Category: Ojai

Music Review: Zappa at Ojai Music Festival [updated]

June 12, 2010 | 10:56 am

Bring an esoteric 30-year-old German ensemble that specializes in extremely complex, sometimes inscrutable, music to perform on the West Coast for the first time. Program the concert with works of a dead white guy with an Italian name. And what do you get? A sea of gray hair, of course.

And so it was Friday night at this year’s Ojai Music Festival. Libbey Bowl welcomed an aging audience. That’s right, a bowl full of seniors who swayed and danced in their seats. Who whooped and hollered and whistled. Who appeared to have a working knowledge of controlled substances and who, under their influence, happily and sloppily wolfed down messy burritos and other junk food during the concert. Who wore “Uncle Meat” and "Hot Rats” T-shirts. Who understand “shut up 'n' play yer guitar” to be a technical musicological term. Who, in other words, know how to have a good time.

The dead white guy was Frank Zappa, not to be confused with Francesco Zappa, a bland 18th century Italian composer who visited Frankfurt in 1771. The band, Frank Zappa’s last band, better even than the Mothers of Invention, was Frankfurt, Germany's, Ensemble Modern.
Continue reading »

Monster Mash: a record-breaking Picasso; Ojai Music Festival taps Dawn Upshaw as guest music director

May 5, 2010 |  7:57 am

Upshaw-2 --Super sale: Pablo Picasso's  1932 portrait of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust," has fetched $106.5 million at Christie's New York, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction. The painting came from the estate of Los Angeles arts patron Frances Brody. (Los Angeles Times)

--New music: The Ojai Music Festival has named soprano Dawn Upshaw as music director for 2011, which means the opera and concert stage star will help create next summer's programming. Ojai also announced a new partnership that will send festival artists and programs to UC Berkeley. (Los Angeles Times)

--Major face lift: Officials from Belgium and the Getty Foundation are set to announce Wednesday that the 15th-century Ghent Altarpiece will undergo extensive restoration as part of an initiative by the Los Angeles-based foundation, the Getty Conservation Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum aimed at training a new generation of specialists in the art of restoring paintings on wood panel. (New York Times)

--Quick exit: After missing out on a Tony nomination for best play, Lucy Prebble's London hit, "Enron," will close on Sunday less than two weeks after its Broadway debut. (Playbill)

--Water damage:  Severe flooding in Nashville has harmed the operating mechanism and console of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center's prized $2.5-million Schoenstein pipe organ. (Nashville Scene via ArtsJournal)

--New maestro: The Santa Fe Opera has chosen Paris-born composer, conductor and pianist Frédéric Chaslin as its chief conductor. (Santa Fe New Mexican)

--Market watch: Chinese collectors -- increasingly keen on acquiring high-quality historical objects -- are expected to travel to Salisbury, Britain, to bid as much as $3 million for a pair of 18th century jade elephants that once adorned the throne room of the Emperor Qianlong. (Bloomberg)

Also in the Los Angeles Times: theater critic Charles McNulty reviews the 2010 Tony nominations after what he calls a "mixed-bag year;" the Los Angeles Philharmonic seeks donated instruments to help expand its Youth Orchestra L.A. programs.

-- Karen Wada

Photo: Soprano Dawn Upshaw with pianist Emanuel Ax at Walt Disney Concert Hall in March. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Ojai Music Festival names Dawn Upshaw music director for 2011, announces UC Berkeley partnership

May 4, 2010 |  3:49 pm

Upshaw Soprano Dawn Upshaw has been named music director of the 2011 Ojai Music Festival.

A star of the opera and concert stage, she is the latest in a long line of guest artists who have been invited to help create programming for the four-day summer fest.

Upshaw, who will be making her fourth appearance in Ojai, will work with artistic director Thomas W. Morris and collaborators such as violinist and composer Richard Tognetti, leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, jazz composer and big band leader Maria Schneider and theater and opera director Peter Sellars.
Among next summer's offerings will be a Schneider work  for Upshaw and the Australian Chamber Orchestra and a new production by Sellars with Upshaw as soloist. Additional information about the 2011 festival, which will run June 9 to 12, will be released in the fall.
The Schneider piece will be a co-commission and the Sellars project a co-production with Cal Performances, UC Berkeley's performing arts presenter and producer, as part of Ojai North! -- an Ojai-Berkeley partnership that will begin in 2011.

