojai North, Hong Kong for the “Schick Machine”...how do you manage it all? Did I miss anything?

It has been fun. And there are a few things to add to the list you presented. I have just become the first "artist-in-residence" with the International Contemporary Ensemble" (ICE) with whom I have already done lots of projects. red fish blue fishis about to release a DVD of the early percussion music of Stockhausen. There have also been some purely theatrical projects such as a tour in France of a staged version of Kurt Schwitter's UrSonata. There are more and more guest conducting opportunities from the BBC Scottish Symphony to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. I am writing a second book. I feel lucky and for this kind of luck you can always find the time and energy.

We get to hear Inuksuitfor the first time on the West Coast, a piece that was written for you and your wife as a wedding present. Did the composer forget to bring a present to your wedding and happened to have a piece lying around? What's the story behind the piece?

We registered for a monumental history-changing percussion piece at Crate and Barrel. John really wanted to buy us the blender but someone beat him to it! The true story of the piece...it did come out of my courtship with Brenda. Among the projects I was doing when we first met was a series of performances of JLA's "Strange and Sacred Noise" in various outdoor locations from desert to forest to tundra. Brenda was along on one we did in the Anza Borrego desert near San Diego and later we were in Alaska together with John and his wife Cindy where we began talking about what a piece truly designed for the outdoors could be like. The outdoors has been very important to us as a couple -- Brenda is the Vice-President of the Trust for Public Land, a major land conservation group, and as a courtship strategy I walked from San Diego to propose to her in San Francisco, and along the way saw and heard that California coast as I never have. That's all a long way of saying that it seems like a wedding present that makes sense for us.

...and Alex Ross (the New Yorker critic) said “Inuksuit was one of the most rapturous experiences of his listening life—that is how I felt, and I wasn’t the only one.“ It's been over a year since that performance, has your approach or interpretation of the piece changed since then?

The performance will be roughly the same, though with a slightly smaller group than we had in New York. I (respectfully) disagree with Alex though. The performance he was referring to happened indoors, in the Park Avenue Armory. Inuksuit really belongs outdoors and I think however formidable it sounded in the Armory, it wasn't right there.

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Anything you're particularly excited to see this season at the Ojai Music Festival?
While the Festival is always very strong, especially under the sure guidance of Tom Morris, for the me the best thing about being at the festival is being in Ojai. The place itself is a radiant spot on the planet and somehow always makes itself felt. A very good performance becomes a great one thanks to the mysterious qualities of the space, under the trees and the stars. A great one becomes a life-changing one. Who knows why. Ojai is magical!

San Diego in general is considered to be conservative, does that translate to the audience you get? As conductor of the La Jolla Symphony, do you find your audience receptive and supportive of new music, or perhaps drawn to more standard repertoire?

San Diego is growing up as an arts city, though you're right that fundamentally it's conservative. But we play a lot of contemporary music with the La Jolla Symphony and of course UC San Diego is one of the world's great centers of musical experimentation. There are also lots of grass-roots ensembles like "Art of Elan" and "Palimpsest" that have really changed the local landscape. All I know is that we played Xenakis "Metastasis" with the La Jolla Symphony last year and our subscription audience cheered. That's not a bad place to make music!

Are there any differences in the Classical music scene in SD vs. LA?
Los Angeles is a completely different story. It's really one of the great arts cities in the world. It has been so for a long time -- even before the impact of Disney Hall and Dudamel (though that has just increased its luster). I used to play the Green Umbrella series every year, usually with red fish blue fish. The Japan America Theater would always be packed with people who knew what they were hearing. Always a great experience. Once I said to Betty Freeman, who was a close friend, that I thought LA was such a great music city. She responded something like, "But of course, dear, what did you expect?"

Do you get to visit LA often? If so, what for/what do you do?

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I now spend so much time in San Francisco because of the Contemporary Music Players that I am less able to come to Los Angeles. But I am a big partisan of Los Angeles, and a pet project of mine is to set the record straight in San Francisco and New York when people wonder "if there's anything really going on in LA." And for a weekend get-away involving a good hotel and excellent meal, it's hard to beat it!