The summer’s music started with a bang in at the 70th Ojai Music Festival (June 9-12). OMF videotaped everything and you can watch whole concerts on YouTube.
- Dina el Wedidi & Band, performed a sizzling “Sounds of Tahrir Square, Cairo”
- Aruna Sairam and Ensemble, with Rajeev Mukundan on violin.
- Julia Bullock’s superb performance in Tyshawn Sorey & Claudia Rankine’s problematic “Josephine Baker: a portrait”
- I confess that the whole festival I had been a little disturbed by the prevalence of attendees over 50. Was there something about Ojai’s idea of “contemporary classical music” that might be a bit past it’s expiration date? The cure for this doubt was provided at the Sunday afternoon Family Concert, featuring student performers and composers from YOLA and the ICE ensemble/quartet. Tania León combined avant-garde, musical education, and ooph with “Pa’lante.” And, perhaps best of all, there was the world premiere of “Catch and Release,” a tremendously solid quartet by Sharon Hurvitz, who’s 18-year-old. She had not just been taught some weird things to do with saxophone, bassoon, flue and trombone. Perhaps it is just “another” dialect, but it obviously opened her ears.
Brian Wilson at the Hollywood Bowl (June 13) was not what I expected, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. The composer of anthems to youthful fun and despair that will live forever, like the songs of Dowland or Campion, has become very old and frail. It was tremendously moving.
The beginning of July I got a stereo back together at home for the first time in 10 years. I was tired of listening to randomized mp3 files: I want whole CDs, whole vinyl albums. The CDs I listened to were “Betty Hutton, The Blonde Bombshell” (despite the iffy sound), “case/lang/veirs,” Michael Kiwanuka’s “Love & Hate.” I was also listening over and over to different recordings of Varèse and Morton Feldman.
Bastille Day, Dudamel conducted a concise version of “West Side Story” at the Bowl that omitted most of the dialogue while retaining the music. Wow. The orchestral interludes could be the best music Bernstein ever wrote. Maria wasn’t played by Cecilia Bartoli (as in Dudamel’s production in Salzburg last May) but—hey, straight from Ojai—it’s Julia Bullock making the hillside resound with “Somewhere”!
July 24, Marni Nixon died. The N.Y. Times obituary was least stupid. The L.A. Times obit didn’t even mention her role in L.A.’s musical culture. Circa 1955 she was not only providing Deborah Kerr with a singing voice for “The King and I,” but also premiering songs by Stravinsky and Dallapiccola at the Monday Evening Concerts. I love her recording of Charles Ives songs.
August 11 at the Bowl everybody was more enthusastic about Francesco Piemontesi’s performance in the “Emperor”concerto than me. But I was won over by his encore of Liszt’s "At Lake Wallenstadt" from “Years of Pilgrimage." That’s obviously more his mode than Beethoven.
Later in August I read the next-to-last (early 20th century) volume of Richard Taruskin’s Oxford History of Western Music. It was so stimulating, I got all 5 volumes. (On Kindle! I don’t have the upper body strength for the print!) Now I’ve gone back to the beginning. Just when he loses me in some technicalities, he comes up with a vivid analogy that makes me want to listen closer. I love his argument that the Talkies replaced opera as the popular multimedia art form. I’ll check back in when I finish …
And then last night, at the Norton Simon Museum, Vicki Ray concluded an immaculate recital with Jacob Ter Veldhuis’s 2002 “The Body of Your Dreams.” A revelation. Uproarious fun. Recorded fragments of shrieking voices from the most annoying TV ads imaginable looped into little rhythmic and melodic patterns. These in turn were augmented and commented on by the live piano. It was wild, funny and terrifying. I want more!
... and then there was Florence Foster Jenkins!