In announcing the new venture, festival officials said that at the end of next year's festival, artists and programs will move to the Berkeley campus for several days. 

For most of its 64 years, the Ojai Music Festival has invited a guest music director to help create a summer program with an emphasis on contemporary music. British composer and conductor George Benjamin is the music director for this year's festival, which will run June 10 to 13.

Past music directors have included John Adams, Aaron Copland, Kent Nagano, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Igor Stravinsky and Mitsuko Uchida.

--Karen Wada

Photo: Dawn Upshaw in Kaija Saariaho's "La Passion de Simone" with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times


Ojai Music Festival reveals details for 2010 program


Music review: George Benjamin in San Francisco

January 15, 2010 |  3:00 pm

Reporting from San Francisco

George Benjamin -- who is the featured composer in the San Francisco Symphony’s "Project San Francisco" festival this month and who will be music director of the Ojai Music Festival in June -- is known as Britain’s French composer. That’s because as a teenager he studied in Paris with Olivier Messiaen and a decade later returned to the French capital to work with Pierre Boulez. And it’s because Benjamin has a sensual streak, a flare for color and a musical mind that works rationally.

Benjamin Thursday afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall, Benjamin conducted a program that included his first work, “Ringed by the Flat Horizon,” and the West Coast premiere of his most recent, the extraordinary “Duet” for piano and orchestra. He surrounded his music with luxuriant readings of Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite” and “Rhapsodie  Espagnole.”  In the center of the program was Messiaen’s “Oiseaux Exotiques,” a bird orgy, also for piano and orchestra.

Everything played off everything else. Benjamin brought out, for instance, the piccolo tweets in the “Tom Thumb” section of “Mother Goose,” and he attended the naiveté and near eroticism of Messiaen’s music. “Flat Horizon” reflected what might have been the pastels of Provence. “Duet” expressed the Cartesian clarity of thought, the originality of timbre and texture, the exquisite incisiveness of Boulez. 

Still, we do well not to let too many preconceptions of France fence Benjamin in. The curious thing about this British composer, who turns 50 on the last day of January, is that he has slowly and with extreme meticulousness carved out his own musical niche.

He’s been much written about, having made a splash in 1980 with “Ringed by the Flat Horizon.” His music seduces the ear and makes sense, yet his work and his development are not easy to describe. Despite its obvious influences, Benjamin’s music exerts a certain mystery.

Continue reading »

Stephen Adly Guirgis: The communion of plays

August 14, 2009 |  7:12 pm

Empty seats in a theater Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis has been working like crazy on his new play, which will go up Saturday night at the Ojai Playwrights Conference. But he's taken time to give Culture Monster one last report before the big night. Here's a schedule of all the offerings at the conference, which ends Sunday.  

A couple of days ago, before we all got to know each other and get down to work, all the talk up here was, like; "Yo, isn't that the guy from 'Lost'?" "Hey look, there goes Bubbles from 'The Wire." "Isn't that the guy from that movie?" "Oh, that's the girl who busted heads and shot people up next to Colin Farrell in 'Miami Vice'!" "You see that woman -- she supposedly had an affair with Brando." "That dude over there, he was nominated for an Oscar back in '93!"

But the other day, Helene Gordon hosted a pool party at the Twin Peaks Ranch, and everybody got to know each other over drinks and swimming and chatting in the hot tub and commenting on the howling of the coyotes or the meteor shower up above. So now, it's all about warm hellos and let's get down to business.

And what's the business?

The business is all about new plays -- Dave's and Steve's and Frances' and Bill's and Leslie's and Lisa's and Jeanine's, and, um, mine -- which I just finished scrawling a draft of. And hopefully my director, Bob Egan, and the great actors, 'Dre, Tony, Nikia, Gary, and E-rod, won't hate me for

Continue reading »

Stephen Adly Guirgis: Working with the interns at Ojai

August 13, 2009 |  3:30 pm


Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis ("In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings," "Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train") is spending a few weeks in Ojai as part of the Ojai Playwrights Conference. Today, he continues with his behind-the-scenes report on the happenings at the conference, which runs through this weekend.

The other day, I was given the opportunity to lead a workshop for our interns. Anyone who works with young people probably already knows that most of what you end up sharing with kids is stuff you're actually hoping to remind yourself of, so it was really gratifying to try to share what I could.

I spoke briefly to them about when Peter Sellars -- the brilliant genius and huge-hearted theater and opera director -- came by to visit my theater company, LAByrinth, in our old, condemned, dilapidated, crack-vial-strewn theater space back in 1993. We were all kids back then, and among other things, Peter talked passionately to us about "The Responsibility of the Artist," and he said something like this:

"The Responsibility of the Artist is to be like a tree. The function of a tree is to take in all the toxins and pollution and garbage in the world, filter it through its system, and produce oxygen so that we can breathe. The responsibility of the artist then, is to be like that tree: We are meant to take in all the toxins and garbage and evil nonsense in the world, filter it through our system, and then somehow produce oxygen [art] so that we, and those we would serve [the audiences], might breathe."

I don't know why I remember that quote, but it has served me well in my moments of artistic doubt and despair. The interns seemed to respond to it, and then we moved on and I gave them some fairly personal and challenging writing exercises to tackle, which they did, and then we read them aloud in a circle. I was really impressed, not just by their talent, but also by their willingness and fearlessness and their desire to commit and be open to whatever was thrown at them.

We had a really good time, but we also bonded tighter as a unit. By the end of the workshop, the energy in the room was palpably different than when we had begun just two hours before. We did a lot of talking, a lot of working and writing, and a lot of sharing.

To end the session, I had them sit in a circle and take turns reading a paragraph or two at a time from an essay by Tennessee Williams called "The Catastrophe of Success." It's a tremendously honest and well-written treatise on the nature of life and art and being lost and found by the man who I believe is our greatest American playwright ever. Anyway, we all had a pretty good and moving time, and the interns were so good that I ended up casting all of them in my reading of this other play I'm working on up here that we just did.

The reading went really well, the kids were awesome, and we were aided immensely by Jeanine Tesori, who agreed to add some live piano to the reading. A day like today, it's exactly why I am and hopefully always will be in theater. I just love it.

-- Stephen Adly Guirgis

Related coverage : Stephen Adly Guirgis: At the Ojai Playwrights Conference

Credit: Will Cirocco

Stephen Adly Guirgis: At the Ojai Playwrights Conference

August 10, 2009 |  7:07 am

Stephen Adly Guirgis Each summer for more than a decade, a select group of playwrights from across the country has converged on the idyllic town of Ojai, north of Los Angeles, to escape the distractions of their everyday lives and write. So, for a week, guests at the Ojai Playwrights Conference write, rewrite and write some more alongside others there to write, rewrite and write some more.

Now in its 12th year, the conference offers playwrights a nurturing environment to develop and hone their works-in-progress before presenting readings to the public.

This year's event includes new plays by Stephen Belber, Bill Cain, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Stephen Adly Guirgis, David Wiener, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, as well as two symposiums, featuring Kron, Charlayne Woodard, Steve Connell, Sekou (tha Misfit),  Mozhan Marno and Carrara-Rudolph. A full schedule is here.

Culture Monster asked Guirgis, playwright, actor and co-artistic director of LAByrinth Theater Company in New York, to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the conference. Here's the first of his posts.

First days

I have already fallen head over heels for the brilliant, hot and award-winning playwright Lisa Kron -- and the fact that she is a lesbian only means I'll have to work a little harder to figure out a way to turn myself into a gay woman. Lisa and I were on the same flight from New York, and we had fish tacos at the Neptune's Nest in  Malibu, overlooking the ocean, on our way up to Ojai.

Continue reading »

Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Explore the arts: See our interactive venue graphics


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.